"Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver from the body of this death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord." -- ROM. VII.24, 25.
We have studied the meaning of reconciliation through the Cross. We have said that to be reconciled to God means to cease to be the object of the Wrath of God, that is, His hostility to sin. We can only cease to be the objects of this Divine Wrath by identifying ourselves with it, by making God's Mind in regard to sin, and our sins, our own mind. The Cross gives us power to do this. For it reveals to us in the terms of humanity, that is, in the only way in which it could be made intelligible to us, the Divine Mind in its relation to sin. By faith, which is personal surrender to Christ, His mind thus revealed becomes our mind. Thus we attain to "repentance," in the New Testament sense of the changed mind and outlook upon sin. And the motive power to faith and repentance is supplied by our union with Christ.
But all this is not yet enough. We have not exhausted the glory, the full meaning of the Cross. If this were indeed all, the work of our salvation would be incomplete. For I may indeed have, in Christ, died to sin; in Him I may have repudiated it; but the task of life still lies before me to be fulfilled, and that task is nothing short of this: the complete putting off of sin, the complete putting on of holiness, the final achievement of that union with God which is life eternal.
For this I was made. "Ye shall therefore be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect." Our Lord is not, in these words, enunciating a rule of perfection for a few saintly souls. He is laying down the law, the standard of all human lives. To fall short of this, is to fall short of what it means to be a man.
The proof that this is so, is to be found in our own consciousness, bearing its witness to these words of Jesus Christ. The one most constant feature in human life is its restlessness, the feeling of dissatisfaction which broods over its best achievements, the attainment of all its desires. That very restlessness and dissatisfaction is the witness to the dignity of our nature, the grandeur of our destiny. We were made for God, for the attainment of eternal life through union with Him. No being who was merely finite, could be conscious of its finitude.
Spite of yourselves ye witness this,
"Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our heart knoweth no rest, till it find rest in Thee."
Then look at the other picture. Side by side with the glory of our calling, place the shame and the misery of what we are. My desires, my passions are ever at war with the true self, and too often overcome it. "I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin and death which is in my members." And so there goes up the bitter cry, "Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
Now the Cross of Jesus Christ is the Divine answer to this great and exceeding bitter cry of our suffering, struggling, sinful humanity. For the Cross is not merely an altar, but a battlefield, by far the greatest battlefield in all human history. That was the crisis of the conflict between good and evil which gives endless interest to the most insignificant human life, which is the source of the pathos and the tragedy, the degradation and the glory, of the long history of our race. It is the human struggle which we watch upon the Cross: the human victory there won which we acclaim with endless joy and exultation. Man faced the fiercest assault of the foe, and man conquered.
O loving wisdom of our God!
O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
Man conquered man's foe, and in the only way in which that foe could be conquered, the way of obedience. "He became obedient unto death." The Death was in a real sense the victory, for its only meaning and value consisted in its being the crown and culmination of His life-long obedience. The Resurrection itself, in one aspect of it, was but the symbol, the "sign," of that victory which was already achieved upon the Cross.
But what has this to do with us? It cannot be too often repeated, that it has nothing to do with us, if Christ be merely "Another," separate from us as we are, or imagine ourselves to be, separate from each other. That which He took of the Virgin Mary, and took in the only way in which it could have been taken, by the Virgin Birth, was not a separate human individuality, but human nature; that nature which we all share. It was in that nature that He faced and overcame our enemy.
Here we pause to note a difficulty based on a misunderstanding. If Christ were a Divine Person, working in and through human nature, if that humanity which He assumed were itself impersonal, then how could He have had a human will? And, after all, is an impersonal human nature really human? That is the difficulty, and the very fact that we feel it as a difficulty, is a proof that we have not yet grasped that conception of the Divine Nature which underlies the belief in the Incarnation. God and man are not beings of a different order. The humanity of every man is the indwelling in him of the Word Who became flesh. Each one of us is a shadow, a reflection of the Incarnation. In Jesus Christ God came; and, it would be equally true to say, in Him first, man came. All human nature, I believe it would be true to say all organic nature, pointed forward to the Incarnation as its fulfilment, as the justification for its existence.
Thus, when it is said that the human nature of Christ was impersonal, what is meant is, impersonal in the modern and restricted sense of personality. The phrase is useful, when explained, to guard against the idea, which is contrary to the very principle of the Atonement, that the Son of man was just one more human soul added to the myriads of human souls who have appeared on this planet. He Who became Incarnate is the true self of every man, the very Light of true personality in all men. As a matter of fact, He was more truly humanly Personal than any of the sons of men, and all the more truly humanly Personal, because He was Divinely Personal, the Word in the image of Whom man was made.
The immense significance of these truths in regard to our redemption is this, that a separate individuality cannot be imparted to us, but a common nature can. And that nature which the Eternal Word assumed of the Virgin Mary, and in which He conquered sin and death, is communicated to us by His Spirit, above all, in the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion. Here is the heart of the Atonement.
That victory over sin and death is mine, and yet not mine. That is the splendid paradox which lies at the very root of Christianity. It is mine, because I share in that Human Nature, which by its perfect obedience, the obedience unto death, "triumphed gloriously" upon the Cross. It is not mine until, by a deliberate act of my will, in self- surrender to Christ, I have made it my own. By grace and by faith, not by one of these without the other, we become one with Him Who died and rose again. It is faith, the hand of the soul stretched out to receive, which accepts and welcomes grace, the Hand of God stretched out to give.
These great thoughts we will pursue in our next address. But meanwhile, we have at least seen that the Cross is both victory and attainment: victory over the sin by which I have been so long held in bondage; attainment of all I can be, all I long to be, all I was made by God to be. "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord."