By William S. Plumer, 1867
"Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord, shout
It has long been customary to speak of the recovery of lost men as the work of Redemption. Job, David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, all speak of the Redeemer. Though the word redeemer is not in the New Testament, yet redemption and corresponding terms are there of frequent occurrence. In the Old Testament the same word is rendered Redeemer and Avenger. The avenging of blood and redeeming from bondage both devolved on the nearest male relative so that a redeemer was a kinsman. Our Redeemer is our brother, bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh. In the New Testament are three verbs rendered redeem. One is from a noun which signifies a market and means simply to buy. It is found more than thirty times. It is the word used by our Lord when he speaks of buying a field, buying oxen, buying foods. It is the word used by Paul, when he twice says, "You are bought with a price." 1 Cor. 6:20 7:23. It is used by John: "You have redeemed us to God by your blood." Rev. 5:9. See also Rev. 14:3, 4. God's people are redeemed from the earth, from among men, from their sins by the blood of Jesus—a great price paid for such poor creatures—such sinful worms.
Sometimes we have another verb, a compound of the foregoing. It occurs four times. This is the word used by Paul when he says: "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law;" "God sent forth his Son . . . to redeem those who were under the law." Gal. 3:13; 4:4, 5. This word signifies to buy again, to buy out of the hands of another.
There is still another verb thrice used in the New Testament, and always rendered redeem. "We trusted that it had been he who would have redeemed Israel;" He "gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity;" "You know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." Luke 24:21; Tit. 2:14; 1 Pet. 1:18, 19. This word has a noun corresponding to it [lutron]. This is the word used by our Lord when he says: "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45.
We have yet another word, a compound of the foregoing [antilutron]. It is used by Paul when he says that Christ "gave himself a ransom for all." 1 Tim. 2:6. Each of these nouns points to the price paid for redemption.
In the Jewish Commonwealth redemption was well understood. If a man became poor, so that he could not pay his debts, he was sold into servitude to the year of Jubilee. But it was the privilege and the duty of his near and wealthy kinsmen to pay his debt, and let him go free. Among other nations also, before the coming of Christ, redemption was not unknown. In the early history of the world, prisoners of war were often put to death. At length, humanity forbade so cruel a practice, and they were sold as slaves. On the return of peace, their kin or their country sometimes sent and paid a ransom for them, thus redeeming them from their masters.
The moving cause of the redemption of sinners is not anything good in them, but only the sovereign, eternal, and unchangeable love of God. The procuring or availing cause of redemption is the humiliation and death of Christ. The end of redemption was the promotion of the divine glory, as it marvelously illustrated the divine perfections. The effect of redemption on man is full, complete, gratuitous, eternal salvation.
The subject of this chapter is the wisdom of God in redemption. In this matter it may aid us to keep clearly in view these truths:
1. God is a holy God.By the unchangeable rectitude of his nature, he hates sin. To him it is abominable.
2. God is the Creator of all things, and therefore he has a perfect right to treat all his creatures as he pleases.His solemn challenge is—'Shall I not do what I will, with my own?' Who dares take it up?
3. God is every way fit to govern the world and all its inhabitants.He has all and infinite perfections. He justly claims and exercises the right of universal empire and control.
4. Man is a creature.He is therefore not independent. He is bound by his Maker's will. Nothing can release him from these everlasting bonds.
5. Man is a rational and voluntary agent.He is therefore a fit subject for moral government. He is rightly and justly accountable.
6. Man is a sinner.He has violated the law of his being. He is thus guilty, depraved, and miserable. He is under a curse, in a state of pollution, and a child of sorrow. He is not so unfortunate—as he is criminal.
7. Sin is an evil of such magnitude as not to be manageable by finite beings.It is easier to make breaches than to repair them, to pull down than to build up, to kill than to make alive. "He who cannot build a hut, may destroy a palace." One man may kill another, but all men united cannot give life. This is the law of our nature. Let it never be forgotten.
8. The whole problem of redemption was therefore beyond the solution of a finite mind.The limits of man's understanding and faculties are narrow. Our wisdom consists in confessing our ignorance, in seeking instruction, in shunning dizzy heights. For human weakness to meddle with the great affairs of God only ends in failure.
9. Let us all, therefore, learn what we can, and pretend to no more than we have.Let us refresh ourselves in the river of truth, but let us not venture beyond our depth. Creation is beyond the reach of fair criticism. So also is redemption. Let us be lowly. There is a relationship between humility and solid advancement in knowledge. Paul confessed his insufficiency to fathom the deep things of God: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God." Such ignorance is wiser than all boasting.
