Stacks Image 905


PART SECOND. ON FAITH, AND THE UNION OF GOD AND MAN IN FAITH.



CHAPTER III.


ON THE RELATION OF THE WORK OF CHRIST TO THE RESTORATION OF UNION.


Origin of sin. — Of man's condition when he fell. — Relation of unbelief to other sins.— Object of Christ's coming into the world. — The atonement. — Necessity of the atonement. — Its effects.

IF faith was the original principle of union between God and man, as everything teaches us it must have been, then the opposite, namely, unbelief, or the want of faith, was, undoubtedly, the original principle of separation, disorder, and all sin. By the necessity of the case, when man ceased to believe in God, the tie of filiation was broken, and God ceased to be his Father.

2. The fall of man is summed up in a single sentence. He fell when he ceased to believe. In spiritual filiation, faith is, and necessarily must be, the primitive and constitutive element of the filial relation. It may, perhaps, be said, that it does not, of itself alone, constitute sonship, but it can certainly be said that it is an element, without which the constitution of sonship would be an impossibility. If it is not the whole, it is not only a part, but an
essential part. And accordingly, when faith ceased, man could no longer say, "My Father." He of course ceased to be a son; and ceasing to be a son, he became a rebel. And when he heard the voice of God speaking to him, he feared him and fled.

3. From that sad hour how greatly changed was man's condition! Before that time God rejoiced over him, as a father delights in a beloved child. "I live by the Father," said the blessed Saviour. [John 6: 57.] Such was man's life in the beginning. God gave him all things, and he lived without care. It is a great truth, which God himself has proclaimed, that the "just shall
live by faith — a truth which implies that his life is not in himself, but in another. But when man, ceasing to recognize the true God, made himself God, he no longer looked to God for support. "God hath made man upright," says the author of the book of Ecclesiastes, "but they have sought out many inventions." In the simplicity of faith, man was satisfied with what was given him, but afterwards, too proud to receive provisions from a father's hand, he endeavored to feed himself;— eating in toil and sorrow among the thistles. Under the sharp light of an awakened conscience, he found himself naked as well as hungry. In the state of divine filiation, God clothed him with the brightness of innocence; but when he sank into the nakedness of the creature, he clothed himself with fig-leaves.

4. Philosophically, then, as well as scripturally, UNBELIEF is the sin of all sins. It is not only the first, but the
greatest; not only the evil of the world, but the seed or parent of all other evil. It is the only sin by which a man, who is in a state of union with God, can be separated from God in the first instance, although many other sins will follow from it. And standing at the head of the list, it is not more first in time than it is first in preeminence.

5. It was from the sin of unbelief especially, which originates and envelopes all other sin, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save men. Sin, under a perfectly just administration, can never be forgiven without an atonement. Mercy fails to be truly and beneficially exercised, when it fails, at the time of its exercise, to yield its homage to what is right. Hence the necessity of a mediator. We are taught, in many passages of Scripture, that Christ came into the world, that he was born, and died, in order that man's sins might be forgiven, and that God, in connection with forgiveness, might recreate the principle of faith, and restore him to sonship. "Behold the Lamb of God," said John the Baptist,
"which taketh away the sin of the world." " Christ," says the apostle Paul, in the Epistle to the Galatians, "hath redeemed us from the curse of the law." And again he says, in the same Epistle: —" When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." "Christ," says the apostle Peter, "also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps, who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live to righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed." Isaiah, in one of the many prophecies which are understood to have relation to the Saviour, says, "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows." And again, "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." The word of God, whether we consult its history or its poetry, its prophecies or its precepts, is full of this great truth. So that the apostle Peter, when "filled with the Holy Ghost," had good reason to say to the rulers of the people and the elders of Israel, — "This is the stone, which is set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved."

6. The doctrine of the atonement seems to have a philosophical, as well as a religious foundation; that is to say, it will be found to be sustained not only by many passages of Scripture, but by sound philosophical inquiry. The conceptions of right and wrong, of merit and demerit, of reward and punishment, and of the necessary and fixed relations among them, are elementary in the human mind; — not so much the results of reasoning as connatural and necessary; and are common to all men. The human mind has never separated, and never can separate, the relations of merit and reward, of demerit and punishment. It is not more true that there is an universal conviction, than it is that there is an universal law represented in that conviction, that virtue is and must be followed by happiness, and that crime is and must be followed by misery. And it is a conviction not less universal, that God, as the administrator of the universe, and as the administrator and sustainer of the truth and the right, cannot and does not allow these important relations to be violated. It is not possible, under a perfectly holy administration, for the wrong-doer to escape punishment, and to be forgiven, except by means of an atonement.

