And that he might reconcile both to God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
Let us consider from this text, how it is that the gospel of Jesus Christ suits its application to the great moral disease of man's enmity to God. The necessity of some singular expedient for restoring the love of God to the alienated heart of man, will appear from the utter impossibility of bringing this about by any direct application of authority whatever. For, do you think, that the delivery of the law of love in his hearing, as a positive and indispensable enactment coming forth from the legislature of heaven, will do it? You may as well pass a law making it imperative upon him to delight in pain, and to feel comfort on a bed of torture. Or, do you think, that you will ever give a practical establishment to the law of love, by surrounding it with accumulated penalties? This may irritate or it may terrify; but for the purpose of begetting anything like attachment, one may as well think of lashing another into tender regard for him. Or, do you think, that the terrors of the coming vengeance will ever incline a human being to love the God who threatens him? Powerful as these terrors are in persuading man to turn from the evil of his ways; they most assuredly do not form the artillery by which the heart of man can be carried. They draw not forth a single affection, but the affection of fear. They never can charm the human bosom into a feeling of attachment to God. And it goes to prove the necessity of some singular expedient for restoring man to fellowship with his Maker, that the only obedience on which this fellowship can be perpetuated, is an obedience which no threatenings can force; to which no warnings of displeasure can reclaim; which all the solemn proclamations of law and justice cannot carry; and all the terrors and severities of a sovereignty resting on power as its only foundation can never subdue. This, then, is a case of difficulty; and, in the Bible, God is said to have lavished all the riches of His unsearchable wisdom on the business of managing it. No wonder that to His angels it appeared a mystery, and that they desired to look into it. It appears a matter of direct and obvious facility to intimidate man; and to bring his body into a forced subordination to all their requirements. But the great matter was how to attach man; how to work in him a liking to God and a relish for His character; or, in other words, how to communicate to human obedience that principle, without which it is no obedience at all; to make him serve God because he loved Him; and to run in the way of all His commandments, because this was the thing in which he greatly delighted himself. To lay upon us the demand of satisfaction for His violated law could not do it. To press home the claims of justice upon any sense of authority within us could not do it. To bring forward, in threatening array, the terrors of His judgment and of His power against us could not do it. To unveil the glories of that throne where He sitteth in equity, and manifest to His guilty creatures the awful inflexibilities of His truth and righteousness, could not do it. To look out from the cloud of vengeance, and trouble our darkened souls as He did those of the Egyptians of old, with the aspect of a menacing Deity, could not do it. To spread the field of an undone eternity before us; and tell us of those dreary abodes where each criminal hath his bed in hell, and the centuries of despair which pass over him are not counted, because there no seasons roll, and the unhappy victims of the tribulation, and the wrath, and the anguish, know, that for the mighty burden of the sufferings which weigh upon them, there is no end and no mitigation; this prospect, appalling as it is, and coming home upon the belief, with all the characters of the most immutable certainty, could not do it. The affections of the inner man remain as unmoved as ever, under the successive and repeated influence of all these dreadful applications. How, then, is this regeneration to be wrought, if no threatenings can work it; if no terrors of judgment can soften the heart into that love of God which forms the chief feature of repentance; if all the direct applications of law and of righteous authority, and of its tremendous and immutable sanctions, so far from attaching man in tenderness to his God, have only the effect of impressing a violent recoil upon all his affections, and, by the hardening influence of despair, of stirring up in his bosom a more violent antipathy than ever? Will the high and solemn proclamations of a menacing Deity not do it? This is not the way in which the heart of man can be carried. He is so constituted, that the law of love can never, never be established within him by the engine of terror; and here is the barrier to this regeneration on the part of man. But if a threat of justice cannot do it, will an act of forgiveness do it? This, again, is not the way in which God can admit the guilty to acceptance. He is so constituted, that His truth cannot be trampled upon; and His government cannot be despoiled of its authority: and its sanctions cannot, with impunity, be defied; and every solemn utterance of the Deity cannot but find its accomplishment in such a way as may vindicate His glory, and make the whole creation