10. All men do at times feel the necessity of some redemption-price being paid to God for them—some satisfaction being made to divine justice.Adam Smith, the author of the "Wealth of Nations," whom none will suspect of too strong an inclination to Christian doctrines, says, "Man, when about to appear before a being of infinite perfections, can feel but little confidence in his own merit, or in the imperfect propriety of his own conduct. To such a being he can scarcely imagine that his littleness and weakness should ever seem to be the proper object either of esteem or regard. But he can easily conceive how the numberless violations of duty of which he has been guilty, should render him the object of aversion and punishment; nor can he see any reason why the divine indignation should not be let loose, without any restraint, upon so vile an insect as he is sensible that he himself must appear to be. If he would still hope for happiness, he is conscious that he cannot demand it from justice, but that he must entreat it from the mercy of God. Repentance, sorrow, humiliation, contrition at the thought of his past conduct, are, upon this account, the sentiments which befit him, and seem to be the only means which he has left of appeasing that wrath which he has justly provoked. He even distrusts the efficacy of all these, and naturally fears lest the wisdom of God should not, like the weakness of man, be prevailed upon to spare the crime, by the most importunate lamentations of the criminal. Some other intercession, some other sacrifice, some other atonement, he imagines, must be made for him, beyond what he himself is capable of making, before the purity of the divine justice can be reconciled to his manifold offences." Thousands feel as much as is expressed by this author; as he says, it is very natural that they should. A sense of guilt renders the existence of many almost intolerable; nor can it ever be effectually removed but by the great sacrifice of the blood-shedding of Jesus Christ.
11. Wisdom marks all the divine conduct. In actual operation wisdom selects good ends and right means to accomplish those ends. "The wisdom of God is formed of his omniscience and benevolence, united in planning and accomplishing all real good in the progress of his immense and eternal kingdom." [Dwight.]
We are now prepared to look at the truth that there are unfathomable depths of wisdom in the dealings of God with our race in the great work of redemption.
It is evident that the illustration of any attribute of God or man, furnished by any work, is in proportion to the difficulties to be overcome. Some things are simple and have few relations. Others are vast and complicated, and have bearings remote and immediate. Their course is through a long duration. They involve the happiness of many. Such is the work of redemption. It is God's chief work. He has expended more on it than on all his other works; more than in creation and providence. It would seem as if it was known that God would redeem men, before it was known how he would do it. The wit of angels seems to have attempted no solution. The case was too difficult for them. Of Jehovah it is said: "He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him." Isaiah 69:16. Jehovah was the sole author of redemption. He alone devised it. He alone executed it. He alone applies it. "Salvation is of the Lord." Let us notice some particulars.
I. God's wisdom shines out in redemption, as his plan reconciles all the divine attributes.Redemption must not weaken the divine government, and must not impair the divine honor. God could consent to nothing which would evince the possibility of his denying himself. When human governments pass by offences, it is a confession of weakness. God could ignore no offence. Yet the eternal ruin of all men would have left the human and angelic races without a single case of mercy shown to the guilty.
"Mercy pleads—if man is totally ruined, the creation is in vain. Justice pleads—if man be not sentenced, the law is in vain. Truth supports justice, and grace abets mercy. What shall be done in this seeming contradiction. Mercy is not manifested if man be not pardoned; justice will complain if man be not punished; therefore an expedient is found out by the wisdom of God to answer these demands, and adjust the differences between them. The wisdom of God answers—I will satisfy your pleas. Punishment shall be inflicted, yet pardon shall be bestowed. Justice shall not complain for lack of an infliction of wrath; nor mercy for lack of an exercise of compassion. I will have an infinite sacrifice to meet the demands of justice; and the virtue and fruit of that sacrifice shall be the delight of mercy. The rights of both those attributes shall be preserved, and the demands amicably accorded in punishment and pardon, by transferring the punishment of our crimes upon our Surety, exacting a recompense from his blood by justice, and conferring life and salvation upon us by mercy—without one drop of our own blood being required. Thus is justice satisfied in its holy severities, and mercy in its gracious indulgences. The riches of grace are entwined with the terrors of wrath. The glories of divine mercy are wound about the flaming sword of justice; and the sword of justice protects and secures the glories of mercy. Thus is God righteous without being cruel; and merciful without being unjust. His righteousness remains inviolable, and the sinner becomes recoverable. Thus is resplendent mercy brought forth in the midst of all the wrath threatened to the offender." [Charnock.]
This scheme has no parallel in heaven or earth. Such a suretyship as that of Christ was never before heard of. It stands by itself in the history of all worlds. Around the cross of Christ were assembled Jews and Gentiles, men and devils; but in the cross of Christ justice and mercy, righteousness and peace, severity and compassion embrace and kiss each other. So that now forgiveness to the believing sinner is no less consistent with justice than is the destruction of the unbelieving reprobate. "God is just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity." All penitent souls may say: "We are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God." Romans 3:24, 25. God's rational creatures had never before seen it. So far from being able to devise or execute such a scheme, man is not able to comprehend it. All he can do, at least the best he can do, is to embrace it, obey its calls, wonder, and adore.
