The great and wonderful actions of great and excellent persons must needs have some great ends answerable to them. Wisdom will teach them not to do strange things, but for some rare purposes, for it were a folly and madness to do great things to compass some small and petty end, as unsuitable as that a mountain should travail to bring forth a mouse. Truly we must conceive, that it must needs be some honourable and high business, that brought down so high and honourable a person from heaven as the Son of God. It must be something proportioned to his majesty and his wisdom. And indeed so it is. There is a great capital enemy against God in the world, that is sin. This arch-rebel hath drawn man from his subordination to God, and sown a perpetual discord and enmity between them. This hath conquered all mankind, and among the rest, even the elect and chosen of God, those whom God had in his eternal counsel predestinated to life and salvation. Sin brings all into bondage, and exerciseth the most perfect tyranny over them that can be imagined, makes men to serve all its imperious lusts, and then all the wages is death, -- it binds them over to judgment. Now this sedition and rebellion being arisen in the world, and one of the most noble creatures carried away in this revolt, from allegiance to the divine majesty, the most holy and wise counsel of heaven concludes to send the King's Son, to compesce(173) this rebellion, to reduce men again unto obedience, and destroy that arch traitor, sin, which his nature most abhors. And for this end the Son of the great King, Jesus Christ, came down into the world, to deliver captive man, and to condemn conquering sin. There is no object that God hath so pure and perfect displeasure at as sin. Therefore he sent to condemn that which he hates most (and perfectly he hates it) -- to condemn sin. And this is expressed as the errand of his coming, 1 John iii.5, 8, to "destroy the works of the devil." All his wicked and hellish plots and contrivances against man, all that poison of enmity and sin, that out of envy and malice he spued out upon man, and instilled into his nature, all those works of that prince of darkness, in enticing man from obedience to rebellion, and tyrannizing over him since, by the imperious laws of his own lusts, in a word, all that work that was contrived in hell, to bring poor man down to that same misery with devils; all that Christ, the only begotten Son of the great King, came (for this noble business) to destroy it, -- that tower which Satan was building up against heaven, and had laid the foundation of it as low as hell, this was Christ's business down among men, to destroy that Babylon, that tower of darkness and confusion, and to build up a tower of light and life, to which tower sinners might come, and be safe, and by which they might really ascend into heaven. Some do by these words "for sin," understand the occasion and reason of Christ's coming, that it was, because sin had conquered the world, and subjected man to condemnation, therefore, Jesus Christ came into the world to conquer sin and condemn it, that we might be free from condemnation by sin. And this was the special cause of his taking on flesh. If sin had not entered into the world, Christ had not come into it, and if sin had not erected a throne in man's flesh, Christ had not taken on flesh, -- he had not come in the likeness of sinful flesh. So that this may administer unto us abundant consolation. If this was the very cause of his coming, that which drew him down from that delightful and blessed bosom of the Father, then he will certainly do that which he came for. He cannot fail of his purpose, he cannot miss his end: he must condemn sin, and save sinners. And truly this is wonderful love, that he took sin only for his party, and came only for sin, or against sin, and not against poor sinners. He had no commission of the Father but this, as himself declares, John iii.17; for "God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." As one observes well, Christ would never have hinted at such a jealousy, or suggested such a thought to men's minds, had it not been in them before. But this we are naturally inclined unto, -- to think hard of God, and can hardly be persuaded of his love, when once we are persuaded of our enmity. Indeed the most part of the world fancy a persuasion of God's love, and have not many jealousies of it, because they know not their own enmity against God. But let a man see himself indeed God's enemy, and it is very hard to make him believe any other thing of God, but that he carries a hostile mind against him. And therefore Christ, to take off this, persuades and assures us, that neither the Father nor he had any design upon poor sinners, nor any ambushment against them; but mainly, if not only, this was his purpose in sending, and Christ's in coming, -- not against man, but against sin; not to condemn sinners, but to condemn sin, and save sinners. O blessed and unparalleled love, that made such a real distinction between sin and sinners, who were so really one! Shall not we be content to have that woful and accursed union with sin dissolved? Shall not we be willing to let sin be condemned in us, and to have our own souls saved? I beseech you, beloved in the Lord, do not think to maintain always Christ's enemy, that great traitor against which he came from heaven. Wonder that he doth not prosecute both as enemies; but if he will destroy the one and save the other, O let it be destroyed, not you; and so much the more, for that it will destroy you! Look to him, so iniquity shall not be your ruin, but he shall be the ruin of iniquity. But if you will not admit of such a division between you and your sins, take heed that you be not eternally undivided, that you have not one common lot for ever, that is, condemnation. Many would be saved, but they would be saved with sin too. Alas! that will condemn thee. As for sin, he hath proclaimed irreconcilable enmity against it, he hath no quarter to give it, he will never come in terms of composition with it, and all because it is his mortal enemy. Therefore let sin be condemned, that thou mayest be saved. It cannot be saved with thee, but thou mayest be condemned with it.
