THE SHADOW OF CALVARY
by Hugh Martin, (1821—1885)
THE TRIAL, "DESTROY THIS TEMPLE"
"Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put Him to death; but found none; yes, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, and said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days. And the high priest rose, and said to Him, Do You answer nothing? what is it which these witness against You?" (Matt. 26:59-62).
"Then answered the Jews, and said to him, What sign will You show us, seeing that You do these things? Jesus answered and said to them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and will You rear it up in three days? But He spoke of the temple of His body. When therefore He was risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said" (John 2:18-22).
"And those who passed by reviled Him, wagging their heads, and saying, You who destroy the temple, and build it in three days, save Yourself. If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross" (Matt. 27:39-40).
Let us proceed in tracing the spirit and wisdom with which Jesus spoke at the bar of Caiaphas.
Of this we have already seen three remarkable instances—(1) when interrogated by the high priest about His disciples and His doctrine; (2) when rudely and impiously struck by the officer in waiting; (3) when hurriedly enjoined by the priests and elders, on their assembling in the council chamber, to declare whether He was the Christ. In the first instance, He vindicated His doctrine from every insinuation of secrecy, leaving the burden of proving any impeachment of its truth and piety upon those who could easily learn, if they chose to ask any of a thousand witnesses, what was the tenor of His teaching. In the second case, compassionating the ignorance and prejudice of the unhappy man, who assuredly knew not what he did, Jesus, patiently bearing the injury, powerfully and faithfully rebuked the author of it. And, in the third, He convicts His examiners of dishonesty of purpose, and on that ground declines to answer their question.
Their expectation of inducing Jesus to utter something which they would represent as incriminating Himself is thus disappointed. Accordingly, they are thrown as a last resort on the shocking scheme of hiring false witnesses. What a stage of moral debasement had these men reached when not one of them had moral courage to rise and rebuke the accursed proposal! But what do I say? Rebuke it? No, not even to dissent from it! There was unbroken harmony among these judges in their unspeakably vile procedure. "Now the chief priests and elders and all the council sought false witnesses against Jesus to put Him to death." "But they found none." Was it therefore because none among the people could be found base enough to forswear themselves for hire? No: there were at this time, emphatically, "like priest, like people." A society ruled by such men could not be destitute of tools and agents, seared and conscienceless as their masters. There will be "wicked" men enough, ready for every evil deed, within call at a moment's warning, "walking on every side when the vilest men are exalted" (Ps. 12:8).
It was not for lack of equal villainy among the people, for "many false witnesses came." Still, "though many false witnesses came, yet found they none," for as Mark says, "Many bore false witness against Him, but their witness agreed not together" (14:56). Divine providence presided over and baffled their efforts, filling them with confusion and mutual inconsistency.
At length, however, this method seemed about to succeed, or at least to promise well, for we read: "At the last came two false witnesses and said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days" (Matt. 26:60, 61). Or, as given by Mark, "There arose certain and bore false witness against Him, saying, We heard Him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands. But neither did their witness agree" (14:57-59).
Now, in order to understand the singular turn which the introduction of this topic gave to the procedure, we must recall the original circumstances alluded to. These are given in the close of the second chapter of John. For the incident on which an attempt is now made to ground a criminal charge transpired at an early period of our Lord's ministry.
Jesus had cleared or cleansed the temple. His spirit stirred within Him as He beheld them given to their covetousness and filled with zeal for the honor of His Father's house, which a self-seeking generation were transforming into a house of merchandise. Jesus had scourged the sheep and the oxen and those who sold them out of the temple, pouring out the changers' money and overthrowing the tables, lifting at the same time such a voice of holy indignation and authoritative rebuke as was never heard in those degenerate days. It was one speaking with authority and not as the scribes who said: "Take these things hence; make not My Father's house a house of merchandise" (John 2:16).
Amazed at the claim to be obeyed as an authorized reformer of the house and worship of God which such old and unshrinking procedure implied, the Jews made the demand with which they so frequently pressed Jesus, and which, made in a right spirit, was in itself nothing more than they might have been expected and were indeed bound to make. They demanded to know His authority for assuming to Himself the right of supervision and reproof and reformation which He hereby professed to exercise. "Then answered the Jews and said to him, What sign do You show us, since You do these things?" They will have a sign, a supernatural action or work—a miracle, in short, to show the seal of heaven attesting His claims and right thus to chastise and to correct them, and to constitute a ground or reason for their faith in Him. Thus early did they present that demand which, reiterated so frequently at almost every stage and turn of Jesus' ministry, came at last to be emphatically descriptive of the reception which they gave to Him, and passed with Paul into a brief characteristic of their whole style and method of dealing with His Messiahship. For according to Paul's concise statement it had become proverbially notorious as their current practice, "The Jews require a sign." It is quite their manner to do so, as much indeed as it is the national tendency and characteristic of "the Greeks" to "seek after wisdom" (1 Cor. 1: 22).
It is important to observe how Jesus dealt with this practice at its commencement. "Jesus answered and said to them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
The explanatory comment is given by the Evangelist immediately, and we have never been left to doubt the import of this reply of our Lord. "He spoke of the temple of his body."
But to enter into the spirit of the scene, to understand the singular play of excited thought and feeling that was in progress and that was left to smolder and break out again at a later period, as we see, we must evidently view this response to their demand apart from the inspired exposition of its meaning which was given subsequently, and which was not apprehended even by the disciples till after their Master's resurrection. Not till then did even they comprehend the precise import of the thought which Jesus couched under these terms, as we read, "When therefore He was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had said" (John 2:22).
Now, leaving out of view the light thrown on this singular reply by explanations subsequently given, and by the actual resurrection itself, and placing ourselves as much as possible in the position of those who simply heard the solemn answer at the time, and had no other means of judging of its import, what impression would it convey to us?
Manifestly that Jesus intended to utter a spiritual mystery or enigma designed, not to break forth all its meaning on the moment to everyone who heard it, overbearing and overpowering their convictions by finally and conclusively demonstrating His own claims without any more possible scope or room for objection, but, evidently, rather soliciting and standing in need of additional inquiry, and fitted emphatically to test and prove the moral disposition of the inquirer. For, in fact, it was so constructed as to embody not only a sign, or token, or proof, or seal of His commission, in the light which it would ultimately throw upon His claims, but as also to constitute a test or touchstone of these men's moral character and corruption in the light in which these would be disclosed in their present mode of dealing with it.
Thus, in fact, Christ Himself, in His whole person and office, is a sign attracting to Himself all hearts whom His grace has made congenial, while repulsed by, and repelling, the carnal and the unrenewed. To the one He is a "plant of renown"; to the other "a root out of a dry ground." To the one He is "the Branch of the Lord, beautiful and glorious, excellent and comely," under which they repose in peace: to the other He presents "no form nor comeliness." The very proposal, or tender, or forth-holding of Christ develops and discloses the character of him to whom that tender or proposal is made. In the proximity of Christ the man's spiritual disposition comes to light. If he is of grace and of God, the nearness of Christ kindles into a flame the erewhile decaying principles and affections of the renewed and regenerated nature, and reveals the urgency and strength of his believing aspirations and desires. If he is of Satan and the world, the nearer Christ is brought—whether in the claims of His kingly rule, or the grace of His priesthood, or the light and doctrine of His prophetic office—the more the man shrinks away, his cold ceremony and indifference passing rapidly into dislike and disdain and enmity, as the truth and grace and righteousness and Spirit of Christ demand the submission of his whole heart and soul: and the Christ can exhibit no stronger sign to that man in demonstration of His divine commission than the powerful and searching testing influence which His person and his office have exerted on the secret substance and staple of his own evil and corrupt nature.
It was this aspect of Christ's person which holy Simeon reverentially admired and celebrated when, holding the promised Child in his arms, he said: "Behold this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be spoken against, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." Even in being spoken against; nay, in that very specially, He is a sign. He is a sign even in being rejected. He is a sign in his power to reveal the thoughts of many hearts, and that, not by actively reading off in His omniscience the thoughts and secret character which men's hearts conceal, but in passively provoking such manifestations of their disposition as make themselves disclose of what spirit they are. As He passed through the days of His flesh, doing good, working His Father's work, speaking His Father's truth, propounding and proffering to guilty miserable men His Father's grace, He was a powerful touchstone which in its efficacy brought not to light some of the slighter and shallower elements of human character merely, but searchingly penetrated to the depths and brought out into evidence the essential features and principles of diverse dispositions. Wherever any groundwork of sincerity and truth was found, His person and His presence formed a center of resistless power, alluring and attracting and establishing the upright, while conferring light and permanence and blessedness. Self-seeking and hypocrisy, on the other hand, found in Him an antagonist that, awakening them into deeper emotion, forced their existence into obviousness.
What Christ was in His person His preaching still is: a two-fold sign of mighty efficacy to sift and separate, thoroughly purging like a fan in the hand of the mighty. To the Jews, Christ preached is a stumbling block; to the Greeks foolishness; but to those who believe, whether Jews or Greeks, He is the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation. This was predicted from the beginning. For it is contained in the Scripture: "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious; and he who builds on him shall not be confounded"; and then follows the testing or discriminating effect which must always follow: the influence upon, and discoveries of, the spiritual state of different men: "To you therefore who believe He is precious, but to those who are disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same has become the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence—to those, namely, who stumble at the word, being disobedient" (1 Pet. 2:6-8).
Who can forget that this same two-fold aspect of Christ's gospel has been so solemnly put before us in the words of Paul: "To the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other we are the savor of life unto life"—the same one gospel having these two diverse sides or influences, even as the guiding pillar of old was light to Israel and darkness and a source of terror and death to the Egyptians.
And as Christ's person was this sort of sign, and His gospel still is so, His replies to the reiterated demand for a sign partook of a similar character and proceeded on the same principle. He constructed them, in holy righteous judgment, so as to present two sides: the one to the humble, humbling and instructive, calling for increase of docility and richly rewarding it; the other to the proud, provoking, eliciting and demonstrating their enmity and moral depravity, hardening them in their willful opposition and punishing them with increase of their self-entailed blindness, and with the wretchedness of their own uncontrolled evil passions.
Thus, when He had fed five thousand with a few loaves and fishes, and the multitude in the face of such a miracle say to Him in answer to his demand for their faith, "What sign do You show then that we may see and believe You? What will You work?" he replied that He Himself was the bread of life; that He would give His flesh for the life of the world; that His flesh was meat indeed and His blood drink indeed; and that unless they would eat His flesh and drink His blood they could have no life in them. The issue of such a style of response was decisive. The greater multitude had done with Him at once and forever. Seeking literal bread, and hating grace and truth, they went back and walked no more with Him. The eleven had their humility deepened, and these very words were to them spirit and life which, as Peter testified, bound them only the more powerfully to Him as the fountain of eternal life. "To whom shall we go but to You?" (John 6).
At another time the same unbelieving and unreasonable request being preferred, Jesus answered: "A wicked and adulterous generation seeks a sign, and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonas. For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." In fact, this reply seems to have been given by Jesus oftener than once (Matt. 12:39, and 16:4).
And this is substantially identical with the sign offered at the cleansing of the temple. Jesus here gives substantially the sign of the prophet Jonas. He appeals to His own death and resurrection; and He does so in language extremely enigmatical and obscure. Attempts have been made by commentators to alleviate this obscurity, as, for instance, when they tell us that doubtless Jesus pointed with the finger to His body, saying with marked emphasis and in combination with that action, "Destroy this temple." It is a mere supposition. The Scripture itself gives no reason to suppose that Jesus accompanied His words with any explanatory action. On the contrary, the moral import of the transaction implies that we are to regard the obscurity of His words as intentional, as in fact appertaining to the very essence of that test of corrupt character which He was bringing into play in answer to the demand for a sign of His own heavenly commission.
They had already seen enough to have decided them, had they been honestly minded, to give Jesus a just reception, or at least a fair and an honorable trial. Their own consciences witnessed the righteousness of what He had done in the house of God in holy zeal for its purity and honor. The singular authority which His voice and words carried with them must have convinced them that He was very far from an ordinary man; while the dignity, the calmness, the reasonableness that pervaded all His movements must have satisfactorily demonstrated that He was no excited fanatic. Had they honorably yielded their minds and hearts to such impressions, and had they addressed themselves to Him respectfully, with that respectfulness which Jesus had already duly earned—soliciting further instruction concerning the claims which He put forward and the work to which He had that day put His hand, who can doubt that Jesus would have guided them in judgment and meekly taught them in His way. No, more; received into a good and docile heart, a heart loving the temple, rejoicing in the purity to which it had that day been restored, and grateful that God had raised up one in degenerate days who was not afraid to rebuke iniquity and reform abuse—received into such a heart, this very response which Jesus gave could not but prove, by its very mystery, a provocative to much thoughtfulness and the germ of many a thought; while, stimulated by spiritual earnestness to seek the explanation and exposition of the great Teacher Himself, such hearers might have been enriched with varied and abundant views of divine truth, developed out of that singular and fascinating oracle which the heavenly-minded Stranger, in the hour of holy zeal and hostile arraignment, had with such composure and dignity given to them in answer to the challenge for His authority. And such docile disciples might have lived to know that that single utterance of the Teacher's lips implied that the temple on Zion was but the type of a temple made without hands: that the real temple symbolized, true and permanent and eternal, was the fleshly tabernacle or human body of the Teacher Himself, this spiritual instructor and reformer of the Church; that in that temple dwelt not the symbol of Jehovah's presence but the very fullness of the Godhead bodily; that that temple, so glorious, was designed for an offering and a sacrifice to remove effectually that dread reality of guilt which all the earthly temple's services and sacrifices could never take away; that in offering Himself a sacrifice to God's justice He should at the same time fall a victim to man's hatred and hostility, His death being not only voluntarily endured but also brought about by violent and wicked hands; and, finally, that He should vanquish death and in three days arise from the grave—the first fruits of those who slept, a storehouse of a new and a risen life to all those who would believe upon him. To those who feared the Lord, might so large a portion of His secret or His truth be discovered and disclosed under this one mysterious but fascinating and pregnant announcement. For "the secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him."
But not into such hearts did this announcement fall. It was uttered to those who feared not the Lord, and it only elicited and demonstrated more fully their displeasure at the reformation of God's house and worship which they had witnessed. They are not desirous to believe and anxious for a sign to strengthen and confirm their faith, but they are determined to withhold their faith and anxious to justify their refusal to believe. The sign, therefore, is righteously given in the form of a mystery, purposely enigmatical and obscure, that in judgment on their unbelief and perverseness they may stumble and fall and be broken. "To the one we are the savor of life unto life; to the other we are the savor of death unto death."
The Jews took this reply in its literal sense as applying to the temple on Mount Zion, and so they planted themselves more firmly in their unbelief, and blasphemed. "Forty and six years was this temple in building, and will You rear it up in three days?"
But observe, even on the supposition that the reference is to be understood to be to the literal temple; even with their own view of Christ's saying; observe their moral perverseness in replying as they did. They put their own interpretation on the mysterious remark, and then they scorn it. "It took forty-six years to build this temple and You, indeed, are to rear it in three days!" It is the utter disproportion between the time required in building it and the time they understand Jesus to say He will require in rebuilding it, on which their perverse thoughts fasten. "Will you achieve, alone, in three days that which employed many workmen for forty-six years?" And yet, if Jesus had stated a time in which the disproportion had not been so very glaring and great, would they have been satisfied? They asked a sign. Had Jesus professed to build the temple in a period of time within the range of human probability, that would have been no sign of a commission more than human. It is the utter disproportion implied, it is precisely the brevity of the time indicated, which can alone constitute Christ's offer a sign, even when interpreted after their own fashion. And yet, while it is precisely this which in their view of it could make it to be the sign which they require, it is precisely this also on the ground of which they scorn and scoff at it! So basely false is their whole state of heart.
Such, then, was the sign which they made deadly to themselves and which was destined to be to them the savor of death unto death. For just as it contained the very essence of Messiah's fate, His death and His resurrection, so it bore with like preeminent force on their fate. Accordingly it emerges again to play a strange part, and to reveal the ongoing of a mysterious self-acting process of vengeance, under which they are seen hardening themselves more and more unto the end. Not content with drawing deadly mischief from it to their souls at first, and converting it into a theme of blasphemy and scorn against Messiah in the commencement of His ministry, they drag it forward again on His trial to make it serviceable in putting Him to death; while in reality the savor of accumulating death upon death is falling from it on their own souls. This strange oracle which once they scorned; this mysterious remark that was food for scoffing, mirth, and laughter! Oh! their very sin in reference to it has given it a strange vitality. It cannot sleep. It cannot pass away and be forgotten. It presents itself once more; yes, and yet again (Mat. 27:39), and each time, through their "disobedience," as malevolently they summon it forward into action, it comes upon them armed with more dreadful and deadly power to judge and harden them and fit them for ruin and for wrath!
Time was when you put away Christ's claims, and there may have been memorable circumstances as, for instance, your joining in the scorning of the scornful rather than be scorned as a reformed or reforming penitent. Are you sure that that event and the circumstances connected with it have spent their evil force? Are you sure that they have no more influence to exert on your heart and character, searing and blinding you against the gracious truth and power of the Lord's salvation? Ah! there may be recurrences of that same event, fitted to reveal and confirm your hatred of the word and the claims of Messiah. When these men scoffed in the temple at Christ's covert allusion to His death and resurrection, ministering to their own moral ruin from His holy words, who could have thought that they would themselves, after nearly three years of interval, revive the recollections of that hour, and revive and deepen on their own polluted souls the accursed influences which, through the god of this world blinding their minds, they were pleased to permit him to exercise over them by an oracle of divine truth that might have proved a reason for their faith and material of reverential admiration of the great mystery of salvation? And who could have thought that yet again, to prove that oracle of truth the savor of accumulating and still increasing spiritual death to their souls, there should have been those who, while Jesus was hanging on the cross, recurred to it once more, and said in the crisis of the power of darkness, and in the climax of this guilty world's blasphemy and enmity to God: "You who destroy the temple, and in three days build it again, save Yourself"? Ah! when they received not that oracle with reverence; when they received it not with meekness; with ready willingness to have its mysteries disclosed; with the docility of babes to whom God will show His salvation; when, on the contrary, they chose to put their own shallow construction on it, and make their own scornful use of it—from that moment it passed, in one sense, into the hands of Satan, a bright and furbished sword of his to wield upon them; and far will it be from the great enemy to allow his serviceable weapons to slumber and his fitting opportunities to pass. He brought it forth again and again, and ever with deadly effect. They thought they wielded it themselves. No. It was in the hand of a more skillful master. They thought they wielded it against Jesus to His death. No. Satan wielded it against them: the savor of death unto death.
It is superfluous to point out the falsehood of these witnesses as they attempted to pervert it into a criminal charge. Jesus did not say, "I will destroy this temple," as they would represent, attempting if possible to make out a hostility on His part to the sacred edifice. Even construed as referring to that temple, He had only said, "Destroy this temple, or if you destroy this temple I will raise it up again in three days." But even on this single point the two witnesses, we are told, could not agree in their testimony. And, in any event, the only thing they could prove by such a course was the injustice and baseness of the cause which they attempted to support.
"And the high priest arose and said to Him, Do You answer nothing? What is it that these bear witness against You? But Jesus held His peace" (Matt. 26:62).
"Jesus held His peace." For what reason? "Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offence" and there it must lie! It must not be taken out of the way. Now, for Jesus to answer them, to deprecate their false construction, to explain the import and innocence of His memorable response; to show how utterly harmless it was, how entirely different in its true import from the turn which had been given to it as indicating hostility to the sacred building—all this would have been to expound the spiritual oracle, thereby removing the stumbling stone and rock of offence; while its very mystery constituted it the test and sign which divine wisdom saw meet to afford and continue in the circumstances. To have answered and repelled the accusation would have just destroyed the essential features of that enigma which was given to try their character and elicit their hidden guile. Divine righteousness forbade this mercy towards them and required that the veil should be left upon their minds, that the stumbling block should not be removed. For this reason Jesus is silent. He will neither deprecate nor set aside their construction. And as to His own meaning, there is still greater reason, in view of it, for His keeping silence. When His doctrine was aspersed, and the insinuation of secrecy and seductiveness was thrown out, Jesus warmly replied, vindicating His ministry from all obloquy, and boldly challenging an examination of all that He had said. The honor of His prophetic office demanded that He should at once speak out. But now, under this oracle, as Jesus understands and intends it, there is couched and concealed an allusion to the essential service of His priestly office, in which he is about to present Himself as the slain Lamb, purging sin and procuring favor by the shedding of His blood, yes, by His obedience into death. It is precisely now that He appears before God as the Lamb, and precisely now therefore that He becomes silent. For it is when brought as a lamb to the slaughter and a sheep before her shearers that He is dumb, opening not His mouth (Isa. 53:7). Therefore Jesus holds His peace.
