2 Corinthians 5:21
Great Texts of the Bible
The Sinless Made Sin

Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.—2 Corinthians 5:21.

There are many to whom there is no dearer verse in the Book than this. But there are others who can only study it with knitted brows and puzzled minds. Sometimes perhaps they think they have glimpses of its meaning, but the momentary insight fades, and they are puzzled again. Their experience is like John Bunyan’s in his groping days; he sometimes for his comfort got “sweet glances” at this and kindred verses; “But these words were but hints, touches and short visits, though very sweet when present: only they lasted not; but, like to Peter’s sheet, and of a sudden were caught up from me to heaven again.” Yet even if we do not always fully understand, we can feel somewhat of the tremendous import, and therefore of the tremendous importance, of a verse like this; its daring paradox seems to point us into the centre of things, and its passionate intensity moves our hearts to wonder and prayer.

Perhaps the verse is made somewhat easier if we are careful to distinguish between two things—one the mannerism of St. Paul and the other the message that lies behind the mannerism. St. Paul’s style is often very direct, compressed and abrupt. And where some writer of looser method and less intense quality would put some word of connexion or of comparison, St. Paul dispenses with all connecting links and puts a bold identification. Take for the sake of clearness a parallel instance, which is all the clearer because it is two instances in one. In another place he says, “Ye were sometime darkness,” not “in darkness,” not “children of darkness,” not “in bondage to darkness,” but by a bold and direct identification, “ye were darkness.” And then he goes on, “but now are ye light in the Lord”—not “ye have come into the light,” nor “ye have been brought to see the light”; but again by a bold and direct identification, “Now are ye light.” Perhaps such a parallel case throws light upon St. Paul’s method of expression here, where by an awfully daring identification, he speaks about Christ being made sin and ourselves being made righteousness.

With these introductory words we pass to the contents of the text. It contains two subjects.—

The Sinless made Sin

  II.  The Sinner become Righteousness.


The Sinless Made Sin

1. “Him who knew no sin.” That any man should be sinless was an idea quite alien to Jewish thought and belief; and therefore the emphasis given to it by St. Paul, and the absolutely unqualified way in which it is laid down in a letter addressed to a community containing not only friends but foes who would eagerly fasten on any doubtful statement, show that it must have been regarded as axiomatic among Christians at the early date when this Epistle was written.

It was Christ’s own verdict upon Himself. He whose words search our very hearts, and bring to light unsuspected seeds of badness, never Himself betrays the faintest consciousness of guilt. He challenges His enemies directly—“Which of you convinceth me of sin?” It is the verdict of all sincere human souls, as uttered by the soldier who watched His cross—“Truly this was a righteous man.” It is the verdict even of the great enemy who assailed Him again and again, and found nothing in Him, and whose agents recognized Him as the Holy One of God. Above all, it is the verdict of God. He was the beloved Son, in whom the Father was well pleased. For three-and-thirty years, in daily contact with the world and its sins, Christ lived and yet knew no sin. To His will and conscience it was a foreign thing. What infinite worth that sinless life possessed in God’s sight! When He looked down to earth it was the one absolutely precious thing. Filled full of righteousness, absolutely well-pleasing in His eyes, it was worth more to God than all the world beside.

Your friend asks, “When does Scripture mention the least impatience or any sin in the man Christ Jesus?” and then goes on to speak, with great horror, of my “awful notion” of admitting the germ of evil, etc., in Him. I presume this is a misconception of an expression which I have more than once used. Specially dwelling on the Redeemer’s sinlessness, I have shown how all the innocent feelings of our nature were in Him, but stopped on the verge which separates the innocent from the wrong. An inclination of human nature is not wrong—hunger, anger—but being gratified unduly, or in forbidden circumstances, it passes into sin. “Be ye angry, and sin not.” Legitimate anger was to stop short of sinful vindictiveness. Similarly, our Lord felt the weariness of life, and was anxious to have it done, amidst perpetual opposition of enemies and misconception of friends. “How am I straitened till it be accomplished?” “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?” There was no germ of sin in Christ; for sin is the acting of an evil will. Sin resides in the will, not in the natural appetites. There was no germ of sin in Him; but there were germs of feeling, natural and innocent, which show that He was in all points tempted like as we are.1 [Note: Lift and Letters of F. W. Robertson, 143.]

2. All sinless as Christ was, God made Him to be sin on our behalf. What does this mean? Not exactly that He made Him a sin-offering on our behalf. The expression for a sin-offering is different, and the parallelism with righteousness in the next clause forbids that reference here. The sin-offering of the Old Testament can at most have pointed towards and dimly suggested so tremendous an utterance as this; and the profoundest word of the New Testament cannot be adequately interpreted by anything in the Old. When St. Paul says, “Him that knew no sin God made sin,” he must mean that in Christ on His cross, by Divine appointment, the extremest opposites met and became one—incarnate righteousness and the sin of the world. The sin is laid by God on the sinless One; its doom is laid on Him; His death is the execution of the Divine sentence upon it. When He dies, He has put away sin; it no longer stands, as it once stood, between God and the world. On the contrary, God has made peace by this great transaction; He has wrought out reconciliation: and its ministers can go everywhere with this awful appeal: “Receive the reconciliation: Him who knew no sin God hath made sin on our behalf, and there is henceforth no condemnation to them that are in Christ.”

Chrysostom makes the following comment on this verse: “What mind can represent these things? He made the righteous One a sinner, that He might make the sinners righteous. Rather this is not what he says, but something much greater. He says, not that He made Him a sinner, but that He made Him sin,—not only Him who had not sinned, but Him who did not know sin,—that we might be made (not righteous, but) righteousness, and the righteousness of God. For this is the righteousness of God, when we are justified, not by works (for in this case it is necessary that there should be no spot in them) but by grace in the blotting out of all sin. This does not permit us to be lifted up, for God freely gives us all and teaches us the greatness of the gift; because the former righteousness is that of the law and of works, but this is the righteousness of God.”

3. If we look at the verses that precede we shall see that St. Paul’s thoughts, as always when he treats of these great themes, were dwelling on the identification of Christ with sinful man. “One died for all, therefore all died,” he says (2 Corinthians 5:14); and those who are “in him” are new creatures, reconciled to God and living “not unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again.” Hence it would seem that the phrase “made to be sin” must be understood in the light of this thought of identification. We may, perhaps, paraphrase the words thus:—“Jesus Christ, though sinless, identified Himself with us in our sinfulness, in order that we, though sinful, might be able to identify ourselves with Him in His righteousness.”

Now this identification of Christ with sinful men is due to His intense sympathy. There was a time in our Lord’s life on earth, we are told, when He met a man coming out of the tombs, whom no man could bind, “no, not with chains.” That man was “possessed by an unclean spirit.” Of all men upon earth, you would say that he was the one between whom and the pure and holy Jesus there must have existed the most thorough-going repugnance. What Pharisee who shrank from the filthy and loathsome words of that maniac could have experienced one-thousandth part of the inward and intense loathing which Christ must have experienced for the mind that those words expressed? For it was into that He looked; that which He understood; that which in His inmost being He must have felt, which must have given Him a shock such as it could have given to no other. He must have felt the wickedness of that man in His inmost being. He must have been conscious of it, as no one else was or could be. Now, if we have ever had the consciousness, in a very slight degree, of evil in another man, has it not been, up to that degree, as if the evil were in ourselves? Suppose the offender were a friend, or a brother, or a child, has not this sense of personal shame, of the evil being ours, been proportionably stronger and more acute? However much we might feel ourselves called upon to act as judges, this perception still remained. It was not crushed even by the anger, the selfish anger, and the impatience of an injury done to us which, most probably, mingled with and corrupted the purer indignation and sorrow. Most of us confess with humiliation how little we have had of this lively consciousness of other men’s impurity, or injustice, or falsehood, or baseness. But we do confess it; we know, therefore, that we should be better if we had more of it. In our best moments we admire with a fervent admiration—in our worse, we envy with a wicked envy—those in whom we trace most of it. And we have had just enough of it to be certain that it belongs to the truest and most radical part of the character, not to its transient impulses. Suppose, then, this carried to its highest point. Cannot you, at a great distance, apprehend that Christ may have entered into the sin of that poor maniac’s spirit, may have had the most inward realization of it, not because it was like what was in Himself, but because it was utterly and intensely unlike? And yet are you not sure that this could not have been, unless He had the most perfect and thorough sympathy with this man, whose nature was transformed into the likeness of a brute, whose spirit had acquired the image of a devil? Does the co-existence of this sympathy and this antipathy perplex you? When we consider we see that they must dwell together in their highest degree, in their fullest power, in any one of whom we could say, “He is perfect; He is the standard of excellence.” Diminish by one atom the loathing and horror, or the fellowship and sympathy, and by that atom you lower the character; you are sure that you have brought it nearer to the level of your own low imaginations; that you have made it less like the Being who would raise you towards Himself.1 [Note: F. D. Maurice.]

