Divine holiness is best exhibited in the cross of Jesus. Not hell itself, as dreadful and eternal as is its suffering — the undying worm, the unquenchable fire, the smoke of the torment that goes up forever and ever — affords such a solemn and impressive spectacle of the holiness and justice of God in the punishment of sin — as is presented in the death of God’s beloved Son!
Then comes the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet. 1 Cor. 15:24, 25.
OUR Lord, although victorious, is not a triumphant King. Nor will He be, until He comes the second time to receive His kingdom, and to reign in undisputed and universal supremacy in the bosom of a gathered Church, and over a subdued and renovated world. He will then appear “more than a conqueror,”—even triumphant. He is represented as having, “after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting until his enemies be made his footstool.” What are we to gather from this statement? Much that is deeply and gloriously significant.
It describes the Redeemer in the interval between the victory and the triumph—the victory which signalized His past humiliation, and the triumph which will aggrandize His coming glory. It defines His position of repose and His attitude of expectation. It is impossible not to perceive, in these remarkable words, a reference to another and a final conflict—the issue of that conflict being the crowning act of His glory.
Are His enemies yet His footstool? Are all things yet subdued under Him? Is the world subdued? Is sin subdued? Is Antichrist subdued? Are the powers of darkness subdued? Is Death subdued? No! But they shall be. At what time? When Christ “shall appear the second time without sin,”—or a sin-offering, and therefore no more as a Priest who is to die; “unto salvation”—and therefore as a King who is to reign. “For He must reign, until He has put all enemies under His feet.”
Then, then will our Lord appear as a triumphant King to your eye. Picture the scene! Every foe now falls before Him. Death, the last enemy, is destroyed. All His enemies are “consumed with the spirit of His mouth”—the universal diffusion of His gospel—”and with the brightness of His coming”—the kingly power of His advent. All antichrists retire—their imposture exposed, their pretensions confounded—and Christ remains in triumph. All earthly kingdoms are dissolved—their dominion destroyed, and their glory passed away—and the kingdom of Messiah fills the world. All principalities and powers lay down their sovereignty at His feet, and Immanuel triumphantly reigns, having on his vesture and on his thigh a name written—”King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
“Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. But why do you judge your brother? or why do you set at nothing your brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Let us not therefore judge one another any more; but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” Romans 14:5, 10, 13
The exercise of private judgment is the natural and inalienable right of every individual. Sanctified by the Spirit of God, it becomes a precious privilege of the believer. He prizes it more than riches, claims it as one of the immunities of his heavenly citizenship, and will surrender it only with life itself.
Christian love will avoid infringing, in the least degree, upon this sacred right. I am bound by the law of love to concede to my brother, to its fullest extent, that which I claim for myself. I am moreover bound to believe him conscientious and honest in the views which holds, and that he maintains them in a reverence for the word, and in the exercise of the fear of God. He does not see eye to eye with me in every point of truth—our views of church government, of ordinances, and of some of the doctrines are not alike.
And yet, discerning a perfect agreement as to the one great and only way of salvation—and still more, marking in him much of the lowly, loving spirit of his Master, with an earnest desire, in simplicity and godly sincerity, to serve Him—how can I cherish or manifest towards him any other than a feeling of brotherly love? God loves him, God bears with him; and Christ may see in him, despite of a creed less accurately balanced with the word of truth than mine, a walk more in harmony with the holy, self-denying, God-glorifying precepts of that truth. With an orthodoxy less perfect, there may be a life more holy.
With less illumination in the judgment, there may be more grace in the heart. How charitable in my interpretation, then, how loving in my spirit, how kind and gentle in my manner, should I be towards him. How jealous, too, ought I to be, of that independence of mind, in the exercise of which he may, notwithstanding, have arrived at conclusions opposite to my own.
Cherishing these feelings, Christians who differ in judgment, will be placed in a more favorable position for the understanding of each other’s views, and for the united examination of the word of God. Diversity of judgment, through the infirmity of our fallen nature, is apt to beget alienation of feeling; and consequently, the development of truth is hindered. But where harmony of affection is cultivated, there will be a greater probability of arriving at more perfect agreement in sentiment, thus walking in accordance with apostle’s rule—”I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you: but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.”