Shall we say that Jesus, in His silence, enjoys a comfort which His accusers know not of? For this oracle, about which they provoke Him ineffectually to speak His mind, while it is to them the savor of death unto death, must in other directions and on other minds be the savor of life unto life. If it proved so to the disciples ultimately, why might it not prove so immediately and in the meantime to Jesus himself? Why should we so hesitate to see the conformity between the experience of Jesus and that of His people as to forget that His "having in all things the preeminence" implies a transcendent fulfillment in Him of all that can transpire in them? If those, therefore, who now wrested His words were dragging out of them repeated influences of death to their own moral nature, ministering to the strength of their own corruption and the fevered violence of their own evil passions, why may we not suppose that the lively oracle which was good but which they made death unto them, was meantime ministering joy and consolation to the silent and abused Divine sufferer at their bar? Yes, were they not holding up before Him, as in a mirror, the glory of His own resurrection, His coming vindication, when by the glory of the Father He should rise from the dead, His flesh never having seen corruption? Remembering the finite and dependent nature of our Savior's created spirit, and the necessity of consolation and hope—great consolation and good hope—to bear Him through the fearful anguish of His dying hours, for, according to scriptural assertion, it was "for the joy set before Him that He endured the cross, despising the shame," can we help wondering at the beautiful providence which so overruled the malignity of His enemies as to compel them to bring forward, in the crisis of His condemnation, the words spoken by Himself long before the deadly trial and baptism had come, and in which He had expressed His faith that the Christ must not only suffer but must also rise from the dead and enter into His glory? Unknown to themselves, these enemies were vividly presenting to Him "the joy set before Him" and the promise that "because He made His soul an offering for sin He should prolong his day and the pleasure of the Lord should prosper in His hand." And when hanging on the cross, He again listened to the voice of malice taunting Him with His declaration that the destroyed temple should in three days rise again, would not the blessed Jesus extract from it that sweet theme of consolation which the Holy Spirit had laid up for Him in Scripture long before He came in the flesh: "Therefore My flesh also shall rest in hope, for You will not leave My soul in hell; neither will You permit Your holy one to see corruption" (Ps. 16:9, 10). For even thus did the tender love and infinite wisdom of the Father arrange for Him that, in the very scoffs of His malignant foes, He should taste, while dying, of the savor and triumph of His resurrection!
Even so may the memory of former faithfulness and zeal, recalled and forced upon us by an enemy, unlock most sweetly a spring of all-sufficient consolation!
Let us close with some practical remarks.
1. Beware of the disposition that would seek additional grounds or better opportunities for believing. These you have in sufficient abundance already, and to ask for more indicates, not a desire to believe, but a desire to justify your unbelief. The voice of authority with which Christ speaks to you, both in your own conscience and in His ordinances in the temple, is sufficient ground for you to receive and acknowledge Him as one having authority and not as the scribes: as one entitled to rule and sway your whole inner man and all your outward life. You feel a strange force in His sacred word: you feel a peculiar striving of His Holy Spirit. It is the great Reformer of the Church seeking to cleanse the temple of your soul for His Father's pure and spiritual worship. Your worldly lusts; your absorbing desires for worldly prosperity; your wanderings of heart in divine ordinances; your cold formality; your ceremonious heartlessness; your dull and dreary bondage of spirit in prayer—to these Jesus points and says: "Take these things hence and worship My Father in spirit and in truth." You know, you feel, that when by His word and Spirit He thus addresses you, as He addresses you now, you have in your own secret misgivings, under the authority and force of such a call, proof sufficient that it is the Christ who is dealing with you. Beware of seeking to delay, waiting for a stronger conviction. You are only waiting till the conviction wear off. You are not desirous of finding ground and reason to believe on Him and submit to Him more profoundly; you are seeking to justify yourself in not believing at all. In such a frame it is a literal and terrible truth that "neither would you believe though one rose from the dead!"
2. Bring a very humble mind to the interpretation of the mysteries of the word of Christ. "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the "things which God has prepared for those who love Him." If any man would be wise, let him become a fool that he may be wise. The grand doctrines of salvation are far beyond the natural powers of the human mind to grasp them. And when proudly you judge them on principles of natural reason, they will only appear to you more and more foolish and provokingly mysterious. It is this inability of reason to see their loveliness and glory which often irritates the unrenewed mind. "How can this man give us His flesh to eat? And they went back and walked no more with Him." It was a hard saying. So also is that other saying: "He shall be for a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem" (Isa. 8:14). Still, it abides forever true that "he who believes shall not be confounded." "Father, I thank You because You have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes" (Matt. 11:25).
3. Bear in mind that your rejection of Christ today may reappear at a future time in more aggravated form and with more ruinous and destructive effects. The scoff with which you scorn the Christ, whether in Himself or in the person of some godly one whose Christian strictness you despise as too much of reformation and religion, while it may be but warrantable zeal for his Father's worship, may be treasured up for you by Satan till another day, brought out again when your heart shall have become still more depraved and made to do service by your mouth in his cause, when he has some still more wicked work for you to do. Beware, therefore, of every feeling that would refuse immediate and absolute obedience to the Lord. Whatever would refuse or question His claim to your immediate faith in Him and your immediate acquiescence in His purpose of cleansing the temple of your soul, rejoice that He is saying, "Take these things hence." And in your conscious inability to remove them, call on Him to "take away the stony heart out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26).
4. In acknowledging the claims which Jesus puts forward to your believing confidence, your gratitude and your cheerful service, let your whole heart rest with appropriating joy on His death and resurrection. Feed upon the mystery and fullness of truth and grace implied in the oracle: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again." In yourself you are a guilty sinner; a criminal doomed to die; a useless, barren fig tree; and the cry has gone out, Destroy it, cut it down. The only hope is in an Advocate who shall Himself be your Substitute. And behold the Substitute! Behold His vicarious, sacrificial death! Behold His glorious, federal resurrection! Be buried with Him by engrafting of faith into His death; and just as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so shall you walk in newness of life. Ah! let the oracle concerning the Lord's death and resurrection thus test your spiritual state: let it direct your spiritual aims; let it enlighten and rejoice your weary heart. And if enemies assail your peace and safety, God may overrule their assault to remind you of the foundation of your hopes and enable you thus to reply to those who would lay anything to the charge of God's elect: "It is Christ who died: yes, rather, who is risen again." For when the temple of His body was destroyed, in three days it was gloriously raised up again!
THE TRIAL, "NEVERTHELESS . . . HEREAFTER"!
"And the high priest answered and said to him, I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus said to him, You have said: nevertheless, I say to you, Hereafter you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven" (Matt. 26:63, 64).
The close of the trial is, on Jesus' part, exceedingly solemn and sublime. The malicious and paltry charge, in reference to destroying the temple and raising it up in three days, has proved not in the least serviceable to His prosecutors. The witnesses could not agree among themselves; and Jesus, when questioned on the subject, maintains a dignified silence. The high priest, therefore, at last despairing of success by any of the methods hitherto tried, now appeals with consummate hypocrisy to God Himself, and commands the prisoner, as on His oath, and as before God, to speak the truth. "The high priest answered, and said to him, I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God."
Thus appealed to by His Father's name and knowing that His hour has come; willing, also, by His own act, to surrender Himself to death for "this commandment received He of his Father," Jesus, with all simplicity and dignity, admits His personal glory as the Son of God and His official mission as the Christ, referring the high priest, however, to a future day for the final and no longer mistakable demonstration of the truth of His avowal: "Jesus said to him, You have said; nevertheless, I say to you, Hereafter shall you see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven."
What a ray of glory this is falling, unlooked for, on the darkness of the scene, contrasting so singularly with the shame and humiliation of Jesus, a prisoner at the bar of man! How startlingly near this brings the two utmost opposites—the depth of abasement of the humbled Son of God, standing before sinners laden with a criminal charge and the climax of His glory when He shall sit a judge upon the throne of His Father, and all nations shall be gathered before Him! The case against the prisoner may be closed immediately and carried against Him. "Nevertheless," He takes his protest and appeal to a high tribunal, where his murderers need to appear; where all necessary extracts bearing on the decision shall be found safely lodged in the records of Omniscience; and where the throne shall be filled by this prisoner Himself, whose protest shall then be justly settled and disposed of, when "every eye shall see Him, and those also who pierced Him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him."
Now, the introduction of this sublime allusion to the great day of the Lord may be viewed in reference either to Jesus or Caiaphas.
I. And in reference to Jesus, it is manifestly the fitting comfort in the hour of accusation; the suitable compensation for this special portion of His sufferings. What is the fair counterpoise or reward for Christ's humiliation in consenting thus to stand a criminal at the bar of man, the mark and butt of false accusers? See the shame that covers Him, while slander is on every side, reproach and shame and dishonor! See the Son of the Blessed, set forth as son of Belial! standing as a humbled panel at the bar! What shall be the due reward? What but His elevation to the throne—the tribunal of the final, the universal judgment? "The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool." And all the tribes of the earth "shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."
For it is to be observed that not only is it true as a general principle that "because He humbled Himself, therefore God also has highly exalted Him"; but this principle extends and realizes itself even into minute particulars and details, so that the component elements, or successive eras and stages, of Christ's deep abasement, have their parallel and corresponding passages of glory in His high reward. The crown of thorns is replaced by the crown of glory; yes, "many crowns are on His head." The cross on which He suffered becomes the true car of victory, in which He rides forth conquering and to conquer, subduing the antipathies of His people, renewing their wills, and securing their supreme affection. The chains in which He was led away a captive to Annas and Caiaphas entitled Him to have a triumph decreed Him, in which He is seen spoiling principalities and powers, making a show of them openly, carrying captivity captive, wresting the prey from the mighty, and breaking off from His people's souls the chains of Satan and sin, of hell and death; thus vindicating for them a glorious liberty which the captive Jesus obtained for them by temporarily surrendering His own. Even so, the shameful bar of Caiaphas is replaced and rewarded by the throne of judgment. For the special shame to which as the panel He has now submitted, the special joy set before Him is the glory of sitting on the tribunal of final retribution. And reflecting on that joy set before Him, He is content to despise this shame.