Love is a principle essentially vicarious in its own nature, identifying the subject with others, so as to suffer their adversities and pains, and taking on itself the burden of their evils. It does not come in officiously and abruptly and propose to be substituted in some formal and literal way that overturns all the moral relations of law and desert, but it clings to the evil and lost man as in feeling, afflicted for him, burdened by his ill deserts, incapacities, and pains, encountering gladly any loss or suffering for his sake. Approving nothing wrong in him, but faithfully reproving and condemning him in all sin, it is yet made sin—plunged, so to speak, into all the fortunes of sin, by its friendly sympathy. In this manner it is entered vicariously into sacrifice on his account. So naturally and easily does the vicarious sacrifice commend itself to our intelligence, by the stock ideas and feelings out of which it grows.2 [Note: Horace Bushnell, The Vicarious Sacrifice, 42.]

There is a fine Welsh poem in which the poet imagines that the Sun, and all the attendant planets and satellites in his sphere, passed before the Great White Throne of the Creator; and as each passed, He smiled; but when Earth came to her turn, He blushed. We may couple with that a true story which was recently told of human sin and crime. A girl was brought before a board of guardians for immoral conduct of a very gross and aggravated kind; and, instead of showing any womanly shame, she was hard and brazen-faced. A lady who was on the board sat amongst the guardians, and her face was dyed crimson with shame. Though the girl showed no shame for herself, the lady felt it for her sin and her hardness; and as the girl caught sight of that pure, shame-cast face, she broke down in a flood of tears, and afterwards asked to be permitted to speak to her unknown friend. The incident led to the girl’s ultimate reclamation. And when, according to the poet, we are told that God blushed as the Earth passed beneath His eye, may not his suggestion be coupled with this story, and may not the blush that suffused the face of Christ be also reflected from the face of Earth?3 [Note: F. B. Meyer, In the Beginning God, 163.]

I wandered forth to meet the rising sun.

To all infinity the snow lay bright

Beneath the dawn—a seamless garb of white

In God’s own looms immaculately spun.

Oh, spotless peace! Yet, ere an hour should run,

I knew that, with the broadening of the light,

The feet of man would mar that perfect sight,

And blot it wholly ere the day were done.

And, as I went, my heart was full of pain

To think of all man’s deeds that would deface,

Ere set of sun, the glistening garb of grace:

Of truth that would be blotted with pretence,

And of the treachery that would print its stain

Upon the virgin snow of innocence.1 [Note: G. Thomas, The Wayside Altar, 32.]

4. Sympathy has always an element of vicariousness in it, the more as it rises to the highest form of spiritual identification. Sympathy, by common consent one of the holiest and most influential forces in social life, is indeed itself a vicarious emotion. Its presence implies that we are putting ourselves into another man’s place and participating in his experiences. By an act of imagination we bring our sensibilities into unison with kindred sensibilities in groups of sufferers, and so enter into their lot. There has been a mental substitution of our personality for that of a neighbour who is racked with pain, stricken by tragic bereavement, or wallowing in want and abject privation. It is quite possible we may suffer as much as the ill-fated victim himself, or even more, if his temperament chance to be slow and stolid. By an act of mental transmigration we share the dire conditions of another, and the process may be momentary or persistent. This act of thinking ourselves into another’s place may be so vivid that his trouble will continue to haunt us for years. Who will venture to deny that there is the dawn of a great virtue in every generous impulse which compels us to put ourselves at the standpoint of a sufferer? Sympathy when divorced from wise, practical action may cease to be a virtue. It may pass into hypocrisy, and be cherished because of the sense of spurious self-approval to which it ministers. But all the same we are bound to recognize that it is the source of altruism, and that the sincere emotion is one of the great healing forces at work in a woe-begone world.

What we call the vicarious sacrifice of Christ is nothing strange as regards the principle of it, no superlative, unexampled, and therefore unintelligible grace. It only does and suffers, and comes into substitution for, just what any and all love will according to its degree. And in this view, it is not something higher in principle than our human virtue knows and which we ourselves are never to copy or receive, but it is to be understood by what we know already, and is to be more fully understood by what we are to know hereafter, when we are complete in Christ. Nothing is wanting to resolve the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus but the commonly known, always familiar principle of love, accepted as the fundamental law of duty, even by mankind. Given the universality of love, the universality of vicarious sacrifice is given also. Here is the centre and deepest spot of good, or goodness, conceivable. At this point we look into heaven’s eye itself, and read the meaning of all heavenly grace.1 [Note: Horace Bushnell, The Vicarious Sacrifice, 48.]

There is an authentic and beautiful little story told graphically by Dr. Hanna—the biographer and the son-in-law of Dr. Chalmers. “In a household which enjoyed all the benefits of high culture and Christian care one of the children committed a grievous and unexpected fault—he told a falsehood to cover a petty theft. Rebuke and punishment were administered, carried further than they had ever been before, but without effect. The offender was not awakened to any real or deep sorrow for his offence. The boy’s insensibility quite overcame his father. Sitting in the same room with his sullen and obstinate child, he bent his head upon his hand and burst into a flood of tears. For a moment or two the boy looked on in wonder; he then crept gradually nearer and nearer to his sobbing parent, and at last got up on his father’s knees, asking in a low whisper why it was that he was weeping so. He was told the reason. It wrought like a spell upon his young heart; the sight of his father suffering so bitterly on his account was more than he could bear. He flung his little arms round his father and wept along with him. That father never needed to correct his child again for any like offence.”

5. Here, however, it is necessary to meet two common mis-apprehensions. On the one hand, it is often maintained that for any sin, however great, the word of forgiveness and reconciliation is enough—a man needs no more; while on the other hand it is averred that the deed once done can never be undone, that the sinner must bear the consequences of his sin, and, what is more terrible, remain for ever associated with the memory of it. As F. W. H. Myers in “Saint Paul” says:

Yes, Thou forgivest, but, with all forgiving,

Canst not renew mine innocence again:

Make Thou, O Christ, a dying of my living,

Purge from the sin but never from the pain.

(1) Why can there not be forgiveness without sacrifice? The answer is this: Because of that moral necessity in the Nature of God which calls for the condemnation of sin. It cannot be necessary to defend with argument the position of such a moral necessity in the Nature of God as calls for the condemnation of sin. To some extent we are conscious of that moral necessity in ourselves, not only in moments of disgust and loathing following an evil indulgence, but also, and far more surely, in moments of spiritual strength and vision, when, lifted near to God, we have discerned, as from His side, the goodness of good and the sinfulness of sin. To some extent we are conscious of that moral necessity as confessed in the life of the community and of the nation in its undying struggle after public righteousness, its eternal condemnation of public sin. But when we lift our thought to God the Righteous, the existence of a moral necessity in His Nature calling for the condemnation of sin becomes an axiom, a self-evident proposition transcending demonstration. Apart from it, God the Righteous is unthinkable. For there are but four attitudes possible in any being toward sin—ignorance, indifference, consent, condemnation. God the Righteous cannot be ignorant; God the Righteous cannot be indifferent; God the Righteous cannot consent; God the Righteous must condemn, must, under the moral necessity of His Being. But how is condemnation to be expressed? In two ways only is it expressible to man on the part of God—through precept and through penalty. When the first fails, there remains only the second. God condemned sin by precept to the unfallen world: “Thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” The wrath of God was revealed from heaven against all sin, all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. The judgment of God was known, that they which commit such things are worthy of death. The condemnation of sin through precept was universally published; it was written in the natural conscience, it was spoken in the Law. God was true to the moral necessity of His Nature in openly condemning sin and warning against it. In vain; the freedom of man challenged the precept of God. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” The condemnation of sin by penalty became, therefore, in the failure of precept, a moral necessity in the nature of God the Righteous. He could not do otherwise. There is nothing of passion, nothing of revenge, nothing of hatred, nothing of sanguinary desire in God’s punishment of sin. The punishment of sin is the condemnation of sin by penalty, its condemnation by precept having failed. Therefore to suggest forgiveness without sacrifice is to suggest a knowledge of sin on God’s part unaccompanied by His condemnation of it.