“That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters into that within the veil; where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus.” Hebrews 6:17-19
THE hope of heaven fostered by an unrenewed mind is baseless and illusory. There exists not a single element of goodness in its nature. It is the conception of a mind at enmity with God. It is the delusion of a heart in covenant with death, and in agreement with hell. It is the treacherous beacon that decoys the too confiding but deluded voyager to the rock-bound shore. Unscriptural, unreal, and baseless, it must eventually cover its possessor with shame and confusion of face.
But not such is the believer’s hope. Begotten with his second nature—the in-breathing of the Spirit of God—an element of renewed mind, and based upon the atonement of the Savior, it must be essentially a good hope. Cleansed from moral impurity, not in the laver of baptism, but with the blood of Christ; justified, not by the ritual of Moses, but by the righteousness of the incarnate God; sanctified, not by sacramental grace, falsely so called, but by the in-being of the Holy Spirit—the believer’s hope of heaven is as well founded as the throne of the Eternal.
Moreover it is “a good hope through grace.” The first and the last lesson we learn in our Christian course is, that “by grace we are saved.” Lord! do You require of me one thought of stainless purity, one throb of perfect love, one deed of unsullied holiness, upon which shall hinge my everlasting happiness? Then am I lost forever!
But since You have provided a righteousness that justifies me from all things, that frees me from all condemnation—and since this righteousness is Your free, unpurchased gift, the bestowment of sovereign grace—I clasp to my trembling yet believing heart the joyous hope this truth inspires. It is a blessed hope. “Looking for that blessed hope.”
Its object is most blessed. The heaven it compasses is that blissful place where the holy ones who have fled from our embrace are reposing in the bosom of the Savior. They are the blessed dead. The day of their death was to them better than the day of their birth. The one was the introduction to all sorrow, the other is a translation to all joy. Blessed hope! the hope of being forever with the Lord.
No more to grieve the Spirit that so often and so soothingly comforted our hearts; no more to wound the gentle bosom that so often pillowed our head. No more to journey in darkness, nor bend as a bruised reed before each blast of temptation. To be a pillar in the temple of God, to go no more out forever. And what a sanctifying hope is it! This, to the spiritual mind, is its most acceptable and elevating feature. “Every man that has this hope in him purifies himself even as He is pure.” It detaches from earth, and allures to heaven. Never does it glow more brightly in the soul, nor kindle around the path a luster more heavenly, than when it strengthens in the believer a growing conformity of character to that heaven towards which it soars. It is, in a word, a sure hope.
Shall the worm undermine it? shall the tempest shake it? shall the waters extinguish it? Never. It saves us. It keeps, preserves, and sustains us amid the perils and depressions of our earthly pilgrimage. And having borne us through the flood, it will not fail us when the last surge lands us upon the shore of eternity.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18.
Who that has felt it will deny, that “fear has torment”? The legal fear of death, of judgment, and of condemnation- the fear engendered by a slavish view of the Lord’s commandments- a defective view of the believer’s relation to God- imperfect conceptions of the finished work of Christ- unsettled apprehensions of the great fact of acceptance- yielding to the power of unbelief- the retaining of guilt upon the conscience, or the influence of any concealed sin, will fill the heart with the torment of fear.
Some of the most eminent of God’s people have thus been afflicted: this was Job’s experience- “I am afraid of all my sorrows.” “Even when I remember, I am afraid, and trembling takes hold on my flesh.” “When I consider Him, I am afraid of Him.” So also David- “What time I am afraid, I will trust in You.” “My flesh trembles for fear of You; I am afraid of Your judgments.” But “perfect love casts out fear:” he that fears is not perfected in the love of Christ.