The words, "for sin," may be taken in another sense as fitly, "a sacrifice for sin," so that the meaning is, -- Jesus Christ came to condemn and overthrow sin in its plea against us by a sacrifice for sin, that is, by offering up his own body or flesh. And thus you have the way and means how Christ conquered sin, and accomplished the business he was sent for. It was by offering a sacrifice for sin, to expiate wrath, and so satisfy justice. "The sting" and strength "of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law," as the apostle speaks it, 1 Cor. xv.55. We had two great enemies against us, two great tyrants over us, -- sin and death. Death had passed upon all mankind. Not only the miseries of this life and temporal death had subjected all men, but the fear of an eternal death, of an everlasting separation from the blessed face of God, might have seized upon all, and subjected them to bondage, Heb. ii.15. But the strength and sting of that is sin; it is sin that arms death and hell against us. Take away sin, and you take away the sting, the strength of death, -- it hath no force or power to hurt man. But death being the wages due for sin, (Rom. vi.23.) all the certainty and efficacy in the wages flows from this work of darkness, -- sin. But now "the strength of sin is the law." This puts a poisonable and destructive virtue in the sting of sin, for it is the sentence of God's law, and the justice and righteousness of God, that hath made so inseparable a connection between sin and death. This gives sin a destroying and killing virtue. Justice arms it with power and authority to condemn man, so that there can be no freedom, no releasement from that condemnation, no eschewing that fatal sting of death, unless the sentence of God's law, which hath pronounced "thou shalt die," be repealed, and the justice of God be satisfied by a ransom. And this being done, the strength of sin is quite gone, and so the sting of death removed.
Now, this had been impossible for man to do. These parties were too strong for any created power. The strength of sin to condemn may be called some way infinite, because it flows from the unchangeable law of the infinite justice of God. Now, what power could encounter that strength, except that which hath infinite strength too? Therefore, it behoved the Son of God to come for this business; to condemn sin and save the sinner. And being come, he yokes first with the very strength of sin, for he knew where its strength did lie, and so did encounter first of all with that, -- even the justice of his Father, the hand-writing of ordinances that was against us; for if once he can set them aside, as either vanquished or satisfied, he hath little else to do. Now, he doth not take a violent way in this either. He doth it not with the strong hand, but deals wisely, and (to speak so with reverence) cunningly in it; he came under the law, that he might redeem them who were under the law, Gal. iv.4. Force will not do it, the law cannot be violated, justice cannot be compelled to forego its right. Therefore our Lord Jesus chooseth, as it were, to compound with the law, to submit unto it: He was "made under the law," he who was above the law, being lawgiver in mount Sinai, Acts vii.38; Gal. iii.19. He cometh under the bond and tie of it, to fulfil it: "I came not to destroy the law but to fulfil it," Matt. v.17. He would not offer violence to the law, to deliver sinners contrary to the commination of it, or without satisfaction given unto it, for that would reflect upon the wisdom and righteousness of the Father who gave the law. But he doth it better in an amicable way, -- by submission and obedience to all its demands. Whatsoever it craved of the sinner, he fulfils that debt. He satisfies the bond in his own person by suffering, and fulfils all the commandments by obedience. And thus, by subjection to the law, he gets power over the law, because his subjection takes away all its claim and right over us. Therefore it is said, that he blotted out the hand-writing of ordinances, which was against us, by nailing it to his cross; and so took it out of the way, Col. ii.14. Having fulfilled the bond, he cancelled it, and so it stands in no force either against him or us. Thus, the strength of sin, which is the law, is removed; and by this means, sin is condemned in the flesh. By the suffering of his flesh, it is fallen from all its plea against sinners; for, that upon which it did hang, viz. the sentence of the law, is taken out of the way, so that it hath no apparent ground to fasten any accusation upon a poor sinner that flies into Jesus Christ, and no ground at all to condemn him, -- it is wholly disabled in that point. For, as the Philistines found where Samson's strength lay, and cut his hair, so Christ hath in his wisdom found where the strength of sin's plea against man lay, and hath cut off the hair of it, that is, the handwriting of ordinances which was against us.