The fact of what is meant by original sin is as mysterious and inexplicable as the origin of evil, but it is obviously as much a fact. There is a fault and vice in the race which, given time, as surely develops into actual sin as our physical constitution, given at birth, does into sickness and physical death. It is of this inherited tendency to sin in our nature, looked upon in the abstract and without reference to concrete cases, that I suppose the ninth Article speaks. How can we suppose that such a nature looks in God’s eyes, according to the standard of perfect righteousness which we also suppose to be God’s standard and law? Does It satisfy that standard? Can He look with neutrality on its divergence from His perfect standard? What is His moral judgment of it as a subject for moral judgment? What He may do to cure it, to pardon it, to make allowances for it, in known or unknown ways, is another matter, about which His known attributes of mercy alone may reassure us; but the question is, How does He look upon this fact of our nature in itself, that without exception it has this strong efficacious germ of evil within it, of which He sees all the possibilities and all the consequences? Can He look on it, even in germ, with complacency or indifference? Must He not judge it and condemn it as in itself, because evil, deserving condemnation? I cannot see what other answer can be given but one, and this is what the Article says.1 [Note: Lift and Letters of Dean Church, 248.]

(2) But there is the feeling already hinted at, namely, that every sinner feels himself to be permanently associated with his own evil deeds. Suppose that a man has committed a great sin, such, for instance, as the betrayal of a trust. If that sin becomes known to society the sinner will be punished, not only by the censures of his fellows but by their remembrance of his action. He will always be pointed at as the man who did such and such things in such and such a year. No matter how much he tries, he will never wholly live it down, if he has really been guilty of the offence. But suppose that the world does not know of the misdeed. Will his experience be very different? If he is a man of low sordid nature he will probably suffer no pangs of remorse, but if he is a man of high temper, with capacity for nobler things, he will discover that, as Milton says,

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

It is noteworthy that the sense of guilt, as we have now stated it, is the product of the influence of Jesus Christ in the world. Nothing precisely like it is to be found apart from that influence. As Professor Van Dyke says, “It was Jesus of Nazareth who illuminated the moral evil in the world most deeply and clearly. He showed its spring, its secret workings, and the power which lies behind it.” Thus, to state the point briefly, Jesus, who showed to mankind the foulness of sin, must also be the Person who can deal with guilt, otherwise it were better that He had never come at all. As a matter of fact, this is just what Christians have always believed their Master was able to do. The Christian doctrine of Atonement is the only remedy that has ever been propounded to the world to deal with the psychological fact of guilt. It satisfies a Christ-awakened need. It has been verified by experience during nineteen hundred years. The belief that Christ by His sufferings has wrought out our redemption has been the secret that has lifted thousands of our fellow-men out of the slough of sin and made a holy life possible. Men are not saved by fancies. There must therefore be somewhere in the doctrine a truth that has shown itself able to free men from the thraldom of sin and the worst of its consequences.

In Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler’s interesting book, Concerning Isabel Carnaby, there occurs a conversation between a godly father and a noble son. I may here venture to give an extract from the same.

“The teaching of modern philosophy is that what is done is done, and what we have written we have written; and that there is no atonement for the deed once accomplished, and no washing out of the handwriting against us. But I have not so learnt of Christ.”

“Then do you believe that what is done can ever be undone?” asked Paul. “Surely that is impossible.”

“I do not wish to prophesy smooth things,” replied his father, “nor to sprinkle the way of life with rose-water. I know that if a man breaks the law of Nature he will be punished to the uttermost, for there is no forgiveness in Nature. I know that if a man breaks the laws of society he will find neither remission nor mercy, for there is no forgiveness in society; but I believe that if a man breaks the law of God his transgression can be taken away as though it had never been, for ‘there is forgiveness with thee that thou mayest be feared.’ ”

“It is a grand gospel that you preach, father, and seems almost too good to be true.”

“Nothing is too good to be true; the truth is the best of everything.”1 [Note: R. J. Campbell, A Faith for To-day, 277.]


The Sinner Become Righteousness

Having identified Christ with sin, the Apostle goes on in a somewhat similar way to identify believing souls with righteousness. “That we might become the righteousness of God in him.” The usual interpretation of these words applies them to the acceptance of the believing soul—his forgiveness, his justification. That of course is included, but it is also transcended. Just as on the one hand it takes a whole Christ, and not merely a portion of His history, to fill out the great meaning of the words “He was made to be sin,” so it requires a whole Christian experience, and not merely the initial stages of it, to fill out the full meaning of these words, “that we might become righteousness in him.” As on the one hand you cannot find such a commentary upon sin as you find in the experience of Christ, so on the other hand you cannot find such an illustration of righteousness as in the souls in whom the work of Christ bears its fruits, beginning and growing and going on to perfection. Just as Christ was treated in this world as if He were sin, so His people are treated here and hereafter as if they were righteousness.

1. As Christ has identified Himself with us in our sinfulness, so we are identified with Him in His righteousness. Not, again, by any legal fiction; but as, by the purity and love and sorrow of a true mother, a wandering son may be rescued, broken down in penitence and led to trust in God and in his mother, when he cannot trust himself, so the cross of Jesus has ever been the supreme agency whereby God comes close to men, breaks down their pride, heals their self-distrust, and assures them that the love and self-sacrifice and obedience of Christ are all for them.

One day, as I was passing in the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience, fearing lest yet all was not right, suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, “Thy righteousness is in heaven”; and methought withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand. There, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, “He wants my righteousness,” for that was just before Him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor my bad frame that made my righteousness worse: for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons, my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful Scriptures of God left off to trouble me.1 [Note: Bunyan, Grace Abounding.]

2. In whatever way our Lord was made sin, we are made righteousness. As sin was placed on Him, and He was reckoned with as though it were His own, so His righteousness is reckoned to us, who are in Him by faith, as though it were indeed ours. Christ’s identification with us in our sin filled Him with untold anguish; so let our identification with Him in His glorious righteousness fill us with unspeakable joy. And if it is indeed ours, let us dismiss our fears; let us dare to stand in the very light of God’s holiness, accepted in the Beloved; let us greatly rejoice in the Lord, and our souls be joyful in the Lord, since He has covered us with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and a bride adorneth herself with jewels.

An error of mysterious and alarming sound was charged upon Dr. Crisp—namely, the permutation of persons, or commutation of persons. If the perplexed reader inquires with wonder what this heresy can be, a historian tells him, it is “actually to make a Saviour of the sinner, and a sinner of the Saviour.” I have read Dr. Crisp’s sermons and there is no declaration in them which is as strong as the following by Luther: “Faith without adulteration must be taught, because by it thou mayest be so cemented with Christ that out of thee and Him there may be made one person that cannot be separated, but eternally coheres; that with confidence thou mayest be able to say, I am Christ—that is, Christ’s righteousness is mine, His victory is mine, His existence is mine, etc. And, conversely, Christ may say, I am that sinner—that is, his sins are Mine, his death is Mine, etc., because he adheres to Me, and I to him. We have been joined by faith into one flesh and bone (Ephesians 5:30), we are members of Christ’s body, of His flesh and of His bones. This faith unites me to Christ more closely than a husband is joined to his wife. So this faith is not a trifling quality, but its magnitude is such that it obscures and entirely sweeps away those most senseless dreams of sophistical charity, concerning merits, concerning worth or qualities of our own, etc.” Crisp’s alleged heresy is thus the Apostle’s doctrine that “Christ was made sin,” and that believers are “the righteousness of God”—the old scriptural doctrine taught by the Reformers, by “judicious Hooker,” and others.1 [Note: D. C. A. Agnew, The Theology of Consolation, 234.]

3. The identification is always in Christ. “In him,” says the Apostle. These striking and original words show that St. Paul means much more than the imputation of human sin to Christ, and the imputation of Divine righteousness to men; the sin is not merely regarded as laid on Him, nor the righteousness as conferred on us, but there is in both cases an inner identification, as it were—of Him with sin, and of us with righteousness. This, then, is the heart of the gospel, according to St. Paul: this explains the reconciliation on which throughout the paragraph he has so frequently and earnestly insisted. We are acquitted, justified, in Christ; but, in order to this, He had to be made sin. We could never have been identified with Him and His righteousness, had He not first been identified with us and our sin. We climb the heights because He descended to the depths.

We can conceive a vast society of men wholly obedient to the will of God, living in reverent adoration, working with lowly love; we can conceive this society composed of those who have made a sorrowful trial of what life out of harmony with God is, and who, having sinned, have been redeemed; in such a society all that is good and beautiful in our present human life is secured and made permanent, all that is base and vile is excluded; death has lost its meaning, because it is understood that these beings are immortal, and if they pass from world to world, gently translated they may fade out of sight, but, no longer identified with a material and earthly organism, they are no longer subjected to the law of decay. Thrilled through and through with the unimpeded life of God, moving in the faultless harmony of that one holy and loving will, they range through the endless spheres and systems of existence, ever learning, ever wondering, ever worshipping, blessed infinitely as in brief and vanishing moments of the present life some of us have been blessed. The yearning which this order of things can create but never satisfy is progressively satisfied. The dreams of the good are realized—

The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard, The passion that left the ground to lose itself in the sky.