He has formed stand in awe of its Almighty Sovereign. And here is another barrier on the part of God; and that economy of redemption in which a dead and undiscerning world see no skilfulness to admire, and no feature of graciousness to allure, was so planned, in the upper counsels of heaven, that it maketh known to principalities and powers the manifold wisdom of Him who devised it. The men of this infidel generation, whose every faculty is so bedimmed by the grossness of sense, that they cannot lay hold of the realities of faith and cannot appreciate them; to them the barriers we have now insisted on, which lie in the way of man taking God into his love, and of God taking man into His acceptance, may appear to be so many faint and shadowy considerations, of which they feel not the significancy; but, to the pure and intellectual eye of angels, they are substantial obstacles, and One mighty to save had to travail in the greatness of His strength, in order to move them away. The Son of God descended from heaven, and He took upon Him the nature of man, and He suffered in his stead, and He consented that the whole burden of offended justice should fall upon Him, and He bore in His own body on the tree the weight of all those accomplishments by which His Father behoved to be glorified; and after having magnified the law and made it honourable, by pouring out His soul unto the death for us, He went up on high, and, by an arm of everlasting strength, levelled that wall of partition which lay across the path of acceptance; and thus it is, that the barrier on the part of God is done away, and He, with untarnished glory, can dispense forgiveness over the whole extent of a guilty creation, because He can be just, while He is the justifier of them who believe in Jesus. And if the barrier, on the part of God, is thus moved aside, why not the barrier on the part of man? Does not the wisdom of redemption show itself here also? Does it not embrace some skilful contrivance by which it penetrates those mounds that beset the human heart, and ward the entrance of the principle of love away from it, and which all the direct applications of terror and authority, have only the effect of fixing more immovably upon their basis? Yes, it does; for it changes the aspect of the Deity towards man; and were men only to have faith in the announcements of the gospel, so as to see God with the eye of his mind under this new aspect — love to God would spring up in his heart as the unfailing consequence. Let man see God as He sets Himself forth in this wonderful revelation, and let him believe the reality of what he sees, and he cannot but love the Being he. is employed in contemplating. And thus it is, that the goodness of God destroyeth the enmity of the human heart. When every other argument fails, this, if perceived by the eye of faith, finds its powerful and persuasive way through every barrier of resistance. Try to approach the heart of man by the instruments of terror and of authority, and it will disdainfully repel you. There is not one of you, skilled in the management of human nature, who does not perceive, that though this may be a way of working on the other principles of our constitution — of working on the fears of man, or on his sense of interest, this is not the way of gaining by a single hairbreadth on the attachments of his heart. Such a way may force, or it may terrify, but it never can endear; and after all the threatening array of such an influence as this is brought to bear upon man, there is not one particle of service it can extort from him, but what is all rendered in the spirit of a painful and reluctant bondage. Now, this is not the service which prepares for heaven. This is not the service which assimilates men to angels. This is not the obedience of those glorified spirits, whose every affection harmonizes with their every performance; and the very essence of whose piety consists of delight in God, and the love they bear to Him. To bring up man to such an obedience as this, his heart behoved to be approached in a peculiar way; and no such way is to be found, but within the limits of the Christian revelation. There alone you see God, without injury to His other attributes, plying the heart of man with the irresistible argument of kindness. There alone do you see the great Lord of heaven and of earth, setting Himself forth to the most worthless and the most wandering of His children; putting forth His own hand to the work of healing the breach which sin hath made between them; telling him that His word could not be set aside, and His threatenings could not be mocked, and His justice could not be defied and trampled on, and that it was not possible for His perfections to receive the slightest taint in the eyes of the creation He had thrown around Him; but that all this was provided for, and not a single creature within the compass of the universe He had formed could now say, that forgiveness to man was degrading to the authority of God; and that by the very act of atonement, which poured a glory over all the high attributes of His character, His mercy might now burst forth without limit and without control upon a guilty world, and the broad flag of invitation be unfurled in the sight of all its families.
(T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: