TEXT: ROM. v.7, 8.
IN the whole passage from which these words are taken the apostle is trying to convince his readers that it is only through Christ that we come into right relations with God. He begins by saying, Let us have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ; and so let us rejoice in the glory that God is to give; nay, more, let us rejoice in tribulation also. He goes on to say that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit; and then he continues with the words of our text, "for God commendeth His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." He thus represents the death of Christ as the most glorious manifestation of the love of God to us. Let us then take this thought as the subject of our meditation to-day. There are two points in it, which Paul goes on to explain in the following verses; first, that God appointed Christ to death as the uttermost proof of obedience; and secondly, that now, through this obedience, as he says, many are made righteous. Taking these two ideas together, we recognise the completeness of the divine love in the death of the Saviour.
I. In considering together how God appointed our Lord and Saviour to suffering and death as the most perfect proof of obedience, it seems necessary to begin by removing a difficulty, which will certainly occur to every one. That is, that the death of the Saviour seems by no means so obvious an evidence of the love of God, His and our heavenly Father, as of the Saviour's own love to His brethren; and that it is only, as it were, on the ground of this love of His to us that we have any right to see in His death the love of God to wards us. And. yet the case stands as I have stated it. It is indeed difficult to separate things that are in the very closest connection; and who could wish to make a division between the Saviour's love to us and His obedience to His and our heavenly Father? And yet the two are so related, that His love to us is shown most directly in His life, and His obedience to the Father in His sufferings and death. His love to men is seen in His labouring to seek and to save that which was lost, to show Himself as the ever-ready Physician of the sick, to communicate His own life to men, and instil it into them through His words and His works, to offer Himself to them, that in Him they might find rest and refreshing to their souls. On the other hand, when He speaks of His death, representing Himself under the figure of the good Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep, He contrasts Himself with the hireling, who flees when he sees the wolf coming. The hireling flees because the sheep are not his property; therefore the reason of the good Shepherd's giving His life for them must be that they are His own. But which of us is able to distinguish between love of his property and love of himself? Everything that is our property, in the strictest sense of the word, is also a portion of our power and our life; and love to it is connected essentially and inseparably with love to ourselves. The Saviour says in another place to His disciples, Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends; ye are My friends, if ye do the things which I command you. But it was not for them as His friends, not for them in a special and exclusive and distinctive sense, that He laid down His life; for He gave His life for the salvation of the world, and the world was not His friend. And when we remember the Saviour's one command which He gave to His disciples, "that ye love one another even as I have loved you," we rejoice indeed that, in so far as this love consisted in striving to bring salvation to all around Him by sustaining and filling them with His divine strength, we can love each other with a similar love; for that finds expression in the beautiful interchange of loving service, which is the very essence of Christian fellowship; but how could we love each other with such a love as that of the alone holy and pure One when He gave His life for the world of sinners? Therefore if He Himself regarded His death as the necessary and direct result of His love, as its highest and most essential expression, this command of His would be futile; we should have to set aside just the best and highest part of His example before we thought of beginning to follow it. But He always spoke of His death as the will of the Father. "If it be possible," He says, "let this cup pass from Me;" which He could not have said if it had been the work of His love -- the choice of His love -- to drain it; "but," He continues, "not My will, but Thine be done." It is true He speaks always of His obedience to the Father through His whole life, and therefore we cannot separate it from His love; His love was, in fact, the very work which the Father gave Him to do, and which He did continually. But if we wish to speak separately of His giving Himself up to suffering and death, we must say that in this, above all, is shown forth His obedience to the will of the Father. And we shall see this the more plainly if we consider what is so clearly implied in the words I have just quoted, that His obedience was (to speak after the manner of men) in conflict with His love. Not for Himself could He pray, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me," but only for the sake of those whom the Father had already given Him. Love would have liked to live still longer with them and for them, love would have liked to impart still more to them out of the fulness of His divine nature; but He left it to the decision of the Father, when the time and the hour should be come. He first said, "If it be possible, let this cup pass"; that was the expression of His heartfelt, unalterable love to His people; "yet, not as I will, but as Thou wilt"; that was the expression of His perfect obedience, and of His utter submission to the will of His Father.
And now let us consider more closely how the death of the Saviour was really the most perfect act of obedience to which God could call Him. Scripture elsewhere represents it as being so. Thus the author of the epistle to the Hebrews says that as He suffered and practised obedience, He was made perfect through obedience. Now if His perfection was to be shown forth in His obedience, it was necessary that this obedience itself should be of the highest and most perfect kind. But here again we are met by a crowd of examples and considerations that would seem to diminish the value of this obedience of the Saviour, in showing that there have been, and will always be, many similar cases in the history of human life. How many are there, even without taking into account this holy and divine work of redemption, and those who have witnessed to this faith with their blood -- how many have there been in all ages who have laid down their lives for their convictions! Whether these were true or false, whether they presented a distinct or an obscure view of divine truth, does not affect the argument. And it is certainly true that many men have shown, by the readiness with which they have gone to death, that they would rather give up their life altogether than make it into a self contradiction. To profess from conviction, and then to retract with convictions unchanged, is what no one can do in whom there is the living love of the truth, to whom there is anything greater than the vain and passing things of this life; but the case of the Saviour was by no means so simple as all those apparently similar instances. In the narrative of His life we find frequently a variation, difficult to explain when we look at isolated instances, and yet most plainly discernible, between open avowal and cautious silence. At one time He teaches men that the only will of God which they have to do is to believe on Him whom God has sent, thus clearly pointing them to Himself; and again, when hailed as the promised Son of David, the object of all men's hopes and longings, He forbids them even to speak of it, charging even His disciples to tell no man that He is the Christ. We must, therefore, admit that this concealment was a part of His plan, and had its motive in the circumstances of His life as a whole. There was then no necessity for Him to avow Himself on all occasions -- to come forward with His testimony, and most especially with His testimony concerning Himself, when it was only those who were capable of receiving it for whom it could be any thing or effect anything. But the avowal which He made before the High Priest, Thou sayest it, I am the Son of God; nevertheless, I say unto thee, Henceforth ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven -- this avowal He regarded as on the one hand the cause of His death and on the other the founding of His kingdom; and He made it as an act of obedience. It was a part of His being made under the law. Ho could not keep silence before the High Priest, unless He meant to evade this universal lot, to which He was called by the will of His heavenly Father. It is true this very confession of the Saviour's has drawn many others to similar sufferings and death. What numberless Christian martyrdoms there were in those earliest times in which the faith in the Son of God had to struggle against the enmity of the whole world, of all those to whom His cross was foolishness, all to whom it was an offence. But in what light are we to regard this? A part of it was the work of Christ's obedience in the souls of those who believed in Him; it was the effect of His life in them, and just on that account had a connection with His death, as the Apostle Paul speaks of filling up by his sufferings that which, so to speak, was lacking in the sufferings of Christ. But how much also was the effect of human fanaticism and weakness -- how much intentional and needless seeking after such a death -- how many prejudices and misconceptions were mixed with the self-sacrifice of otherwise noble spirits! and in such cases it was not the pure obedience of the Saviour. And now let us remember how His obedience was in conflict with His heartfelt and true love to His own, for whom He would gladly have lived longer to establish them more firmly in their life in Him. Let us remember that He died in obedience to a law of which He plainly said that it should soon altogether lose its authority and power -- a law which He knew that men had misunderstood from the beginning, regarding as the means by which they could please God and make sure of a future reward from Him, that which had only been given to include all the world under the consciousness of sin. And thus we shall see that it was no direct impulse of the Saviour's own soul, humanly speaking, but only pure acquiescence in the will of God, that led Him to suffering and death.
