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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
J. M. D., A correspondent of the Calcutta Christian Observer, in a series of letters to a friend, dated July 1, 1841
From The Baptist Missionary Magazine, 1842
It is indeed my happiness to write you again concerning the LORD JESUS CHRIST. I am so deeply his debtor and there is so much to say concerning him as a Savior, that I feel glad to obey your summons, and write you somewhat more concerning him. Oh, why does not the whole world flock together to hear of Christ, the Redeemer of man?
Why at least, do not the multitude of his disciples, continually rehearse and forever listen to the tale of his love! Go through this great city, wherein are so many Christians: - listen to their conversation for one whole year; and then say, “How many of those men and women who say they are brought from hell by the blood of Christ, ever mention his name or speak one word concerning his love to man!”
Go, watch the epistolary correspondence, of those Christians?—write they at all to their brothers and sisters, to their children, their parents, their friends, concerning that blessed Kinsman, the Son of God, who died for their common salvation ?
A few there are;—yet, how few! And how are those few despised and shunned!
Oh mad world, thus to despise thy Savior, and to hate those that love him! My friend, let us give thanks that we have been so far separated from this world, that we desire at least to know more concerning Christ; and that we feel the claims of his love so apprehending our personal gratitude, that we cannot but honor all that is stamped with his image, or that purely bears his name. May this work advance in you, until it can be said by you, "To me, to live, is Christ!"
Your wish is, that I should say somewhat more concerning the SACRIFICE of Christ;—and especially that I should present to you more clearly the grounds of that confidence which a sinner is warranted to entertain, for eternal life, on the death of Christ. This is a pleasing theme, and not a difficult task; — for, what God has freely given, He has also clearly revealed; so that the fulness of the record, corresponds with the grandeur of the gift. To it I shall now directly pass; and endeavor familiarly to convey to you, the most solemn and important of all earthly subjects.
1. In the death of Jesus Christ, there was an actual fulfillment of that curse against sin, proclaimed by God against man in his word. When Christ was on the cross, he endured everything that constitutes suffering: —he had bodily pain, and mental anguish; he was persecuted by man, tormented by devils, and forsaken by God, as the Judge of all. His death was not a mere exit of the spirit from the flesh, but he endured all the pangs of death as "the curse;"—so that, in the language of inspiration, "he became a curse."
Whatever be the penalty of sin, whatever its necessary punishment, that he fully endured;—so that, what the law required or could require, was fulfilled on Calvary. Christ's sacrifice contained in it an endurance of all that could be demanded as a compensation or penalty for sin. On this, my friend, fix your eye first of all, and say—" In the death of Christ, I see as certain a fulfillment of the sentence of death, under which I labor, as if hell blazed before me, and I saw sinners in their own persons enduring all its awful horrors!"
This is the first step which faith takes in the contemplation of the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jeans Christ; it makes sure of the fact, that there was a true endurance of the very curse of sin, in the death which took place on Calvary.
2. Next, my dear friend, consider that the Lord Jesus Christ died as a substitute. That he came into the world to act and suffer in the room of others, I presented to your view in my last communication, as clearly as lay in my power. What a man does for himself belongs to himself:—what a man does for others is done by those others through him;—so that they can use it as if done by themselves. Christ became a curse for them who were "under the curse;"—therefore does his death belong, by right, for acceptance, to those who are sinners:—if any receive, it becomes actually theirs;—if any reject, by it they cannot profit.
The simple question then is, whether you belong to the class, for whom the Savior died, that is, sinners:—and if you do, then your very sinfulness shuts you up to accept and embrace the death of Christ, as a vicarious death available for you; because you are a sinner, and he died as a substitute for sinners. He that realizes well this truth, will rise in spirit towards heaven continually, in the smoke of Christ's glorious sacrifice;—and to every earthly challenge, he will thus answer—" Jesus was consumed instead of the guilty—therefore do I, who am guilty, live!"