The design and tendency of the love of Jesus shed abroad in the heart is to lift the soul out of all its “bondage through fear of death,” and its ultimate consequences, and soothe it to rest on that glorious declaration, triumphing in which, many have gone to glory, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” See the blessed spring from where flows a believer’s victory over all bondage-fear- from Jesus: not from his experience of the truth, not from evidence of his acceptance and adoption, not from the work of the Spirit in his heart, blessed as it is- but from out of, and away from, himself- even from Jesus.
The blood and righteousness of Christ, based upon the infinite dignity and glory of His person, and wrought into the experience of the believer by the Holy Spirit, expels from the heart all fear of death and of judgment, and fills it with perfect peace. O you of fearful heart! why these anxious doubts, why these tormenting fears, why this shrinking from the thought of death, why these distant, hard, and unkind thoughts of God? Why this prison-house- why this chain? You are not perfected in the love of Jesus, for “perfect love casts out fear:” you are not perfected in that great truth, that Jesus is mighty to save, that He died for a poor sinner, that His death was a perfect satisfaction to Divine justice; and that without a single meritorious work of your own, just as you are, poor, empty, vile, worthless, unworthy, you are welcome to the rich provision of sovereign grace and dying love.
The simple belief of this, will perfect your heart in love; and perfected in love, every bondage-fear will vanish away. Oh, seek to be perfected in Christ’s love. It is a fathomless ocean, its breadth no mind can scan- its height no thought can scale.
“For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” 1 Cor. 11:31
Self-condemnation averts God’s condemnation. When a penitent sinner truly, humbly, graciously sits in judgment upon himself, the Lord will never sit in judgment upon him. The penitent publican, who stood afar off, wrapped in the spirit of self-condemnation, retired from His presence a justified man. The proud, self-righteous Pharisee, who marched boldly to the altar and justified himself, went forth from God’s presence a condemned man.
When God sees a penitent sinner arraigning, judging, condemning, loathing himself, He exclaims, “I do not condemn you; go and sin no more.” He who judges and condemns himself upon God’s footstool shall be acquitted and absolved from God’s throne. The Lord give unto us this secret spirit of self-judgment. Such was Job’s, when in deep contrition he declared, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Such was David’s, when he penitentially confessed, “Against You, You only have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.” Such was Peter’s, when he vehemently exclaimed, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Such was Isaiah’s, when he plaintively cried, “Woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips.” Such was the publican’s, when he humbly prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
Oh lovely posture! Oh sacred spirit of self-abhorrence, of self condemnation! The Holy Spirit works it in the heart, and this stamps it as so precious, so salutary, and so safe. The great day of the Lord will unveil blessings passing all thought, and glories passing all imagination, to the soul who beneath the cross lies prostrate, in the spirit of self-condemnation. The judgment-day of the self-condemning soul is on this side of eternity; while the judgment-day of the self-justifying soul is on the other side of eternity. And oh, how terrible will that judgment be!
“He will rest in his love.” Zephaniah 3:17.
The marginal reading of the passage is exceedingly beautiful and expressive: “He will be silent because of His love.” Divine wrath is silent, because love has hushed it. Divine justice is silent, because love has satisfied it. Sin is silent, because love has condemned it. Satan is silent, because love has vanquished him. God’s love has silenced every voice but its own. When an accusation was brought against a poor sinner in the presence of Jesus, and He was called upon to judge in the case, it is recorded that He “stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground, as though He heard them not.” He was silent, because of His love! And have we no accusers? Ah, yes! many and just.
Conscience accuses, and Satan accuses, and sin accuses, and the world accuses, but Jesus does not accuse; He is silent, because of His love. They condemn loudly, fiercely, justly, but He never condemns. “And again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.” Still not a word of condemnation breathed from His lips. He had been wronged, He had been sinned against, His own holy law had been broken, and the witnesses, many and malignant, are there to testify in truth against the sinner- but Jesus is silent, and silent in His love.
“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” Romans 3:24, 25
By a change of place with the Church, Christ becomes the “Lord our Righteousness,” and we are “made the righteousness of God in Him.” There is the transfer of sin to the innocent, and, in return, there is the transfer of righteousness to the guilty. In this method of justification, no violence whatever is done to the moral government of God. So far from a shade obscuring its glory, that glory beams forth with an effulgence which must have remained forever veiled, but for the redemption of man by Christ. God never appears so like Himself as when He sits in judgment upon the person of a sinner, and determines his standing before Him upon the ground of that satisfaction to His law rendered by the Son of God in the room and stead of the guilty. Then does He appear infinitely holy, yet infinitely gracious; infinitely just, yet infinitely merciful. Love, as if it had long been panting for an outlet, now leaps forth and embraces the sinner; while justice, holiness, and truth gaze upon the wondrous spectacle with infinite complacence and delight.
And shall we not pause and bestow a thought of admiration and gratitude upon Him, who was constrained to stand in our place of degradation and woe, that we might stand in His place of righteousness and glory? What wondrous love! what stupendous grace! that He should have been willing to have taken upon Him our sin, and curse, and woe! The exchange to Him how humiliating! He could only raise us by Himself stooping. He could only emancipate us by wearing our chain. He could only deliver us from death by Himself dying. He could only invest us with the spotless robe of His pure righteousness by wrapping around Himself the leprous mantle of our sin and curse. Oh, how precious ought He to be to every believing heart! What affection, what service, what sacrifice, what devotion, He deserves at our hands! Lord, incline my heart to yield itself supremely to You! But in what way does this great blessing of justification become ours? In other words, what is the instrument by which the sinner is justified? The answer is at hand, in the text, “through faith in His blood.”
Faith, and faith alone, makes this righteousness of God ours. “By Him all that believe are justified.” And why is it solely and exclusively by faith? The answer is at hand, “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace.” Were justification through any other medium than by believing, then the perfect freeness of the blessing would not be secured. The expressions are, “Justified freely by His grace;” that is, gratuitously—absolutely for nothing. Not only was God in no sense whatever bound to justify the sinner, but the sovereignty of His law, as well as the sovereignty of His love, alike demanded that, in extending to the sinner the greatest boon of His government, He should do so upon no other principle than as a perfect act of grace on the part of the Giver, and as a perfect gratuity on the part of the recipient—having “nothing to pay.” Therefore, whatever is associated with faith in the matter of the sinner’s justification—whether it be baptism, or any other rite, or any work or condition performed by the creature—renders the act entirely void and of none effect. The justification of the believing sinner is as free as the God of love and grace can make it.
“Our lamps are gone out.” Matthew 25:8
THERE are two periods of awful solemnity, which will be found utterly to extinguish the mere lamp of a Christian profession. Will you follow me, reader, to the dying-bed of a false professor. It is an awful place! It is an affecting spectacle! No hope of glory sheds its brightness around his pillow. There is no anchor within the veil, to which the soul now clings in its wrenchings from the body. No Divine voice whispers, in cheering, soothing accents, “Fear not, for I am with you.” No light is thrown in upon the dark valley as its gate opens, and the spirit enters. Coldness is on his brow, earth recedes, eternity nears, the vault damps ascend and thicken around the parting spirit, and the last wail of despair breaks from the quivering lip, “My lamp is going out.” And so will it be when the Son of man comes.
This great event will fix unchangeably the destiny of each individual of the human race. It will break like the loud artillery of heaven upon a slumbering Church and a careless world. It will find the true saints with “oil in their vessels with their lamps,” though in an unwatchful state. It will come upon the nominal professor, grasping firmly his lamp of profession, but utterly destitute of the oil of grace, and in a state of as little expectation of, as preparedness for, the advent of the Lord. And it will overtake and surprise the ungodly world as the flood did in the days of Noah, and the fire in the days of Lot—”They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage; they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and until the same day that Lot went out of Sodom.” “Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.”