7. Such, at least, on a thorough inquiry, will be found to be the general feeling of mankind. Feelings represent principles. And they do so because they spring from them. If man feels his need of some mediatorial agency in order to become reconciled to God, it is because he is secretly convinced, although he may be unable to analyze that conviction, of its moral necessity. It would be well for men who are given to philosophical inquiries, to turn their attention to this point. They cannot do it with any care, without seeing how widely spread is the sense of sin, and how deeply men, in all ages, have felt, not only the need of reconciliation, but the need of some mediatorial power.

It is for this reason, that, in all nations, and in all ages of the world, offerings have been made, and burning altars have been kindled. It was necessary, as it seemed to men, that the offended Deity, under whatever form or name he might be believed in, should be propitiated. They did not then know, that the benevolence of God could be exhibited in connection with his justice; that God himself, in the person of his Son, would be the sinner's offering; and that the fires of human altars would be quenched in the blood of the incarnate Immanuel.

8. The atonement being made, God appeared once more as the restorer and new creator of the violated and lost sonship. Angels proclaimed the message. To all the world it was announced, "Peace on earth; good will to men." As many as were of a broken heart returned, and God gave them power to believe. Beaten by the world's tempests, disappointed and ruined in all their worldly expectations, they ceased to have hope in the finite, and turned their weeping eye to the Infinite. They found God by having faith in God, when they lost themselves by ceasing to have faith in themselves. Their necessity became the mother of their faith. In their sorrows they turned to him, who alone could give hope. The golden link, which had united the Father and his children in the garden of Eden, was readjusted, and they became one.

9. But the faith which was lost in the Fall, and is thus restored on Calvary, is not a dead faith; neither is it a faith which is restricted to one occasion, or one purpose. It must be, as it was when man came from the perfect hands of his Maker, a faith universal; a faith in everything which is necessary to be believed in; a faith which resists the attacks of selfishness at every point, and which sanctifies as well as justifies. The first act, connected with the renunciation of ourselves, and with our deep sorrow for sin, is belief in God's willingness to forgive us through Christ. The result of this act is forgiveness.

10. But this is not all that is necessary. It is God's "delight," as it is said to be the delight of that wisdom which dwells in him, "to be with the children of men." His heart is not isolated and unfeeling, but full of the spirit of communication. He not only loves, but loves to be loved in return. The desire of his heart is not, and cannot be satisfied, until man not only returns to be reconciled, but returns with the full purpose
never more to be unreconciled; in other words, returns to live in him.

It is impossible that man should come back to be pardoned with no other view than that of starting on a new course of sin. Such repentance, if we could call it by the name of repentance, would not only fail to meet the claims of truth and justice, but would be adding the spirit of contempt and mockery to transgression. God cannot accept him, unless he returns not only a penitent son for the past, but with the humble and believing prayer that he maybe a faithful and true son for the future.

11. Every man, therefore, who has a hope of reconciliation to God in Christ, can retain that hope only on the condition of a sincere purpose to live to God alone. He must be willing, henceforth, in the exercise of faith in the mediatorial arrangements and provisions, not only to receive forgiveness from him, but everything else;— making God's will the guide of his actions, and God's promises the support of his expectations. He must be willing to be transferred from the dead life of self, to the living life of universal love; from the centre of the created, to the centre of the uncreated; from the hope founded in man, to the true and unchangeable hope in God.

12. Such is the restoration which Christ has purchased; not only forgiveness, but life. Forgiveness cancels the delinquencies of the past, but it does not give the "daily bread" of the present and the future. It takes away the heavy sense of condemnation, but it does not give the living spirit of holiness. It destroys the hell of the soul; but God alone can constitute its heaven. And God is in the soul, the inspirer of its thoughts and affections, to every one that believes. Believe, then, that ye may have everlasting life. "What agreement," says the apostle, "hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God: as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." 2 Cor. 6:16 - 18.






OH BEAUTIFUL, AND YET UNKNOWN!

The sunbeam, at its noonday height,
Shines not to those who cannot see;
And what, to him who has no sight,
Avails the day that shines in Thee?

Oh beautiful, and yet unknown!
The sinner cannot see Thee now;
The veil across his sight is thrown,
Which shuts him from thy shining brow.

He seeks Thee, but thou art not found,
Nor shall he have the power to find,
While sin, that wraps its folds around,
Shall close the eye-ball of his mind.

Friend of the lost, the sinner's friend!
Who only canst the light impart;
Oh Saviour! haste that veil to rend,
And pour thy brightness on his heart.