Hence it is observable that He speaks of this splendid prerogative not as an inalienable right belonging to Him as the Son of God and in virtue of His Godhead, but as a reward conferred upon Him as "the Son of man," and in glorification of His human nature. "You shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power." As the Eternal Gcd, in unity of substance with the Father and the Spirit, the Son of God is, and cannot but be, the judge of all the earth. Nor can any but a Divine person possess those qualifications of infallible knowledge and heart-searching omniscience, of infinite wisdom and righteousness, without which the procedures of eternal judgment could not in unerring rectitude be conducted. But the elevation of the human nature, in its indissoluble union with the Godhead, to the tribunal of the final judgment, so that it is the man Christ Jesus who shall judge the quick and the dead, and God "shall judge the world by that man of whom He has given assurance in raising Him from the dead "—this it is that presents to us the infinite majesty in which Jesus shall appear on the great day of reckoning as a reward conferred upon Him by the appointment of His Father, as well as a prerogative belonging to Him by the necessity of His Godhead. And thus we read in His own words that "the Father has given Him authority to execute judgment also because He is the Son of man" (John 5:27).
Who shall enter into the mind of Jesus at this wondrous moment, when despised and rejected as a criminal, His feelings all trampled on and outraged, His good name and reputation loaded with dishonor, His liberty restrained; His person smitten, stricken, and afflicted, and sentence of condemnation about to pass upon Him, even unto death? What unspeakable depression! What gloom, what sadness! But He thought of his Father's righteousness and His own sure reward. He thought of the joy set before Him. His mind fled for refuge to the recompense of the reward. And from Caiaphas the high priest's bar, He transferred Himself, in the anticipation of faith, to His Father's glory and throne as the judge of all the earth. "Fret not Yourself," O meek and lowly One, "because of evil-doers." To You, as the firstborn among many brethren, who shall enter the kingdom of heaven, like You, through much tribulation, to You as to them, to You preeminently above them, belongs the promise: "Commit Your way unto the Lord, and He shall bring it to pass; and He shall bring forth Your righteousness like the light, and Your judgment as the noonday." You shall be seen "at the right hand of power, coming in the clouds of heaven," and all Your maligned and afflicted, Your meek and contrite saints, along with You (Psalm 37:1-4).
II. But it is especially in its bearing on Caiaphas, His rude interlocutor, that this sublime reply is to be considered. The substance and theme of it, considered as material for consolation to the afflicted prisoner, might have served their object, and been, in the joy of them, sufficiently before Him in secret thought and meditation; and, indeed, how often is the Christian borne through a trying position by the hidden influence of considerations that strengthen his action into power or subdue his soul into patience, without the utterance or any manifestation to man, of what these considerations are. Thus the anticipation of His coming glory as the judge might have been cherished secretly in Jesus' mind, as the sufficiently counterbalancing consideration to the present shame. But for the sake of Caiaphas, and with a view to its bearing upon him and his responsibility, this awful thought must be expressed.
And as in reference to Jesus Himself this prospect held the place of a counterbalance or compensation, so in reference to Caiaphas the utterance of it ought, in the first place, to have served for an explanation; and, in the second place, to have been submitted to as an awful remonstrance; and failing these uses, in the third place, it sufficed as a closing remit, with certification, to the final decision, when the end shall come!
1. And in the first place, as an explanation, this solemn statement contained in it, if Caiaphas would but so have regarded and received it, no small amount of merciful design. For in thus addressing him, Jesus took out of the way a stumbling-block on which the high priest might be apt to fall, and on which, not having had it pointed out to him, he might have been afterwards disposed to rest his vindication. How can this be any other, he might be saying to himself, how can this be any other than some wild adventurer, some stray fanatic, practicing on the credulity of the people or practicing even on His own, in putting forward a claim so great as that of being the Son of God? If He really were so, how would His Father suffer Him to be in such lowly guise, in such deep distress and degradation? And would He not Himself have called legions of angels from heaven, rather than have fallen into our officers' hands, and allowed Himself to be dragged here as a prisoner? What, he might have said, turning to the afflicted humble man before him, What! shall one brought down into the depths so low as You, put forward claims so lofty? Are You not ashamed to call Yourself the Christ, the King of Israel, the Son of the Blessed, when thus fallen into disgrace, thus destitute of honor, wealth, friends, power, liberty; when thus impoverished, forsaken, sorrowful, a captive moving to and fro, a prisoner, a panel? How can such as You claim the sacred honor of Messiah's glorious name?
Jesus said to him, I am the Christ, the Son of the Blessed. It may seem inconsistent with this honor that I should be clothed with reproach and revilings. I may be humbled unto suffering and shame, and such humiliation may seem to prejudice, or even to extinguish, the evidence of My Divine Original and My Divine Commission. Nevertheless, I speak the truth—the truth that shall yet be vindicated from all suspicion, from all semblance of inconsistency; that shall yet be justified before all flesh, for "Hereafter you shall see the Son of man at the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven."
Now, viewed in this light, Christ's sublime reference to the future may be regarded as a very gracious interposition, fitted to save His persecutor from falling on what might naturally enough, in his state and temper of mind, have proved a stumbling-block. Jesus substantially reminds him that a state of suffering, yes, of shame, cannot in itself disprove the sufferer to be the Messiah; that, on the contrary, the Messiah of the prophets is to be identified expressly by sufferings, followed by glory (1 Pet. 1:11), and that the adverse hour in which He, this lowly and afflicted sufferer, now stands before His proud accuser, is one that shall be followed and be recompensed by a glory that shall sweep away the shame. Thus warned to judge on a larger basis of particulars, or on a fuller range of view, especially warned to leave room in his imagination for the countervailing facts that might yet occur to prove this lowly one no pretender, though all things do seem to be against Him now; and warned above all to admit the light of eternity and eternal judgments on this matter, Caiaphas might have escaped the snare of the devil. If he did not, it was not because an explanation was refused, an explanation that might have been serviceable, and ought to have been sufficient. Nor could he afterwards plead in self-defense the prisoner's shameful and forsaken estate; for he was assured that "nevertheless" He was the Christ, the Son of God, and should "hereafter" be vindicated as such on the throne of universal judgment, on the right hand of power.
2. But not only may this be regarded as a very important explanation set before the high priest's mind, well fitted to guide his judgment and modify his opinion: it ought to have been felt as a very solemn remonstrance to keep him back from his purposed line of proceeding. For just as Caiaphas might vindicate his own opinion in rejecting the claims of Jesus, on the ground of His evident humiliation and helplessness, so might he be justifying to himself his own conduct in condemning Him and compassing His death on the same grounds. Yes, in the bare fact that heaven interfered not to prevent him from executing his evil purpose might Caiaphas perversely read a sort of toleration for what he was about to do, or at least a proof that what he was about to do was nothing so dreadful as the crucifixion of the Lord's anointed. It seems very much to this state of mind, and which, in the essence of it, and in the principle involved, is by no means an uncommon one—that Christ's sublime expostulation addresses itself.
You may think that the very power you have over Me at present disproves My claims and allows you, at least, lightly to set them aside and follow your own desires and devices. You may suppose that were My claims really valid, were Messiahship Mine, and Sonship to God; My Father, who sent me into the world, would render it impossible for you to injure Me; would interpose for My relief; would force you to perceive your error and constrain you to abandon your course and case against Me. Nay; but it is not now that the irresistible demonstration shall be given. If you are resolved to reject Me now, you may: you shall be allowed to do so; yes, to condemn, to crucify, the Lord of glory. It is not yet that unquenchable conviction shall be flashed on the understandings of all men and disbelief rendered an absolute and physical impossibility. Your king comes to you now, meek and lowly. "He does not cry nor lift up, nor cause His voice to be heard in the streets." He speaks in a still small voice, the most powerful of all in convincing the meek and lowly, the humble and contrite in heart—the most effective in filling them with the full assurance of understanding and the infallible certainty of divine faith. But pride, and prejudice, and passion, these He will not perforce overrule or overwhelm. The proud shall have scope given them to err, to fall backward and be broken and be snared and taken, for the evidences of His truth and commission shall not be such as to compel and overbear men's convictions; nor are they such as will compel or overbear yours. The time for leaving you without even the semblance of objection, and without even the appearance of excuse, that time is not yet come. But it will come. Meantime, it would appear that nothing but irresistible restraint, nothing but overpowering physical control, can keep you from the guilt of imbruing your hands in innocent blood, the blood of the Christ, the Son of God! Be it known that no such restraint shall be exercised. You are allowed another sort of moral scope of action, another sort of moral play to your passions, than such limitation would allow. You may condemn Me and crucify Me. "Nevertheless, hereafter you shall see Me at the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven." Then there will be no more scope for error—no more freedom of your own will then. The overpowering convictions will then come, and the impossibility of doing Me injustice then! Meantime, though I summon not the right hand of power to free Me, nor gather round Me for concealment, nor for glory, the clouds of heaven now, still I say unto you, I am the Christ, the Son of God; and though this absence of forceful, physical, unsparing proof may embolden you to take such liberties with Me, "Nevertheless, I say to you, Hereafter"—it shall not be so.
And what but this is the style of remonstrance which the proud sinner needs again and again to have addressed to him? You seem to think sin is less sinful because it is left to your own option to sin. You think it cannot be so dreadful an evil or so infinitely hateful to God, else your way would be more effectually and painfully hedged up against it. If God's claims on you were really so strong as the Bible says, He would make it far more impossible for you to mistake or be misled concerning them. If this really were the Christ who is knocking at the door of your heart, the sound would be louder, or He would force an entrance without ceremony and without delay, and leave you not in doubt for a moment of His Messiahship and Sovereignty. But then you see nothing so striking, you hear nothing so overwhelmingly convincing. If a hand seems to be laid upon you to restrain you from iniquity, it is not so strongly laid upon you but you can contrive to shake it off. If you are forbidden to follow your evil courses, you are not so effectually prevented but that many an open door is still left before you. If this holy law of God asserts its prerogatives and claims, it speaks so quietly, it seems to be now in disguise, almost in disgrace. There is so little of the thunder and the lightning of Sinai: and the fence erected seems so easily broken through, that surely it could not be a Divine hand who placed it there. And then this law of God: it stands over you in the aspect of a judge, no doubt, but it seems so neglected; the multitudes around pay so little regard or respect to its demands—it seems almost, like Christ Himself, a prisoner at the bar, forsaken on all sides and wholly in your power. And the very option that you have of silencing its requirements and setting aside its honor almost emboldens you to do so with the hope of impunity, if not with the air of innocence itself.
