The Ultimate Purpose of Christ's Love and Death
by John Eadie, 1865
Let us now consider the ultimate purpose of the Savior's love and death — the sanctification of His church: 'That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word.' This is a design worthy of such a love, and fitting such a death — to purify and ennoble its objects; to wash them from the stain of guilt, and clothe them in the 'beauties of holiness!'
The pardon of sin is not referred to — as it is but as a means to an end. The imputation of righteousness precedes, and prepares for the impartation of holiness. The mere remission of guilt does not bestow purity, nor re-confer original innocence. Therefore, in God's salvation, man is not only justified — but he is also sanctified; not only does he receive a full and irrevocable pardon of all his sins — but he becomes a new creature. God saves — not only to free His people from Hell — but to also prepare them for Heaven, to elevate them to those holy joys which they had lost and forfeited by the fall — was the great end and purpose of the Savior's mission and death.
Christ's death not only affects our state — but also has definite effects upon our character. He died to sanctify the church. This sanctification, though it is the design of the atonement, has indeed its immediate source in the influences of the Divine Spirit. He regenerates the heart; and the radical change is one from death to life. Not only does He originate the change — but He sustains it; for He 'abides' within us. What He commences — He still fosters and perfects. The life which He imparts — He nurses and nourishes, until it comes to maturity.
The forgiveness of guilt is an act outside of us, or a sentence of release, which, on being pronounced — takes immediate and complete effect. But sanctification is a work within us, which is progressive in its nature; and which, owing to our waywardness, is often retarded. Oh! there is many a sigh and many a struggle when the heart is carried away by inferior motives — the law in the members warring against the law of the mind, and threatening to bring it into captivity.
From the mysterious moment of regeneration when the spirit is born again, or the more palpable moment when this hidden life reveals its power in conversion — on until death — the work of sanctification is ever advancing — often very unequally, and amidst tears and prayers, conflicts and triumphs.
The pardon of iniquity is a blessing that comes directly, and without intervention, from the cross; but the purification of our nature, though it has the Spirit for its agent, is yet carried out by various instrumentalities. Thus it is said in our text, 'He loved the church, and gave Himself for it,' in order that, having cleansed it, He might sanctify it 'with the washing of water by the Word.' The terms are expressive. The allusion is to a bridal ceremony, and perhaps to the usual pre-nuptial cleansings. As the church is the bride, there may be a reference to the water of baptism — but to that only as the symbol and pledge of spiritual influence. And the phrase, 'by the Word,' we take to be a reference to the Scriptures — 'the Word,' 'the Word of God.' The meaning, then, seems to be — that in consequence of the love and of the atoning death of Christ — men are now sanctified by the Spirit, acting generally by means of the Word.
And that Word does possess a sanctifying power. 'How shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Your Word.' 'Sanctify them through Your truth: Your Word is truth.'
How often does the Word stirring up the conscience, and appalling it with solemn and deep conviction, press it to seek safety in the cross! 'It pierces even to the dividing asunder of joints and marrow;' throws the soul into such an agitation, as if the 'pains of Hell' had taken hold on it — that it may be led to the refuge of the gospel. With what prominence and charms — it holds up Christ as the one Savior, amidst the terror of its thunders, and the earnestness of its invitations!
But to the believer it is also the standard of duty, the 'rule of life.' It shows him his defects — and urges him to progress. It warns him and encourages him. It preserves him from self-delusion, for it holds up the spirituality of the law, and the immaculate purity of Christ's example. So that, amidst his lamentations of weakness, he looks to the Word of God for courage. And the more he drinks into the spirit of the Bible, and the more he feels its laws engraved on his heart — the more does he grow in sanctity, and realize his lofty destiny — 'to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever!'
If the attainment of holiness is likened . . .
to a life — the Word is the food;
if to a race — it is a 'light to the feet;'
if to a battle — it is the 'sword of the Spirit' by which our antagonists are cloven down and dispersed.