And now do we ask the reason of this? The answer brings us back to the first part of our text. Scarcely, says Paul, will one die for a righteous, an upright man; for every one considers that this character may belong to him self just as well as to any other. Yet, he continues, for a good man, peradventure, some would even dare to die. That is, he supposes that if a man saw in another a fervent love to all that tends to the welfare and happiness of others, with a great power of effecting good not only for himself but for all about him; then, in order that the work of such a one should not be cut short, that he might go on using his splendid powers in noble deeds, he might even be willing to lay down his own life, counting it, though not worthless, yet of less value than the other. And yet how nature would resist, -- how many questionings would arise in such a case! Will he for whom such a sacrifice is made continue even to be what he has been? Can any one answer for the constancy of his will, for his faithful discharge of duty, for his self-devotion in the cause of good? Or, if it is more a question of the success of a single work, or of all his works together, who will make sure how much will turn out for the good of men? Who knows how much of it will be counter acted by the power of evil? And therefore, says Paul, one would hardly die even for a good man, and yet it is certainly a possible thing. And the Saviour says, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Those are always really our friends whom we chiefly regard as the good, with whom we believe, according to the inmost bent of our nature, that we can work most in harmony. To sacrifice one's individual existence for the sake of such powers in union is a love, says the Saviour, than which there is none greater. But God shows forth His love to us in this, says Paul, that, according to His command and will, Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; not for the sake of the righteous, not for a good man nor for a circle of friends, but for the whole world of sinners. And so we cannot doubt that this was the most perfect act of obedience, and that God called Christ to it for our sakes; for it was necessary that He should endure this death, not for His own sake, nor with any other good object but that of effecting the salvation of sinners.
II. This brings us to consider in the second place what was meant to be accomplished and therefore was accomplished -- for when we speak of a divine purpose, we cannot separate design from fulfilment -- by this death of the Saviour; that we may see how it was the full glorification of the divine love.
The greatest love is that which effects the most good to the person who is the object of it. We should try in vain to give another definition of it. Now the apostle says, As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of the One, the many are made righteous. This then, this is what was to result from the Saviour's obedience unto death on the cross. He needed to die for us, Paul says, when we were yet sinners. Were sinners! Are wo such no longer? Do we not always continue sinners? No, he says; through the obedience of the One, many are made righteous; the justification of life comes upon all who believe on Him. But what is meant by many becoming righteous in Him? We could not easily find a word which is susceptible of more various shades of meaning. Righteousness is in one sense the least that we think we have a right to require from every man; in another it implies an idea of the highest perfection; and this is the sense in which it is so often used in Scripture, and even in merely human writings. And whence comes this great distinction? The inquiry into this leads us into the innermost depths of our being, and gives us the key to the whole history of man and to the connection of the divine counsels. Which of us has not, at least in the earlier part of his life, had in his mind the picture of a paradise condition, such as, from the few hints given us, we suppose that of the first man to have been before sin came into the world? Do we ask ourselves, Was there righteousness there? We shall be obliged to answer, No! Was there a comparison that the man could have made between that which he actually was and some thing else which he was meant to be and to become? Again we must answer, No! And if we ask ourselves if we can regard this as a condition which it would really be worth striving and longing after, which we should be right in wishing back or recalling; certainly we must say No. This kind of peace with himself and harmony with external Nature around him, this kind of enjoyment and possession of life without difficulties, without struggles, with no greater development of his faculties, is not what man is made for. What is meant, then, by being righteous -- on what does it depend? On this, that something is set before us which we are to attain to, after which we are to strive, and which therefore we as yet are not and have not. Only under such conditions is there any righteousness; and under these it is in one aspect the smallest and most trivial thing, and in another the highest and greatest, -- a condition to which, strictly and literally speaking, we can never attain. It is the most trivial if the object to be attained is the keeping of an external law which is given to regulate the relations of men. Not only must every one measure himself by this rule, but every one also is bound to fulfil it. If he does not do so, he becomes a hindrance to social life, and instead of forming a constitutional part of society is rather something which must be removed from it that it may safely subsist. This is the righteousness which we have spoken of as being the least that we can require of every man. And now if we ask what kind of righteousness was man capable of attaining to before the Son of God appeared on earth -- ah, how paltry seem the aims and efforts of even the noblest, the most cultivated, the most gifted nation among men! For what was the aim they had in view? Merely the welfare of a small number of people; and to secure this they were ready at any moment to take up a position of hostility towards all others. What was the standard with which they compared themselves? It was one particular aspect of human life, such as they found it in their own community, and as it had been transmitted from one generation to another. Well for us that we have a High Priest "without father, without mother, without descent," and in Him a standard not limited to one time or place; but the express image of the divine nature in human form, the brightness of the divine glory, embodying in Himself the whole human race, and yet standing above it as the ideal which all must strive to reach. And it was necessary that He should be thus made perfect by obedience unto death, in order that no doubt should ever be possible as to whether He would have resisted this or that temptation, whether He would have maintained His character in this or that position, whether something might not have occurred that would have been too much even for Him, and in which He would have shown something of human weakness. It was necessary that we should see in Him this perfect obedience, even to the death of the cross; and through this obedience we become righteous, if we receive Him into our inmost hearts as the standard on which we are to form our selves. Therefore He himself says, "He that believeth on the Son is not judged," because he is at every moment judging himself, having found the true rule by which to do so.