3. Ah! but be it known to you, this is precisely the feature of a state of probation. For in reality it is far more Caiaphas that is on his trial than Christ. It is far more your moral state and temper and character before God that are tried and brought to light than the claims of that law and that God and Savior whom you refuse to hear, that Redeemer whom you may be even venturing to reject and crucify afresh. It is far more your probation than His that is in progress. And the very principle at work is this, that sin and disbelieve you may: it is in a sense allowed to you; there is scope and possibility for it. God will not interfere to overwhelm you into obedience or to constrain and compel your repentance and faith. No; you may do the evil, but it is with a drawback and a certification; it is with a "nevertheless" and with a solemn remit to the great "Hereafter." What! Do you think that because God has not made sin impossible, because you have it in your choice and power to sin, because between your purpose to sin and the action of sin He does not interflash His mighty hand, warning you back and keeping you perforce and physical restraint from achieving your designed iniquity; because you simply can sin and are not paralyzed before doing so, simply because God leaves it possible for you to sin and allows your sin to pass without immediate retribution, do you think on that account that the sin is less sinful or that you have done with it and it has done with you? No; the warnings of conscience may have been feeble; the restraints of providence may have been not insuperable; the strivings of the Spirit may have been quite resistible, and been by you effectually resisted, and so you have gone on your way. "Nevertheless, I say unto you, Hereafter . . ."
Ah! how often this takes place! Men would like to be prevented from sinning by sheer force: they will sin and sin and sin because God does not make it impossible for them to sin. Balaam was dealt with so as to make his sin all but literally impossible. The ass turned aside into the field, for she saw the angel's flaming sword, but Balaam smote her, and forced his way forward on his covetous and sinful mission. And again the ass bruised his foot against the wall. But again he urged on against all restraint. And once more the awe-stricken brute falls down beneath her secure, presumptuous master, and in that master's kindled wrath and madness he is well-near slain. Then "the dumb ass, speaking with man's voice, forbade the madness of the prophet." Last of all, his eyes being opened to see the angel of the Lord with a drawn sword, and the angel assuring him that he is come out to withstand him because his way is perverse, what says the wayward and the perverse prophet? "If it displeases you, I will turn back" (Num. 22:22-34).
"If it displease you"! Can he question that? And this conditional promise of obedience—"I will turn back if it displease you." Can he dare to put it in such a form? What does he mean but simply that he will cease from his perverse course only if God will make it utterly impossible for him to pursue it; that he will yet hold on if God will only withdraw his restraints and leave him an open path? Nothing but downright force will he yield to. Nothing but another peremptory command, backed by a freshly threatening wave and flash of the angel's sword before his face will secure his relinquishing the path of sin. No; God will not give him that. He has gotten exceedingly abundantly enough already to demonstrate that the course he has taken "displeases" the Lord. Any loyalty of heart towards Jehovah would have kept him clear and safe from evil from the first. But a heart at enmity to God leads him astray even to the end. For the heart of a child will accept the Father's will, though instructed only by His eye: "I will guide you with My eye." The heart of an alien, a stranger, or a foe, will withstand every influence and disobey if disobedience still be possible. Balaam will go because he is not sternly, and to the end, and forcibly prevented. And the angel retires and leaves the way open for him, and Balaam goes with the princes. "Nevertheless . . . hereafter!"
Forbearance now and judgment afterwards: these are the elements of a probationary state. There is no probation at all if faith is forced and disobedience rendered impossible. Men must have scope, amidst a varied play of interests and motives and temptations, to display what spirit they are of; and, alas! simply because they have scope for this they show that their spirit is evil. Because sentence against an evil work is not speedily executed, the children of men have their hearts fully set in them to do evil. "Nevertheless . . . hereafter!"
Yes, this drawback, this certification, this "Nevertheless," always accompanies sin. And well should it be weighed and pondered. No human eye beholds your secret wickedness: Nevertheless! Your godly mother's voice is silenced when she would dissuade; her kind hand, that never did you harm, is easily shaken off when it would in love detain you from going out on the evening's frolic and the folly, and you go: Nevertheless! Your own conscience speaks a little—at least a little—and you whistle as you go, to silence it, and brace yourself up to brush its remonstrances aside or put them down, and so, onward you go: Nevertheless! The clamor and the mirth of wild companionship gives you, in a little while, the victory over every scruple; and as the crackling of thorns under a pot, your mirthful voice is heard, loudest among the loud, where God is forgotten and the thought of living soberly and righteously and godly in this present evil world would be resented as impertinent if even mentioned among you, and you are all as joyous as if there were no "Hereafter." Nevertheless!
What! Is this worldliness—is this wickedness—all? Does it end here? Have you done with it? Rather, has it done with you? No, it meets you again. It treasures itself up; secretly, perhaps; steadily, however; growingly, accumulating; a cup filling up, filling up always, filling up silently; making no noise about it. "Nevertheless, hereafter, you shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, and every eye shall see Him, and those also who pierced Him shall wail because of Him." "Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth, and walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes; but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment." Always this "Nevertheless"—always that terrible "Hereafter." "Remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many."
But before the darkness comes you have today as a day of visitation. Jesus summons you now to examine and prove His claims—to search and try His power and willingness to bless you. He consents to put Himself, as it were, at the bar; and you are to pronounce on whether He shall have your acquiescence in His mission and His message; your acceptance of His terms and righteousness and grace; your reverence, your gratitude, your love. He will not overflash your whole soul with evidence of His infinite preciousness, and His infinitely perfect power to make you blessed. That style of convincing men pertains not to the dispensation of preliminary probation, but to final judgment. He will give you sufficient proof to satisfy every sincere inquiry. He will sufficiently dispel, or at least disarm, every semblance of a ground or reason for doubt. He will more and more fully advance your conviction to the full assurance of understanding. But if you refuse Him because He comes to you meek and lowly—not crying nor lifting up His voice—speaking only by His word, which you may silence, if you please, by shutting it and putting it away, or calling you only by His ambassadors, and these men of like passions with yourselves, mere earthen vessels, in which you may refuse to recognize divine treasure of excellency of power from on high, then you must be allowed your own way, even as a willful man will have his way. Only, in parting with you, Christ, by His word and Spirit and messengers, and vicegerent in your own conscience within—Christ in many ways protests, and remits you to the final judgment bar. He leaves you to your course, but it is with certification that the whole case must be overhauled again, where there shall be no more remitting of it, and no remission of sin; for "Nevertheless, Hereafter" you shall stand before the judgment-seat of Christ!
Ah, Caiaphas! you fancy that if this case were so important, visible beams of glory would glow around that prisoner's head, and flashing swords of wrath from heaven would warn you to lay no rude hand upon Him. No, but you must be allowed the liberty of sinning even this length, if your carnal mind in enmity against God will have it so; and only "hereafter" will it be suitable to give those vindications of the Son of God which you would demand as preliminary to your letting Him alone. But those vindications will come. He shall one day be the judge who is now at the bar. "Hereafter you shall see Him coming in the clouds of heaven."
And you, O unfixed and wavering, procrastinating soul! you are waiting for a better season, and a stronger influence, and a clearer demonstration that Jesus is the Christ; or at least for a more powerful conviction that an interest in Him is the one thing needful. Ah! you are waiting for the time when by some new and unheard-of instrumentality—some strange and weird influence, as of one rising from the dead—you will find it no more possible to waver or no more possible to wait. Beware! You have all the evidence and all the means you will ever have; and in waiting for something more to make your unbelief impossible, you are waiting for what will never come till the great and irretrievable "Hereafter." Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, now; and His true faith and holy religion is assuredly the one thing necessary, in however gentle strains it commends itself to your acceptance or however rude the repulses and refusals it consents to endure at your hands. You may refuse it; you may neglect the great salvation. You are at liberty, if you please, to overlook all the considerations whereby it can abundantly attest its intrinsic excellence, its exact suitableness and rich sufficiency. You may set aside the Messiah's claims. If you think that Baal is God you are not hindered from serving him; and if sin and the world be your chosen portion, it is not in the gospel to frighten you away by force. But you must carry with you, as a sting which can never be plucked out, this distressing drawback on your pleasures, which will embitter all your enjoyment of them as often as it is allowed to speak—this strange and painful and secret protest, which Christ nails on the door of that heart where He has knocked in vain—this ominous, this burdensome, this haunting "Nevertheless," this unsilenceable appeal, this inevitable complaint and remit, which always hands you onward to a dark "Hereafter." "Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth, and walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes; but know that for all these things the Lord shall call you into judgment."
You may refuse to repent and believe the gospel. You may put away from you the call to take your Bible in your hand, and in your closet cry to Him who sees in secret, and there submit yourself to the Savior's righteousness and surrender yourself to the Savior's service. You may, time after time, reject the Christ. "Nevertheless!" "Hereafter!" "Hereafter you shall see Him sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven."
How very different is the style and kind of that "Hereafter" to which Jesus will point you, if you come to Him as a contrite and sincere believer, as an earnest soul seeking life and salvation, having done with all duplicity, desiring no more to deceive yourself, and resolved no more to be deceived! Are you thus in secret seeking the Lord? Have you made a point of truly considering Messiah's claims, treating Him not as a helpless prisoner at your bar but as He really is, your Lord and King? And have you sought an ear to hear and a heart to understand that gospel of salvation which was sealed in the depths of His abasement, that office of the priesthood, with all its riches secured for the poor by His poverty, by His unmurmuring obedience and silent suffering, even as a sheep before her shearers is dumb? Are you coming to Him sincerely, seeking to find Him that Christ to you which He has been to those who have put their trust in Him, who have looked to Him and been lightened, been unburdened, cleansed, comforted and blessed? And when invited to taste and see that He is gracious, do you without duplicity, and without delay, yield obedience to the call, "Come and see"? (John 1:46-51). Then the heart of Jesus yearns over you. Behold," says He, "an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile." Do you say to Him, "Rabbi, how do You know me?" Ah! long before they knew Him, "the Lord knows those who are His." "When you were under the fig tree I saw you." While your secret prayer ascended with groanings that could not be uttered; while your burdened soul labored to throw off its anxious load; when your weary wandering spirit first looked abroad, affrighted, on the ocean of influences and powers of the world to come on which it is afloat, seeking some polestar, seeking some chart, seeking some haven of rest, seeking some pilot skilled and powerful, gracious and faithful and true; when struggling with thoughts too great for you to understand and desires too deep for you to express; with questions of eternal interests fairly raised, and none but God now evidently able to solve them to your satisfaction and your salvation; when thus, as a little child, no longer bracing up in pride, or braving it out in presumption, but breaking down in helplessness and contrition, as one by father and by mother and by all forsaken, you fled to the Lord to take you up; then, "under the fig-tree," in that scene of tears, in that agony of thought, in that crisis of awakening, in that birth-place of faith and penitence, in that hour of prayer, "I saw you," says Jesus Christ the Lord. My Spirit it was who led you there and made intercession with those groanings which could not be uttered; and, unknown to you, I made you Mine; and now that you are taking Me as yours, is it not because "I prevented you in the day of your calamity," because "I considered your trouble and knew the soul in its adversity"—because I anticipated you secretly with My grace, and girded your soul in its weakness, and strengthened your soul in its woe?" Thus does the Savior reply to you. And now, recognizing Christ's kind and gracious eye as having been upon you in all your spiritual anxiety and prayers, and Christ's kind and gracious Spirit as having inspired and secretly guided and controlled them all, you say to Him, for a new light has broken over your own heart and history from Messiah's presence with you, and Messiah's glory falls upon all your life and destiny now: "Rabbi, You are the Son of God, You are the king of Israel!"
"And Jesus answered and said to him, Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig-tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these. Truly, truly, I say to you, Hereafter you shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." Yes, your "Hereafter" shall be bright and brightening. It shall be like Jacob's, as infefted at Bethel into the Covenant of your God, into the family of grace, into the fellowship of heaven—that fellowship of the spirits of just men made perfect, and the innumerable company of angels, and the heavenly Jerusalem, and Mount Zion, the city of the living God; in which, living even now by faith as raised up together with Christ and made to sit with Him in heavenly places, you shall find the Son of God the medium and the mediator of all holy communion with your God and heavenly privileges with all the brethren, the strong Daysman in whom you have a constant standing in in heaven's favor, and the love and unseen service of heaven's ministering holy ones. "Hereafter" you shall have a growing insight into the intercourse which the Son of man is the medium and the means of maintaining between heaven and earth. "Hereafter" you shall see with growing clearness your own place in the household of faith, and the path of life (your own open path) onward and upward to the household in heaven.
Ah! this is another "Hereafter" such as the believer may delight to anticipate: very different indeed from that which was denounced to Caiaphas—no burdensome, no ominous, no heavy-sounding summons, coming forward as it were from the dark unknown, but a glad and delightsome thought, telling of the darkness as now passed and the true light now shining, and shining more and more unto the perfect day. Viewed in its large and truly comprehensive aspect, the believer's future, the believer's "Hereafter," comes on step by step, bringing with it nothing dreadful, nothing doubtful, nothing really to shrink from. "You shall guide me by Your counsel and afterwards receive me to glory." Even in your future course on earth, "Hereafter you shall see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man." A stone may be your pillow—the cold earth your bed. You may be leaving your father's home and going to the land of the stranger. Nevertheless, in reality, your "Hereafter," in its spiritual essence, in its abiding elements, in its really great and important features, shall be a seeing more and more into heaven, as a home opened for you and kept open by the intervention of the Son of God, the King of Israel, in whom you are an heir of the kingdom and in whom you are truly blessed.
You must either side with Caiaphas in rejecting the Christ or with Nathaniel in receiving Him. Each of them has his "Hereafter." And the question is, which of these two "Hereafters" do you prefer? "Today, while it is called today," you have your choice! "Behold, now is the accepted time: behold, now is the day of salvation."
THE TRIAL, CONDEMNED!"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1
"Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He has spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now you have heard His blasphemy. What do you think? They answered and said, He is guilty of death" (Matt. 26:65, 66).
"Then the high priest rent his clothes, and said, What need we any further witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy: what do you think? And they all condemned Him to be guilty of death" (Mark 14:63, 64).
The protest and appeal which Jesus took against the Sanhedrim, summoning them to His own bar on the day when the great white throne shall be set and the heavens and the earth shall flee away, brought the trial to a crisis and conclusion. He has evidently claimed to be the Son of God. He has made himself equal with God. If He is not in very deed the Messiah, or if the Messiah of the
prophets is not held forth in the testimony of the Spirit of Christ which was in them, as a Divine person, the man that is the Father's fellow; then this Jesus who stands before them, and who has ventured in such unsparing terms to remit them with certification to His judgment seat at the last day, must be a blasphemer. Settling it firmly that He is not the Messiah, and resolved that nothing shall induce them to open or consider that question, they have now found Him using language which, except on the supposition of what they will not for a moment regard as possible, may and must be denounced as blasphemy. With a sanctimonious and solemn and well-acted pretence of veneration for the name and the glory of God, the high priest dramatically and tragically indicates his abhorrence of the alleged crime; sums up and rests the whole on what has just transpired from the prisoner Himself, as sufficient to condemn Him out of His own mouth; and, charging the jury so to speak, in the most summary and prejudiced and peremptory manner, demands their verdict. "He rent his clothes, saying, He has spoken blasphemy; what need have we of further witnesses? Behold, now you have heard His blasphemy: what do you think?" Nor do they exhibit a moment's hesitation or indicate the least difference of opinion, or take any time for consultation. Summarily, immediately, unanimously, they bring in a verdict of Guilty. "They answered and said, He is guilty of death." "They all condemned Him to be guilty of death."
"Of death"! Of nothing less than death! For "the wages of sin is death," and "the soul that sins shall surely die." "Guilty of death"!
Thus the Lord of glory is in the position of a condemned prisoner, lying under sentence of death! Let us turn aside to see this great sight—our Lord's condemnation.
And this condemnation, supposing His judges were right in refusing to regard Him as Messiah, was according to law. So far they spoke truly to Pilate when they said, "We have a law, and by our law He ought to die because He made himself the Son of God." For if He were not indeed the Christ, He had undeniably become liable to the penalty which God, by the mouth of Moses, had denounced on the blasphemer: "He who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death; as well the stranger as he who is born in the land, when he blasphemes the name of the Lord, shall be put to death." It is even provided that he shall be "brought without the camp" (Lev. 26:14-16) exactly as "Christ also suffered without the gate" (Heb. 13:12, 13).
Thus Jesus appears before us under the condemnation of the Law; and setting aside the unrighteous action of human instrumentality, except as bringing about what the hand and counsel of God determined before should be done, let us esteem Him, in the proper meaning of the terms, "stricken and smitten of God." Let us regard Him as "condemned by heaven."
And now, what can this great sight mean? The Lord of glory held fast as a criminal, and now a convict, "condemned," held "guilty of death"! What reflections should this suggest? And what emotions? And what duties may this scene entail or what demands may it enforce upon us? What is the grand and first improvement that we must make of our Lord's condemnation?
Our first improvement of it is to turn it to account, personally, by faith in a way of grasping, wielding, pleading it for our own deliverance from all condemnation.
How gloriously we are warranted to do so! Was Jesus worthy, O my soul, of this condemnation to death? You know full well that He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." And how then will you vindicate the great judge of all the earth in laying sentence of death, by His own hand and determinate counsel, upon His dear Son, in whom was no iniquity, and in whose mouth there was no guile; who was fairer than the children of men, worthy even of the infinite fullness of the Father's love? Say not that the Father can vindicate His own justice and counsel in this dread drama in the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem, where the Eternal God, in the person of the Son incarnate, has decree of death adjudged unto Him. Very true and sure it is that the Father can justify His own part in this great mystery. Without you or your intervention in any shape or form, the righteousness of God in the cross of Christ shall shine forth with overpowering splendor. And it shall be seen that He bore in his own body the sins of many and died a substitute, the just for the unjust, the living head, responsible, by eternal covenant and voluntary undertaking, for the countless multitudes, his members, whom the Father has given to Him.
But, O my soul, you have a duty of your own to discharge in vindication of the justice of God in condemning the Holy Jesus. And there is a sin of which you must take heed lest you be guilty of it—for, alas! many are—whereby, so far as you are concerned, you would be doing your part in concealing and compromising, eclipsing and extinguishing, the justice of God in this condemnation of His Son: even so as that if all men should finally be found guilty with you of the same grievous sin (though that can never be), the justice of God would be found effectually concealed, compromised, eclipsed indeed; yes, unequivocally extinguished forever.
What is that sin? It is the sin of unbelief, of proud, impenitent, independent, self-sufficient or despairing unbelief; the sin of standing apart from Christ; of attempting to maintain before God a separate footing of your own; of offering to deal with God in and by yourself—an attempt and offer which, by their rejection on the part of God, and by dreary sense of failure on your own part, issue, alas! too often in your ceasing to attempt to deal in earnestness or truth with God at all.
Shall it be said, O my soul, that having seen the just One tried and condemned, you left Jehovah to justify this His "counsel" and procedure as best He might, and leave the Church to justify Him by receiving Jesus as her substitute, acknowledging Him the bearer of her sin and sorrow, her condemnation and her death deserved; but that as for you, when asked to explain the mystery, to add any element of personal demonstration of your own to show the justice of God in it, you had nothing to say, you had no honest, heartfelt, loyal proof to give? Be that far from you, O my soul! Come here into this court of justice as you are, a sinner worthy of death, for "the wages of sin is death." Come, and as if there were no other possibility of making it righteous for God to permit this sentence of death to fall on Jesus, do your part to make it righteous. Say, as if there were no other poor sinner to say it, or needing to say it: "He is here as my substitute and surety, and that is the ground and explanation of the Father's righteousness in condemning Him." Say it as if in rivalry with all the saints of God to rescue the Father's justice from the imputation of condemning the innocent. Lay your sins on the Lamb of God, Himself the sinless, that there may be sin for this condemnation righteously to alight upon, for this sentence of death justly to avenge. True, there are others who come along with you, a people whom no man can number. But the responsibility lies all unbroken on yourself as much as if you were here alone. For as Christ breaks not up His saving power and love and righteousness into countless shreds and fragments, allocating a share to each of the redeemed, but makes each partaker of all, insomuch that each can say, as if he stood alone, "He loved me and gave Himself for me," so on each, not broken into shreds and elements, minute and numerous as the great multitude of the redeemed, but whole and entire, as if on him alone depended all the issue, responsibility is laid to come by faith, and so, standing at the bar with Jesus—Jesus the holy representative, and your sinful soul the true and guilty panel—to link on, and merge, and blend and identify your own case with His; and then to say with all the redeemed (what alone can render Jesus' condemnation just): "Surely He has borne our griefs, He has carried our sorrows: He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray: we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:4-6).
For it is a high and glorious duty to come as a lost, awakened, convinced transgressor, and freely, frankly, boldly, cast myself, with all my heart and soul, into the divine plan and purpose whereof this condemnation of Jehovah's Messiah forms an epoch so astonishing. It is not my privilege merely, as freely invited and earnestly besought of God. That is very wonderful: nor can I really awake from the sleep of worldliness and the deep-drugged slumber of sin, to hear my Maker's voice ringing in my ears in the language of entreaty and compassion, without feeling that to speak thus to one who long amidst His kindness lived dead to His very existence, "without God in the world," must argue a boundlessness of love and pity such that assuredly His thoughts cannot be as my thoughts, nor His ways as my ways. And surprised, indeed, may I be to find that it is my inalienable privilege, as addressed by the embassy of reconcilation, to return and find peace with God and salvation from all my ruin.
But it is not merely as a blessed privilege that this falls happily to my lot. Nor is it merely as one selfishly grasping at a scheme which promises deliverance from the wrath to come, and communication of countless and desirable good things that I am to believe on Jesus. To believe on Jesus: to go and stand at that bar and say, in self-condemnation and abhorrence, "I am the guilty, and I confess it; against You, You only have I sinned, madly defying Your threatened wrath, worthy of death and a fearful looking for of judgment," and at that bar, while the determinate sentence of God's counsel is about to go forth even unto death against the just One, to slip in beneath the falling sentence my sin, my confession, my condemnation, so that there may be a just ground for the sentence, and so that God may be justified when He speaks, and clear when He judges both Jesus of Nazareth and me—that He may be faithful and just in forgiving me (Ps. 51:4; 1 John 1:9): to do this is to do my part in placing the divine righteousness in a clear and vindicated point of view—to do my part in evidencing that Jesus stood there "the just for the unjust," truly liable in their responsibility, He who knew no sin "made sin for them"; and therefore not unjust, but, on the contrary, very righteous was God the Father in condemning, and in being "pleased" to condemn and to "bruise" the Son of His love. For if I stand apart from Christ, if I manage and contrive to bear in my bosom my evil conscience towards God, my offended Lawgiver, drugging it with more sin, while drinking still from broken cisterns—if thus I go about saying, "Who will show us any good?" refusing to confess my estrangement from God, refusing to end it by returning to Him as a confessed sinner, pleading Christ as my suffering substitute, whose condemnation shall free me from condemnation and whose death shall give me life immortal; if I will not come and, in short, link on my case and destiny with that of Christ; I virtually say that, as far as I am concerned, I do not care though the righteousness of God in condemning the Holy Jesus were never vindicated, and were all to act in like manner, the condemnation of Jesus, as a permission, or appointment, or counsel, or decree of God never could be vindicated, but would be ultimately found to have been in every light groundless and unrighteous, and therefore infinite folly and evil! The salvation of all the sheep, according to the terms of the eternal covenant, must forever preclude the possibility of such dishonor accruing to the character of God from the death of Jesus. It is absolutely certain that "He shall justify many, for He did bear their iniquities." But the responsibility that lies on me is not by this at all affected. I am bound to do my part that the wisdom and righteousness of God, in appointing condemnation and sentence of death to His dear Son, shall labor under no obscuration. I can have no means, however, of doing so save by saying that whatever others do, if God wants a witness and a vindicator of His honor, behold, here am I. I am under sentence of death already, a child of wrath, and that justly (Eph. 2:2; Ps. 51:4). I will go and stand beside Jesus. I will say, "Lord, make me one with You. It is I who am guilty; take my case in hand: be surety for me." Ah! then, full justly may the condemnation fall; full righteous is the sentence of death. And behold, O God, You are a just God and a Savior. If none can attest Your justice, I at least shall; for I have so confessed my sin and forsaken it, laying it on Jesus, that You are just in condemning Him; You are faithful and just in forgiving me! Thus I glorify God by believing on Jesus. Yes; it is not a privilege merely to be a poor and penitent believer after all my sin and with all my sorrow. It is a high point of loyalty to God—the very highest. He is seeking vindications of the justice and righteousness of His procedure in condemning and sentencing His own Son to death. You have it in your power gloriously to answer His appeal—gloriously to serve His glorious purpose. Fear not, O sinner, to bring all your guilt within the bond and compass of this condemnation that fell on Jesus. Appeal, in turn, to your God to count you condemned and sentenced; yes, crucified with Christ. Take your stand beside Christ at the bar. Take up your position in Christ: He is your covert, your refuge, your hiding-place. Flee into Him. It is the righteous sentence of God's law condemning you to death which then goes out and issues in those words that fell on Jesus' ear: "He is guilty of death." It is a righteous sentence then, though it were only for His partnership with you and yours in Him; righteous, as pronounced then on Him; righteously silenced now as any separate sentence on you. And amazingly there conspire these two glorious issues in one: You justify God in the condemnation of Jesus; and in the condemnation of Jesus, God exonerates and justifies you!
Said Paul, "I do not frustrate the grace of God, for if righteousness comes by the law, Christ is dead in vain." He felt that in the search for righteousness or justification, to pass by Christ, and turn to any other quarter, were to do what in him lay to make Christ's death meaningless and empty, null and void—in a word, "in vain." It were to "frustrate" or counteract the "grace of God." It were to accumulate all the guilt of reducing God's gracious plan and purpose to folly and failure. Glorious and successful, indeed, that plan and covenant will be. "My sheep hear My voice, and they follow Me, and I give to them eternal life; neither shall any pluck them out of My hand." And they are seen in vision on Mount Zion, all sealed and secured, following the Lamb wherever He goes, His Father's name written in their foreheads—each one made perfect in holiness and without fault before the throne of God. And this, the everlasting covenant, with Christ's perfecting and implementing of its terms, perfectly and infallibly secures (Heb. 10:10, 14). Yet, as we say, no thanks to the unbeliever if that sealed and irrefragable covenant never fails; and no thanks to him if the blood by which it is sealed is ultimately found not to have been shed in vain. It is not his fault if all God's plan is not found a failure and all God's grace frustrated. So far as he has it in his choice, he does nothing to prevent it being so, but everything to bring it about, were such an issue possible. And if he never can succeed, his responsibility and guilt are none the less. To justify yourself before God, or attempt to do so, or to attempt to live without justification in the righteousness of Christ, is to stigmatize the death of Christ as unnecessary and to treat it now as having been "in vain."
Even so, in like manner it is possible to frustrate the whole trial of Christ, the process which divine justice instituted and carried on against Him, and to treat the whole as if it were mockery, vanity, and foolishness. What else can it be in your eyes than a mere spectacle of wonder if you come not and enter personally into the divine mind and purpose in the setting forth of God's Christ as the substitute of the guilty, the surety of the condemned? Secretly and in God's sight this Sanhedrim ought to be filled to overflowing, each one of us pressing in to adjoin ourselves to Christ. Rather, the process must be adjourned to the court of conscience and the judgment-seat of God. It is the hour for arresting ourselves and sisting ourselves at our Maker's bar; for it is the hour when a great Advocate and interposing victim sums up upon Himself the guilt of all who make Him their responsible surety and sponsor unto God. It is the hour for anticipating the condemnation of the judgment morning. It is the time for falling into the hands of the living God in conviction, confession, and condemnation of ourselves; for now the hands of the living God are full in dealing as a righteous judge with Him who is pleased to take the place and sin and condemnation and death of the guilty. And here, during the currency, and under covert of this awful transaction—this trial of the Lamb—let our deserved trial be transacted and merged and swallowed up in it. This is not only lawful on our part, but dutiful, and loyal, and binding. By the Church coming and transferring her guilt upon her blessed Head, thus only is His condemnation holy or glorifying to God; while to everyone thus repenting, seeking his Maker's presence, believing that his Maker is his judge, and can by no means clear the guilty, but must ever deal in penal vengeance with all iniquity—to everyone seizing a golden opportunity that never can return (for "there remains no more sacrifice for sin") an opportunity of placing all his sin beneath the wrath of God, and the condemnation of His broken law, where the condemnation has been borne already, and the wrath has fallen and all past away—to everyone thus coming in penitence and faith to make Christ his only Head and Surety before the judge of all, Christ's trial shall be imputed unto him as his own: its issues shall be accounted as having already fallen to the believer's lot. In Christ's condemnation he shall be held as having been already condemned; and to him, being in Christ, there shall be therefore now no condemnation.
Oh! it were a heavenly wisdom, above all things to be desired and cultivated, to learn in our relation to God, to use aright the process and the trial, the condemnation and the cross of Emmanuel. By nature we are, as sinners before God, like imprisoned criminals, awaiting gloomily the day of trial, the day of judgment, and then the eternal execution of the doom: "Children of wrath," says the word which cannot lie, "even as others." The prison in which the impenitent and unbelieving are shut up is never visited by the friendly footsteps of their Maker, nor is it gladdened by the sunshine of the light of His countenance. The prisoners live in darkness. The light of eternal day streams not in upon them; or if it did, it would affright them, for they come not unto the light lest their deeds should be made manifest. Meantime they contrive to illumine their prison with sparks of their own kindling, and decorate their various cells to please their fancy and their taste. The night is far spent, and the day is at hand; but it is a day that shall begin by the great assize, when the judge, who is even now at the door, shall sit upon His great white throne. Multitudes dislike to think of it. The brief interval until the trial they spend in games called merchandise, and marriage, and mirth, and such like (Matt. 24:38). They follow these games impetuously, but with a dreary sense and dread of something to come, which they desire to exclude and drown the thought of. Soon, the jailor, death, comes: and by name he summons this prisoner and that; and as the summoned soul looks out upon the threshold he meets a ghastly spectacle—Sin! all his sin in one mass, in one view. "Sin lies at the door," as God said to Cain; lies at the door, crouching, waiting for him, now dragging him along and going before to judgment, witnessing against him, justifying the judge in consigning the prisoner to the pit!
Ah! how many have passed forth from their prison into God's great Court of Justice to find their sin thus accumulated—waiting for them—witnessing against them—weighing them down to hell!