Still, the Bible is but a dead letter without the Spirit. It is His special function to give it edge and penetration. Not that He imparts any new truths, as such an idea would be a libel on the perfection of the previous revelation. But He enlightens the mind, and He so softens the heart as to render it susceptible of impression from the Word. Ah! how many read the Scriptures, and, closing the sacred volume — retain not one idea in their intellect, not one fact on their memory, not one impression on their heart! The Spirit who gave the Bible — has not been implored; and the study of His book has not been imbued with His life-giving influence!
But when He impresses its truths on mind and conscience, and lodges its statements in the inner recesses of the soul — then does it evince its power:
impelling the sluggish,
warning the wayward,
controlling the vehement,
directing the unwary,
deterring the presumptuous,
cheering the downcast,
and animating the feeble!
In short, when the Spirit comes with the Word, then the experience of the psalmist is realized:
'The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward!' Psalm 19:7-11
And now, does not the love of Christ commend itself in forming such a motive, and securing such a result? It was no idle attachment, no sentimental outburst — but a mighty and all-conquering affection, which could not expire in mere lamentation over man's fallen condition, for it has stooped and raised him to the likeness and enjoyment of itself!
Thus, though the Spirit is the agent of sanctification, and the Word the means of sanctification — the process is here ascribed to Christ. It is in consequence of what He has done — that the Spirit has been given. The Holy Spirit descended only when 'Jesus was glorified.' Moreover, the entire work of the Spirit has a close and perpetual connection with Christ. 'He shall take of what is Mine,' says the Redeemer, 'and reveal it unto you.' The entire scope of the Spirit's operation is Christ.
When He enlightens — it is with the truth of Christ;
when He sanctifies — it is with the blood of Christ;
when He comforts — it is with the promises of Christ; and
when He seals — it is with the image of Christ.
Nay more, the atonement has another and vital connection with our sanctification. For not only has spiritual influence been secured — but the most powerful of motives is also supplied by it. That love which so mightily works upon us, springs from faith in the atonement; for he who receives the atonement, cannot but love the Atoner. He who so profits by the death — gives himself to Him who died. That law which man had broken, terrified him by its penalty, and as he hated it, and would not obey it — it only served to reveal and worsen the corruption within him; but its penalty being borne, and itself being satisfied, in the death of Christ — it no longer creates alarm. For, viewed now as the mind and will of Christ — it commands the affection and loyalty of the believing heart!
The example of Jesus also derives its peculiar power of assimilation, not simply from its own purity and loveliness — but especially from the fact, that it is the example of Him who 'loved the church, and gave himself for it,' and therefore every member of that church is instinctively led to observe, admire, and imitate Christ's example. Thus Christ has loved the church, and given himself for it; and thus He sanctifies it 'with the washing of water by the Word.'
IV. The Ultimate End and Result.
With what delight and satisfaction, will we not now contemplate the ultimate purpose of Christ's death — 'That He might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing!' How noble such a destiny! Perfect restoration and felicity.
The nuptial figure is still continued, and the allusion is to the presentation of the bride to her husband. That presentation does not take place until he can look upon her with delight. But spiritual perfection is pledged — the love of Christ would not be contented without it; and His death, in union with the eternal purpose, has effectually accomplished it. For as His love was no meteor that flashed athwart the sky, and gave sunken humanity a momentary hope by its sudden gleam — but was as the spring sun, whose splendor not only fills the Heavens — but gives life and growth to what had been dormant amidst the frosts and snows of winter — so His death was not a perhaps or an experiment — its results were foreseen and secured in the councils of eternity. Wherever there is this incipient sanctification — there is also the guarantee of this final completion: 'He who has begun the good work — will perfect it until the day of Christ.'
Moreover, all that is holy in nature — is Heavenly in tendency; and the elements of this progressive sanctification have an instinctive longing to climb upwards to that divine bosom which is their origin and home.
Grace is glory begun — and glory is grace consummated.
Grace is the bud — glory is the fruit.
Grace is the childhood — glory is the maturity of age.
But there is a necessary development; and the sanctified church becomes in due time 'a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.'
What is partial now — is then complete.
The shades that hover around us, are then dispelled;
besetting infirmities have then vanished;
indwelling sin is then extirpated;
chilling influences are then removed;
and 'the perfect day' comes at length, whose light is liable to no revolution, and which shall never suffer any eclipse.
If it have no spot or wrinkle — oh! will it not be a glorious church? Now, it has dark, unsightly blemishes; but yet it will be 'all glorious,' in spite of its many present imperfections. The Spirit and Word are still sanctifying it; and when its bright countenance is without spot, then has the appointed epoch come. It is of the church as an organic whole that the apostle speaks; and the presentation is deferred until the last and happy period, when the church shall be as perfect in numbers — as it is in character. Though many have been gathered into the Heavens — yet not until all who are to compose the church are finally redeemed and perfected, has the 'set time' come.
And then, when myriads of myriads are collected, and the blessed company is complete, no matter when they lived, or how they were converted, what their previous condition was, or the stage of spiritual progress they had reached before they left the world — the Savior, standing on His elevated throne, and surveying at one glance every secret thought and emotion, shall behold nothing to offend Him! The church will then appear in His vision, whose 'eyes are as a flame of fire,' 'without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing!'
And thus, having loved her in her impurity, so as to give himself for her — how deep and ardent must now be His attachment, when He sees in her perfection, the full success of His redeeming efforts and sacrifice! The union is at length consummated amidst the pealing hallelujahs of grateful triumph — a union never to be interrupted by one passing suspicion — but ever to become more joyous, and more fertile in the fruits of unbroken and mutual satisfaction and glory!
Who but a God could have devised such a destiny? Who but a God could have wrought it out? To think of uniting himself to creatures, and such creatures — oh, the very idea reveals its origin! The love which, to prepare them for such a union, sustained the agonies of Calvary — could have no origin but in Him who is Love. O let the church, as it contemplates this high and happy destiny, enter into its spirit, and seek in the meantime to realize it.
Members of the church of Christ, reflect on your past position — on its helplessness and guilt. How vile and loathsome was your state! Paradise expelled you — and Heaven could not admit you. And yet, when you were so unlike Him — He loved you! And oh, how He loved you! At what an expense have you been delivered! 'For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect!'
If He has loved you and died for you, to sanctify and perfect you, and forever unite you to himself — will you not feel that you are His? Will not the cords of His love bind you to Him as His own? You are His, for He has bought you — He paid a price beyond all calculation for you! You are His, for His authority governs you and His law directs you. Nay more, You are His, for His Spirit, as His representative and in His name, taken possession of you! Are you not therefore really His? Will you not live and act under this hallowed consciousness, and rise above every form of temptation and sin?
Let not present evil discourage you; for each of you can say, 'I have His love!' So long as you enjoy that love — why should anything distress you? Will it not soothe and compensate you? If you have His love — then you have everything. Oh, then, ever cherish this secret treasure; and feel within you: I possess His love!
And now tell me, can you imagine a nobler purpose for His love than this — to sanctify you, to bring you back to lost holiness and forfeited felicity? Will you not enter at once and thoroughly into the spirit of it? Or will you dare to frustrate the design of His death, by continuance in sin?
With His glory as your aim,
with His law as your guide;
with His love as your motive,
and His Spirit as your power
— oh, will it not be your intense desire to 'hate every false way,' and 'so to walk even as He walked!'
What an inducement, too, to commemorate His death as the fruit of His love, and to pray for more of its purifying and elevating power! Let the love of Christ thus 'constrain' you. Nourish the thought of it, cherish the nearer purpose of it, and long for its ultimate result. That love which has suffered so much for you, will not be content until it has you near itself; and its summons will soon say to you, 'Come up hither!'
Then, with all saints, so close to Him, and never more to be away from Him — His glory will fill and ravish your vision, for His love will have realized its end in your perfected and happy natures.
'Worthy is the Lamb who was slain — to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!' Yes, worthy of eternal tribute and praise! Such is the ceaseless minstrelsy of the exalted church, and such is the response of all its members now on their way to glory. Hallelujah! Amen.