II. The wisdom of God is displayed in the choice of his incarnate Son, as the Redeemer.Neither an infinite God, nor an enlightened sinner would be satisfied with the doings or sufferings of a mere creature. What our case demanded was something far above the power of worms. Any redemption wrought out by men or angels must have been wholly inefficacious; but if it could have saved any one, it must have resulted in idolatry. No sinner saved from hell could have failed to give his heart to his deliverer. But the Lord Jesus Christ was every way fit to be our Redeemer.
1. He was divine, and so able to lay his hand upon God. He counted it not robbery to be equal with God.He was the eternal Son. To worship him was no idolatry. Before all worlds he was the Well-beloved of the Father. If any redemption could avail, his would not be powerless. He had no superior in nature. He was chosen, appointed, ordained of God to this very work. If any ask—Why was the second, and not the first or the third person of the Trinity chosen to be the Redeemer, we may not be able to tell what we shall know hereafter, and we ought both to think and speak reverently; but we may safely say that the Father could not fitly become incarnate and our surety, for then he must have stood in the relation of one answering for our guilt before the Judge of all the earth. This would have subverted the order of the Trinity. The Father is the first person in order. As such, there is a peculiar fitness in his demanding satisfaction for sins and receiving applications for mercy. He is the fountain of the Godhead. Besides, he could not properly be sent into the world, as it is of the Father to send the Son, and of the Father and Son to send the Holy Spirit. The order of subsistence in the divine persons is properly the order of their operations. The Father is of none. He was neither begotten, nor does he proceed from any. The Son is of and from the Father—eternally begotten. Whatever the Son does, he does of the Father: "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father do." John 5:19. When the Son came, it was as he was sent of the Father, and to "do the will" of the Father. Thus it appears that the Father was not the proper person to do the work of redemption.
Nor was the Spirit the proper person to undertake that work. True, he proceeds from the Father and the Son, and is sent by them, yet it was fit that the Third Person should glorify the Second in calling men to believe on him, rather than that the Second should call men to bow before the Third; for this would invert the order of divine operation. The Redeemer is the object of saving faith. The agent of saving faith is the Holy Spirit. In order, the object precedes the exercise of faith, and of course it precedes the author and existence of faith. It is fit that the Spirit should apply the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Thus we see wisdom in sending the Second, and no other person of the divine nature, to be our Redeemer. His eternal Sonship in heaven well consists with his supernatural Sonship on earth. This double Sonship well fitted him to be our elder Brother, by whom we become sons and heirs of God.
2. This leads to the remark that God's wisdom is gloriously displayed in the incarnation of his Son.The glory of redemption much depends on its being effected in the very nature whose fall made redemption necessary: "By man came death; by man came also the resurrection of the dead." "As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." The first Adam was earthy, and sunk us in ruin; the second Adam was heavenly, and saves us from wrath. By the sin of one imputed we fell; by the righteousness of the other imputed we rise to sonship with God.
Thus by his two natures Christ is equal with God in glory and authority; and equal with man in lowliness and suffering. None is higher—none is humbler. The Father greets him with gladness: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The sinner hails him with joy: "My Lord and my God." Thus we see the wisdom of God in the choice of the Redeemer—one who can be safely trusted with the honors of God's throne—and with the sins and sorrows and salvation of men; one who can be worshiped without idolatry—and approached without terror.
III. The wisdom of God is also manifested in the works and sufferings of the Redeemer.
1. In his WORKS. They were all faultless, perfect. Even Pilate found no fault in him. His works were without a blot or stain. They were many. They exemplified every perfection of God and every virtue of the creature. They set a pattern for every duty; they gave a measure for every attainment; they magnified every precept of the law. His obedience to law wrought out a spotless robe of righteousness for every believer. This is the linen white and clean, called the righteousness of saints. No robe of personal innocence is so glorious. Angels in heaven are not so beauteously adorned. And it is all by the merit of Christ. Thus is boasting excluded, God honored, the dignity of the heavenly state unimpaired, and the sinner abundantly saved. Thus is God's wisdom displayed in Christ's works.