Did you never feel that you are a prisoner? that your soul has no free outlet into the heavenly and spiritual kingdom of grace and glory, where a reconciled God smiles on His free-born children, the children of liberty, the children of the light and of the day? Did you never feel that you are in prison: that there is and must be a spiritual region where the soul might walk at large and free, not struck back and struck down by the bare attempt to realize its approaching destination and its eternal destiny? Are you not a poor prisoner, locked up and shut in from the bright plains of life and immortality? And ever as your soul's footsteps would attempt to cross the threshold and seek a prospect into the eternal state that lies in waiting for you, a voice of terror—the voice of conscience—the voice of sin crouching at the door warns you to retreat, for that region in its blissful realms is not for you? You dare not meditate in peace and at ease upon the everlasting state. You are not free to think even of what is beyond the limits of your dwelling-place upon the earth. All beyond is forbidden to you, as much as if for you it were the green world lying outside the convict's cell, beyond the precincts to which justice and his jailor sternly have restricted him.
Did you never feel this? Were you never conscious of a grinding imprisonment whereby your soul is hemmed in within the narrow bounds of the miserable remaining wreck of three-score years and ten; and the wide, glad empire, and holy world beyond is what your conscience of sin, and your forgotten slighted Maker's wrath, warning you back into your dark and dreary cell, forbid you even in thought to enter? And did you never fear that when your prison door at last shall be opened, and you must step forth into court before the Almighty, to hear your own case called, and the process against you prosecuted—did you never fear, yes, feel assured, that the Judge has only to remind you of one among a thousand iniquities, and to point to your dreary dread and dislike of Himself, to convict you of rebellion and apostasy and enmity to God? And, O sinner! what will you do in the day when your case is thus called and tried?
Do you not think that, with such prospects, you really do need something that might be called glad tidings—gospel? Do you not think that, after all, the gospel may be precious—better far than what you have till now considered it—a weary tale that has been three times told?
Are you, then, this prisoner? "sin lying at the door"; "the judge" also "at the door"; and, before long, your case—your own case, by name—right sure to be called, called by a voice that neither takes denial nor grants delay?
What if there is a strange scheme which some, yes, many, have even tried and proved successful, whereby this dreaded trial may be set aside and cancelled, or rather unstinged and glorified; whereby all process against you by an angry God may be at once and forever quenched, and replaced by that wondrous verdict of grace: "You are all fair, my love; there is no spot in you." Would to God you would awake to this matter, the critical and central question, the hinge of your eternal destiny!
In your prison "sin lies at the door"; and because of sin you dare not come out to look abroad. But there is another than sin at the door. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock," says Christ: and I preach "deliverance to the captive, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound." Receive Him, and He will quench your captivity with His own, and attribute to you all the legal satisfaction which flowed from His own trial all through its various stages, even from the hour of His arrest to His condemnation and His cross—to His loud, heaven-piercing, heaven-opening cry, "It is finished."
Come and hear what the soul can say whom Christ has taken out of prison, whom Christ has justified, whom the Son has made free indeed. Let us question such n one, dwelling now in the heavenly places—not, I mean, as yet in the realm of glory, but in the region of the risen life, free in the risen Jesus, and walking at liberty and in peace with God. "Tell us, O blessed soul, the secret of your glorious emancipation from prison, your recall from captivity and bondage, your absolution in the trial, and your free fellowship with God—your full and fearless hope of his glory. Why are you no more liable to be arrested, carried off a prisoner, placed relentlessly at the bar of justice, witnessed against and condemned for your sins which you have sinned as well as I? Why breaks the eternal future to you in you holy musings as a morning without clouds and as the clear shining after rain? Whence that hope of glory in your happy heart, that light of heaven in your glad and kindling eye, that light and hope that have never dawned on me?"
"Would you know"—that happy soul will say"—would you know the secret of my escape from condemnation, my fearless freedom, my prospect of no terrifying judgment court when I die, but of my Father's many-mansioned house? I have all these privileges wholly and only in Christ, because all that I had to fear I have learned to regard as already past and gone in Him. I was indeed, as a sinner, liable to be suddenly apprehended and hurried off to judgment; but casting myself on Jesus, I plead that this is past when Jesus was arrested: with this I repel all who would lay arrest upon my soul; and Jesus gives me warrant, for did He not say when Himself arrested, "If you seek Me, let these go their way"?
"I was once a captive and a prisoner, a captive moving to and fro, at the will of lusts and tyrants, sin and Satan. But I learned that Christ had been a captive in chains that He might carry captivity captive. I besought Him for liberty to defy my captors and break my chains in the name and by the might of His chains; and I found, as by a spiritual spell, responsive to my faith, that because of Christ's captivity, and as its glorious fruit and counterpart, I had the right and the power as his client to be free.
"I was once an outcast, a very forsaken soul, seeing no fellowship for eternity, and having no communion of spirit with any one for immortality and the hope beyond the grave. A melancholy, solitary, weird strangeness crept upon my spirit, and I felt the cold dread and chill of being spiritually and indeed alone—alone—alone! But I saw that Christ had been "forsaken"; that all His disciples had forsaken Him; that Jehovah God had forsaken Him. And I saw that if this was not to be in vain, it was appointed and endured in order that such as I, coming to Him, might be, not outcast or forsaken, but "gathered" with everlasting mercies and added to the roll and fellowship of the brethren of the Lord, the household of faith, the general assembly and church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven, my fellow-citizens now in Zion and in our Father's house.
"I saw Jesus carried captive to a cruel and faithless high priest's abode, to be visited with no compassion, to receive no sympathy in time of need. And I feel that the just fruit of this—the intended import, the gracious design of this—is that I, and such unworthy sinners who are only willing as I am, might have, in the holy place of the Most High, a merciful and faithful high priest, before whom we might appear at the throne of grace, boldly looking for compassion and for grace to help in time of need.
"I saw Jesus denied by a disciple, saying, 'I know not the man.' And Jesus, I am sure, suffered this that He might say of such sinners as I am, 'I know you by name, and you have found grace in My sight.' And the Lord knows those who are His and will confess them before His Father and the holy angels.
"I saw him accused; witnesses bribed, produced, and stimulated to accuse Him. And if by every part of his poverty I am to be made rich, can I be wrong in thinking that by casting in my lot with Christ and being found in Him, one with Him in all things, there accrues to me from this the privilege of having no witnesses produced or permitted to appear against me in the judgment: of having that promise fulfilled, 'The iniquities of Judah shall be sought for, but they shall not be found'; and that other promise, 'Every tongue that rises in judgment against you you shall condemn'; and the challenge found unanswerable, 'Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?' For the destroying of the temple and the rearing of it again in three days answers every challenge, since thus 'it is Christ who died; yes, rather, who is risen again' (Rom. 8:33, 34).
"I saw Jesus silent: as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth. And am I wrong in therefore 'filling my mouth with arguments'? For He was silent that He might open my lips and cause my mouth to show forth His praise; delivering me, as the God of my salvation, from blood guiltiness, that my tongue might sing aloud of His righteousness (Ps. 51:14, 15).
"I saw his Sonship denied and scouted, the claim of it scorned as blasphemy. And again by his poverty I am made rich, for hereby my sonship is secured and vindicated, and, 'behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God!'
"And finally, consummating all, closing the case and exhausting all the process, that there might be no single element lacking completely to forestall, anticipate, and quench the process that law and justice might have taken against me; that He might stand in my room even to the last, and be able to save me to the uttermost; I saw that He turned not away from condemnation! The Lord of glory turned not away from being condemned! The Prince of Life bowed to the sentence of death! And now, as myself a great transgressor, convicted in my own conscience of sinning grievously, of having continually broken that law, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,' of carrying in my very bosom a fountain of sin, a source of corruption and death, convinced there can be no other escape, seeking no other, marveling over this in that it glorifies God, and suits and saves and comforts me, I become, as by myself, legally quite dead, having no standing in law at all, as the woman on marrying her husband is legally one with and lost in him. I renounce myself: I give my hand and heart to Jesus. I merge and blend my guilt in that responsibility which lay on Him when "He who knew no sin was made sin." My iniquities when sought for cannot be found except they be found in Christ; I myself when sought for cannot be found except I be found in Christ. I lie down beneath this shield, for it is full above this shield that the sentence of death and wrath breaks finally; yes, has broken already, and rolled away forever; and I know that "to him who is in Christ Jesus there is now no condemnation."
"Think not," such an one will farther and finally warn us, "think not that this is fanciful or fanatical, that this is unreal or imaginary. It is really the essence of all penitent and believing experience; and for nothing less than to relieve you, by His own trial and condemnation, from the dreadful looking-for of vengeance, is Jesus freely offered to you in the gospel. You tamper with God's blessed gospel, and with the whole wondrous redemption that is in Christ, as a Substitute and Savior, if you have to do with that gospel for anything less than redemption from judgment and from death, through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. It is to bring you at once into all the freedom and all the fearlessness which a full absolution and final cancelling of all penal process against you under the government of your Eternal God must convey that Jesus offers Himself to you to be your Advocate and Mediator, promising to bring to bear on your actual acquittal and acceptance all the fullness of His own atoning merit in that wondrous work in which He, the High Priest, offered Himself the Lamb to God, under curse and condemnation, and thereby quenched forever for the Church the righteous wrath of heaven. The undefined weight of fear upon the soul; the perplexing sense of guilt and shame in the conscience; the dread terror of the Eternal prospect, and the dark dislike to think of it; by the substitution of Himself under the guilt of death He will forever remove. The deep shadow that loomed so drearily upon your future He will throw back behind you into the past, merging it in the shadow of Calvary and the darkness of His own woe—the hour and the power of darkness, and the future He will unroll and disclose to you, bright with the riches of His grace unsearchable and resplendent in the beauties of holiness."
Oh! it will be as life from the dead, as the falling off of the captive’s chains; as the dawning of a propitious sun when you have wandered long on the darksome plains or in the valley of the shadow of death: it will be as the carol of the bird that has broken its little prison and gone forth on its rejoicing element beneath the bright face of smiling heaven; it will be as the calming of a little daughter’s sobs and fears on a loving father’s breast; when your soul, having learned to interpret, for its own necessity and duty, the glorious interposition of Christ as an expiatory substitute, has had the liberty and loyalty, as it has fully the warrant and is deeply under obligation to flee into Christ, the condemned and crucified, and, springing up, as with elastic bound, in the hope of heaven and of home, can say: "I am condemned and crucified with Christ. I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. I am condemned with Christ, nevertheless—yes, therefore—to me in Christ Jesus there is now no condemnation."
"For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit." Romans 8:3-4