But was I not directly contradicting the apostle, in saying that righteousness, in another view, is something that we can never attain to, seeing that he says, Through the obedience of One many are made righteous? We become righteous, only it is not because and so far as we have set Him before our eyes as our ideal, for thus we shall never reach it, but really because and in so far as we have received Him into our hearts as the fountain of life. We become righteous if we no longer live in the flesh, but Christ the Son of God lives in us, -- if we are fully identified with that common life of which He is the centre. For then each of us can say of himself, Who is there that can condemn? It is Christ that justifies! We are in Him, He is in us, inseparably united with those who believe on the Son of God; and in this fellowship with Him we are truly righteous. But if we come back to ourselves and consider our individual life just in itself, then we are glad to forget what is behind and to reach forth towards that which is before. Then we know well that we must ever anew take refuge in Him, ever be looking to Him and to His obedience on the cross, ever be filled with the power of His life and His presence; and thus we shall attain to that growth in righteousness and holiness and wisdom, in which truly consists our redemption through Him, through His life and His love, His obedience and His death.
Well then, my dear friends, how shall we most suitably commemorate this death? Certainly in no better way than by accepting Him in every form in which He offers Himself to us -- and in His feast of remembrance He does this in the most cordial though mystical manner; accepting Him in accepting the words of life which we receive from Him and which abide imperishably among men; in never ceasing to keep His image before us; in loving each other with the love with which He has loved us. If we do this, He will be in the midst of us in all the manifold circumstances of our lives, in the quiet of solitary meditation, and where two or three are gathered together in His name, and in the great assemblies of His people. He will be with us in the busy stir of the world, ever in all our doing and suffering, Christ in us, Christ among us, Christ the strength of our life, His death the power of our obedience to the divine will, while, like Him, we desire no other meat than to do the will of our Father in heaven. Let us together pledge ourselves anew to this beneath His cross! let this be the allegiance that we swear to Him, who was faithful to us even in death; thus let us follow His example of that obedience unto death through which He was made perfect, through which we also shall be made perfect and brought nearer to His life. Then shall we understand these words, It became Him who would bring many children to salvation, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through the suffering of death. Amen.
Yes, holy and merciful God and Father, praised be Thy name for Thy holy and wise guidance of the family of man. No blessedness could there be for us but in seeking Thy kingdom and its righteousness. To reveal this to us, it was needful for Thee to send Thy Son into the world, who raised again towards heaven the downcast glance of our spirits, lifted up our hearts and purified them to love Thee truly; who showed us how thine image can live in man, and what that holiness is which we are to aim at. Oh, give to Him, then, an ever-increasing multitude as His spoil! let the story of the cross of Christ be blessed now, and to all future generations! Spread abroad the joyful sound more and more among all nations on earth, till there remains not one where Thy name is not praised -- where we shall not see more and more the glorious effects of this divine proclamation of Thy love and Thy grace, in those who are now sitting in the deepest darkness and the shadow of death. Let us all know by our own experience that our only wisdom is in becoming ever more closely united with Him, -- our only blessedness that which comes from our consciousness of our life being one with His, our only peace in coming before Thee as those whom Thy Son has reconciled through the suffering of death; love to Thee being shed abroad in our hearts again through this, that Thou gavest Thy Son to die for us when we were yet sinners. And then it will be Thy work, the work of Thy Spirit, that we cease to be sinners, even though we are still sinful men; that the habit and practice of sin gives place to the habit of obedience to Thy holy will; that we more and more hate everything that is contrary to His example and unlike Him; that so, all being united in following this rule, all more and more filled with this power, the image of Christ may be fully formed in us, and His spiritual body may be presented to Thee as the witness of His sufferings and death, while ever becoming more free from all imperfection, that so He Himself may be the first born, the first-fruits among many brethren. Amen.