Now this dream of a sinless humanity, made out of this sinful humanity redeemed, this dream which haunts the imagination of Plato, Sir Thomas More, and the Utopian prophets of all ages, this dream which, materialized, inspires all Socialist reformers, this dream which evolutionists retain in the cold and comfortless form of a distant and vastly improved humanity in which we have no part except that of dying for it, this dream is the sober expectation of the Apostles. They are convinced that it will be; they are also convinced that they hold in their hands the truth and the power which will ultimately, however slowly, realize it.

How far off the final triumph of Christ may be when sin shall be destroyed for ever and death itself shall die, it is not ours to know. Long has been the strife, intense the agony, and the whole creation is groaning and travailing in pain together until now; and so will continue till Christ be formed in every human soul, and in Him all are made alive. Then will the prayer of ages be answered and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Towards this sublime consummation, the unchallenged reign of God the Father, and the uninterrupted harmony of the human race with its Creator, all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, unceasingly conspire. We have seen how far from primeval fire vapour and stellar dust, through immeasurable geologic eras this process swept forward till the earth became prepared for that august, mysterious guest called Life, and on through that endless kaleidoscopic succession of ever rising organisms till God-like man appeared, and still on through man’s chequered career till Christ Himself became incarnate to remake Mankind, to save that which was lost, and to turn this sin-blighted earth into Heaven. For this He is now energizing in the souls of men, and we cannot doubt that the ultimate survival of the Christ-type is assured. By Divine right of the fittest it must prevail. Thus, at long last, shall the Divine heart be satisfied, and a saved and wondering universe behold—no longer in a mirror darkly, but face to face—the Unveiled Glory.1 [Note: L. W. Caws, The Unveiled, Glory, 205.]

With this ambiguous earth

His dealings have been told us. These abide:

The signal to a maid, the human birth,

The lesson, and the young Man crucified.

But not a star of all

The innumerable host of stars has heard

How He administered this terrestrial ball.

Our race have kept their Lord’s entrusted Word.

Of His earth-visiting feet

None knows the secret, cherished, perilous,

The terrible, shamefast, frightened, whispered, sweet,

Heart-shattering secret of His way with us.

No planet knows that this

Our wayside planet, carrying land and wave,

Love and life multiplied, and pain and bliss,

Bears, as chief treasure, one forsaken grave.

Nor, in our little day,

May His devices with the heavens be guessed,

His pilgrimage to thread the Milky Way

Or His bestowals there be manifest.

But in the eternities,

Doubtless we shall compare together, hear

A million alien Gospels, in what guise

He trod the Pleiades, the Lyre, the Bear.

O, be prepared, my soul!

To read the inconceivable, to scan

The million forms of God those stars unroll

When, in our turn, we show to them a Man 1:1 [Note: Alice Meynell, Poems, 114.]

4. Now out of all this two great lights flash forth—one upon God, and one upon ourselves.

(1) Here is a great light upon God. For it is God who does it all: He hath made Him to be sin. There used to be a way of stating the sacrifice of Christ as if it were something flung at the feet of an angry God to persuade Him to change His mind. But God did not need to change His mind. The ministry of reconciliation began in His own heart before ever it expressed itself in the perfect Life or the wondrous Death. It was necessary that the world should be redeemed by sacrifice; but the sacrifice that redeemed us was the sacrifice of God, and the price that bought us was the gift of God. “He hath made him to be sin”; and when we see Christ identifying Himself with our sinful race, even to the uttermost of all that was involved in that, we know that the heart of God is thus entangled in our sorrow, and the hands of God are stretched out to save us from our sin. That is why this message is so melting, so subduing, so morally magnificent. It was of the message of this verse that Goethe said, “There is nothing diviner than this.” And there is indeed nothing diviner than this—that God Himself should stoop to share the lot of His creatures, even to the deepest that was involved in their sin, and should raise them to His own glory and immortality. This is a God we can worship. His nature and His name is Love.

When you speak to me of the love of God, I always feel sure that you mean a love which includes and implies righteousness, and I had hoped that you would interpret me in the same way. In fact I would say that, in contrasting the fatherhood of God with His judgeship, I meant the first to represent a righteousness which seeks to communicate itself, and the second a righteousness which seeks to vindicate itself, and I intended to say that the second was put in action in subserviency to the first.2 [Note: Letters of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen, ii. 183.]

For me,

I have my own church equally:

And in this church my faith sprang first!…

In youth I looked to these very skies,

And probing their immensities,

I found God there, His visible power;

Yet felt in my heart, amid all its sense

Of the power, an equal evidence

That His love, there too, was the nobler dower.

For the loving worm within its clod

Were diviner than a loveless god

Amid His worlds, I will dare to say …

Love which, on earth, amid all the shows of it,

Has ever been seen the sole good of life in it,

The love, ever growing there, spite of the strife in it;

Shall arise, made perfect, from death’s repose of it.

And I shall behold Thee, face to face,

O God, and in Thy light retrace

How in all I loved here, still wast Thou!

Whom pressing to, then, as I fain would now,

I shall find as able to satiate

The love, Thy gift, as my spirit’s wonder

Thou art able to quicken and sublimate,

With this sky of Thine, that I now walk under,

And glory in Thee for, as I gaze

Thus, thus! Oh, let men keep their ways

Of seeking Thee in a narrow shrine—

Be this my way! And this is mine!1 [Note: Browning, Christmas Eve.]

(2) Here also is a light upon ourselves and our own possibilities. We want to make something of ourselves—What shall it be? Shall we allow God to make us—righteousness? To make us the righteousness of God? To give us this Divine standing and hope and victory? We must bestir our hearts to receive the message, to take the gift, to live the life; since, because Christ has lived and died, all things are possible. “That we might be made …” What hope, what promise, what victory lies there!

I have somewhere read of an American statesman who sinned a certain sin. On his death-bed he asked for a dictionary; he wanted, he said, to look up the word “Remorse.” The physician told him there was no dictionary in the room. “Take a card then,” said he, “and write on it the word that best symbolizes my soul. Write it in large letters. Underscore it—the word Remorse.” It was done as he desired, and after he had gazed upon it for a time, he handed the card again to the doctor. “What shall I do with it?” said the puzzled physician. “Put it in your pocket,” was the reply; “and when I am gone, take it out and look at it, and say,’ That is the soul of John Randolph.’ ” That is what some men have made of themselves—remorse, living remorse, incarnate remorse. But God desires that we should be made something better than that: He desires that we should be made righteousness. It is possible.

Just and holy is Thy name,

I am all unrighteousness;

False and full of sin I am,

Thou art full of truth and grace.1 [Note: J. M. E. Ross.]

The Sinless Made Sin


Blake (R. E.), Good News from Heaven, 10.

Bonar (H.), Light and Truth: Acts and Epistles, 400.

Bourdillon (F.), Short Sermons, 31.

Campbell (R. J.), City Temple Sermons, 61.

Campbell (R. J.), A Faith for To-day, 255.

Dallas (H. A.), Gospel Records, 240.

Edger (S.), Sermons Preached at Auckland, ii. 66.

Greenhough (J. G.), Christian Festivals and Anniversaries, 47.

Grubb (E.), The Personality of God, 83.

Hall (C. C.), The Gospel of the Divine Sacrifice, 57.

Hepher (C.), The Revelation of Love, 127.

Horton (R. F.), Brief Sermons to Busy Men, 15, 29.

Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, v. 242.

Maurice (F. D.), The Doctrine of Sacrifice, 179.

Meyer (F. B.), In the Beginning God, 163.

Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, ix. 257.

Ross (J. M. E.), The Christian Standpoint, 126.

Russell (E.), An Editor’s Sermons, 55.

Secker (T.), Sermons, vii. 23.

Selby (T. G.), The Strenuous Gospel, 95.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxxii. (1886), No. 1910; lvi. (1910), No. 3203.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), iii. (1863), No. 389.

Christian World Pulpit, xlviii. 42 (J. D. Thompson); liv. 209 (R. J. Campbell).

Expositor, 2nd Ser., ii. 143 (G. Matheson).

Record, Nov. 24, 1911 (H. E. Noyes).

The Great Texts of the Bible - James Hastings

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