The true saints will arouse from their slumber—the spirit of slothfulness and lethargy into which they had fallen—and trimming their lamps by a fresh exercise of faith in Jesus, will go forth as the “children of the light,” to welcome their approaching Lord. False professors, too, startled by the cry which breaks upon the awful stillness of midnight—solemn as the archangel’s trumpet—will eagerly feel for their lamps—their evidences of acceptance based upon an outward profession of the gospel—when lo! to their surprise and consternation, they find themselves destitute of one drop of oil with which to feed the flickering, waning flame, and they exclaim in despair, “Our lamps are going out!” And now the intellectual light goes out, and the moral light goes out, and the professing light goes out, and the official light goes out; and while they have fled to human sources to procure the grace they needed—their backs being thus then turned upon Christ—the “Bridegroom comes; and those who are ready go in with Him to the marriage, and the door is shut.” They return with what they suppose the needed evidences, but now they learn—oh that they should have learned it too late!—that to have had a professing name to live—to have outwardly put on Christ by baptism—to have united externally with the Church of God—to have partaken of the Lord’s Supper—to have promoted His truth, and to have furthered His cause—to have preached His gospel, and even to have won converts to the faith, will avail nothing—alone and apart from union to Jesus by the Spirit—in obtaining admittance to the marriage supper of the Lamb. “Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But He answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.” In view of such a catastrophe, oh, how poor, contemptible, and insignificant appears everything, however splendid in intellect, beautiful in morals, or costly in sacrifice, save the humble consciousness of having Christ in the heart the hope of glory.
“He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” Revelation 22:11, 12
IT would seem to be the cherished delusion of many, that a kind of moral transformation transpires in death; that because death itself is a change of relation, around which gather new sensations, new feelings, new thoughts, new solemnities, new prospects, that therefore the soul passes through a kind of spiritual preparedness to meet its approaching destiny. But such is not the case. The character which time has for years been shaping, it yields to the demands of eternity in the precise mold in which it was formed. Death hands over the soul to the scrutiny and the decisions of the judgment exactly as life relinquished it. The “king of terrors” has received no commission and possesses no power to effect a moral change in the transit of the spirit to the God who gave it. Its office is to unlock the cell, and conduct the prisoner into court. It can furnish no plea, it can suggest no argument, it can correct no error, it can whisper no hope, to the pale and trembling being on his way to the bar. The turnkey must present the criminal to the Judge, precisely as the officer delivered him to the turnkey—with all the marks and evidences of criminality and guilt clinging to him as at the moment of arrest. The supposition of the multitudes seems to be, just what we have stated, that when the strange and mysterious but unmistakable signs of death are stealing upon them—when the summons to appear before the Judge admits of not a doubt, allows of no delay, that then what has been held as truth, and now, in the mighty illumination of an unveiling eternity, is found to be error, may be with ease abandoned; and that however negligent they who have lived all their lifetime without God may have been of religion, while the last day appeared distant—and however careless they who had made a Christian profession may have been of the ground of their confidence, and the reason of their hope, under an indefinite expectation of appearing in the presence of God—yet now that the footfall of death is heart approaching, and the invisible world becomes visible through the opening chinks of the earthly house of their tabernacle, they will be enabled to summon all the remainder of strength, and with the utmost strenuousness turn their undivided attention to the business of saving the soul. But is it really so? Is not the whole course of experience against a supposition so false as this? Do not men die mostly as they have lived? The infidel dies in infidelity, the profligate dies in profligacy, and atheist dies in atheism, the careless die in indifference, and the formalist dies in formality. There are exceptions to this, undoubtedly, but the exceptions confirm rather than disprove the general fact, that men die as they lived. In view, then, of this solemn statement, deeply affecting it must be to the Christian professor—if it be thus that our death will derive much of its character and complexion from the present tenor of our life—that in proportion to the lack of spirituality and the undue influence which the world has had upon the mind—to the habitual distance of the walk with God, and the gradual separation from us of those holy, sanctifying influences which go to form the matured, influential, and useful Christian—will be the lack of that bright evidence, and full assured hope in death, which will give to the departing soul an “abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom,”—then, of what great moment is it that every individual professing godliness should know the exact state of his soul before God!