This is that which hath been shadowed out from the beginning of the world by the types of sacrifices and ceremonies. All those offerings of beasts, of fowls, and such like, under the law, held forth this one sacrifice, that was offered in the fulness of time to be a propitiation for the sins of the world. And something of this was used among the Gentiles before Christ's coming, certainly by tradition from the fathers, who have looked afar off to this day, when this sweet-smelling sacrifice should be offered up to appease Heaven. And it is not without a special providence, and worthy the remarking, that since the plenary and substantial One was offered, the custom of sacrificing hath ceased throughout the world. God, as it were, proclaiming to all men, by this cessation of sacrifices, as well as silence of oracles, that the true atonement and propitiation is come already, and the true Prophet is come from heaven, to reveal God's mind unto the world. There were many ceremonies in sacrificing observed, to hold out unto us the perfection of our atonement and propitiation. They laid their hands on the beast, who brought it, to signify the imputation of our sins to Christ, that he who knew no sin was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. And truly, it is worth the observation, that even those sacrifices for sin were called sin; and so the word is used promiscuously in Leviticus, to point out unto us, that Jesus Christ should make his soul sin, (Isa. liii.10,) that is, a sacrifice for sin, and be made sin for us, that is, a sacrifice for sin. When the blood was poured out (because without shedding of blood there was no reconciliation, Heb. ix.22,) the priest sprinkled it seven times before the Lord, to shadow out the perfection of that expiation for our sins, in the virtue and perpetuity thereof (Heb. ix.26) that he should appear to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, -- to put it away, as if it had never been, by taking it on him and bearing it. And then the high priest was to bring in of the blood into the holy place and within the vail, and sprinkle the mercy seat, to show unto us, that the merit and efficacy of Christ's blood should enter into the highest heavens to appease the wrath of God. Our High Priest, by his own blood hath entered into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us, Heb. ix.12. And truly this is that sacrifice, which being offered without spot to God, pacifies all, ver.14. Sin hath a cry, it crieth aloud for vengeance. This blood silenceth it, and composeth all to favour and mercy. It hath so sweet and fragrant a smell in God's account, that it fills heaven with the perfume of it. He is that true scape goat, who, notwithstanding that he did hear all the sins of his people, yet he did escape alive. Albeit he behoved to make his soul a sacrifice for sin, and so die for it, yet by this means he hath condemned sin, by being condemned for sin. By this means he hath overcome death and the grave, by coming under the power of death, and so is now alive for ever, to improve his victory for our salvation. And by taking on our sins he hath fully abolished the power and plea of them, as the goat that was sent to the wilderness out of all men's sight was not to be seen again. Truly, this is the way how our sins are buried in the grave of oblivion and removed as a cloud, and cast into the depths of the sea, and sent away as far as the east is from the west that they may never come into judgment against us to condemn us because Christ, by appeasing wrath and satisfying justice by the sacrifice of himself, hath overthrown them in judgment, and buried them in the grave with his own body.
You see then my beloved, a solid ground of consolation against all our fears and sorrows; -- an answer to all the accusations of our sins. Here is one for all, one above all. You would have particular answers to satisfy your particular doubts. You are always seeking some satisfaction to your consciences besides this, but believe it all that can be said, besides this atonement and propitiation, is of no more virtue to purge your consciences, or satisfy your perplexed souls, than those repeated sacrifices of old were. Whatsoever you can pitch upon besides this, it is insufficient, and therefore you find a necessity of seeking some other grace or qualification to appease your consciences, even as they had need to multiply sacrifices. But now since this perfect propitiation is offered up for our sins should not all these vain expiations of your works cease? Truly, there is nothing can pacify heaven but this, and nothing can appease thy conscience on earth but this too. If you find any accusation against you consider Christ hath, by a sacrifice for sin, condemned sin in his own flesh. The marks of the spear, of the nails, of the buffetings of his flesh, -- these are the tokens and pledges, that he encountered with the wrath due to your sins, and so hath cut off all the right that sin hath over you. If thou canst unfeignedly in the Lord's sight say, that it is thy soul's desire to be delivered from sin as well as wrath, thou wouldst gladly fly from condemnation, then come to him who hath condemned sin, by suffering the condemnation of sin, that he might save those who desire to fly from it to him.