2. So also in Christ's SUFFERINGS do we see God's wisdom. He was subject to the penalty of the law. He suffered as one held guilty in law, not for himself, but for us, whose law-place he took. His sufferings began with his birth and lasted until he expired on Calvary. They were not solely from man, but chiefly from God; not merely corporeal, but mainly mental; not confined to his last hours, but running through his whole life; not only present, but anticipated for long years. Luke 12:50. "The radical error of the Unitarian system is, that men are saved solely by influence or power. But the truth is, we are not saved so much by any action as by a passion; not so much by exertion as by endurance; not chiefly by vital energy, but by dying blood. It was not finished until Christ died. We are made near by the blood of Jesus. We are healed, not at all by his words or deeds, but by his stripes." [Nevius.] Law is stern, and uncompliant. It "ought to be severe and solemn too, or it will excite nothing but contempt." By the suffering of death, Christ satisfied the demands of the law, and gave to the troubled conscience ground of hope. Now no justification is more perfect than that of sinners who believe in Jesus. Though without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin, yet by the shedding of Christ's blood there is no lack of forgiveness. He who poured out his soul unto death is exalted a Prince and Savior, to grant both repentance and remission of sins. Thus is God's wisdom displayed in Christ's sufferings. The law is magnified—the sinner is saved!
IV. The wisdom of God is manifested in the effects of redemption on the universe.
1. We have seen how redemption harmonizes all the divine perfections; let us see how it illustrates them. In the cross we have the strongest possible expression of benevolence. The infinite dignity of the sufferer, the unparalleled humiliation he underwent, the debasement of those he would save, and the utter impossibility of ever adequately requiting his love—all show the amazing extent of the Divine compassion. If any ever doubted God's hatred of sin, all such uncertainty comes to a full end at Calvary. If God would not spare his own Son, when he suffered the Just for the unjust, surely he is the solemn and determined enemy of all unrighteousness. The scheme of saving mercy evinces at once the greatest love to the sinner and the strongest abhorrence of his sins. "Christ was no partisan with the sinner against the law." In like manner it would be easy to show how God's truth, and faithfulness, and power, and all his perfections, are wondrously displayed in the cross of Christ.
2. The influence of redemption on holy angels is both great and benignant. It affords them the most wonderful theme of inquiry. They desire to look into it. It gives them new and delightful employment. They minister to the heirs of salvation. It gives them a new Head. Though Christ is not their Savior, he is their Lord. It brings them and men into relations of amity and brotherhood, so that they make one family in heaven and earth. It gives them great and new sources of joy. They are glad with exceeding joy when a sinner repents. Luke 15:10. Nor have they any theme for songs so sublime as those concerning salvation.
3. To man, the effects of redemption are glorious and elevating. He who is saved from hell should be most of all struck with his deliverance—most of all drawn towards his Deliverer. None are so changed by redemption as the redeemed themselves. They pass from the lowest depths--to the greatest heights! They pass from just, total, and dreadful condemnation--to full, free, and irrepealable justification! They pass from a state of the lowest depravity--to a state of purity and holiness fitting them for fellowship with God! They pass from a state of inconceivable misery--to a state of unspeakable comfort and joy! They pass from a state of fearful estrangement from a holy God--to a state of lasting friendship with their Maker! The bond which binds them to God and to angels binds them also to one another, and that forever.
1. How futile are all schemes of man's devising for securing the favor of God and his own happiness.None of them comprehend the real evils in his case. They do not dispose of sin—either in its power, or guilt, or pollution.
2. How vain are all objections to the gospel drawn from the feeble, erring, sinful soul of man.Never is man more a fool or a transgressor, than when he sits in judgment on this greatest plan and work of God. Did any wise man ever undertake to show how God could have more fitly formed the dove, the eagle, or the horse? Yet many a prating simpleton undertakes to tell the world how he would like the plan of salvation, God's greatest work, to be arranged.
3. How attractive is the character of Jesus Christ. He is the perfection of a Savior.Some have made the suggestion that he might have rescued many from sin and wrath without so full, and frequent, and amazing acts of condescension. But who ever taught that he ought to have given higher evidences of compassion and tenderness? All the redeemed join in praising him, unite in crowning him, contend in the strife of extolling him. Matchless Redeemer! None among all the sons of the mighty, none among the holy angels—can compare with you!
4. If any desire a rich, pure, exalted, inexhaustible theme of study and inquiry—he has it in the redemption wrought out by Christ.He need go no farther. Here the holy angels all stop, and bow, and worship.
5. Unconverted men ought to feel a lively and profound interest in the undertaking of Christ.It mightily concerns them to know something of its wonders. If they ever find life or peace—it must be here. In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Col. 2:3. In him is life, and the life is the light of men.
6. Children of God, rejoice and obey, "You are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." 1 Cor. 6:20. Give him all. Keep back nothing that can honor him. Hear the voice of mercy whispering good counsels to your souls. Present your whole selves a living sacrifice to him and let the love of God, like holy fire, come down and consume you. Be not straitened in your charity. Be not slothful in your labors of love. Be not cold in your zeal for the Master. Be enlarged!