3. The value of this sacrifice is infinite; —therefore have you ample scope for trust in its sufficiency. We have seen how the divine and human natures were united in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, according to their peculiar and respective properties. These were not interchanged or intermixed, so that humanity became divinity, or divinity humanity; but they were simply united, so that the exercises of one nature were associated with the qualities of the other.
Thus, Christ obeyed the law in his human nature, whilst at the same time be was infinitely glorious in his divine nature; consequently, the glory of Godhead, which could not obey, was united with the obedience of manhood which did obey; and so Christ's obedience was of infinite glory. It was more honoring to the law and government of God, than any possible amount of obedience from any possible number of mere men, who neither individually nor collectively can have any intrinsic glory whatever. So also, the human death of Christ had, by virtue of the incarnation, all the glory of God united to it; so that his sacrifice was an infinitely glorious sacrifice.
But the value of a sacrifice depends on the degree in which it glorifies God; and nothing can glorify him more than his own peculiar glory: now, this divine glory was in the sacrifice of Christ, and so it is of infinite value, and is therefore infinitely sufficient for sinners. It is therefore impossible that my guilt can transcend this value of atonement, and therefore I flee from all my sin to that sacrifice as greater still. When the mountains of my transgression are cast into this ocean of sacrificial value, then do I know something of the greatness of God, more than all nature can teach. Apprehend this truth, that the vicarious death of Christ is infinite in value, and you have risen far up into the rock of eternal security!
4. The sacrifice of Christ is an ordinance of God, and therefore sure and valid as a ground of trust. God alone, who has been sinned against, can have any right to institute the mode of forgiveness; and this is that medium which he has ordained, even the sacrifice of Christ. "Him hath God set forth to be a propitiation for sin, through faith in his blood." "Christ crucified, the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth."
From the beginning of the world, the future sacrifice of the "seed of the woman" was presented to men as the divine ordinance for pardon; and the whole Jewish economy, with its innumerable sacrifices of blood, was but a sacrificial forerunner of the "Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world." Is not the sun the ordinance of God for light, by which alone you expect to see? Is not air the ordinance for breath; and are not bread and water the ordinances for hunger and thirst? Even so is Christ sacrificed, the divine ordinance for eternal life to sinful man.
Do you hesitate to receive the light of the sun, to inhale the air of the firmament, or to eat the bread and to drink the water of this earth? Nay, and why then hesitate to accept and appropriate the sacrifice of Christ, as sure and free an ordinance of God as any one of the others? Will you not for yourself believe and say, —" What God hath appointed, is not that sufficient? What God hath declared to be his own ordinance, shall I not trust to as my 'hope and fixed security?"
Go, my dear friend, and cling to the cross of Christ; and if conscience or the world say, why doest thou so—let thine answer be, "This is the ordinance of my God; he against whom I have sinned hath said, thus shalt thou be forgiven!"
5. It is a source of glory to God, now to administer the sacrifice that was offered in the death of Christ, so that sinners may be pardoned and saved through it. For, as this is the ordinance of God, so it is for his glory, as the author of it, that it be honored. When men believe in Christ crucified, they glorify God, even as when they keep his holy law, or observe his righteous commands; and hence a man has the same inducement to believe in Christ, which he has to do any good action whatever. In man's fallen state, this is the most honoring thing which he can perform;—yea, it is the very first that he can do, contributing to the glory of his Lord.
What an obligation of encouragement therefore is there in this circumstance to induce you as a sinner to identify yourself with Christ's sacrifice? When can you ever present such a righteousness as his; when, such a sacrifice as his? When can you glorify God, as God hath glorified himself? Can you ever satisfy the justice of God, and yet be a vessel of his mercy? Can you ever manifest God's hatred of sin in your punishment, and yet also bring honor to him as a monument of his grace? Can you magnify him in the pains of hell, and afterwards praise him in the joys of heaven? Can you magnify the law by suffering its eternal penalty, and then make it honorable by its everlasting fulfillment?
Nay, these things you cannot do:—but Christ hath done them—and he that receives him, receives all that was done by him;—and so, that man being partner by gift in Christ's work and sacrifice, presents an endless source of glory to God by faith in his beloved Son, our kinsman Redeemer. Oh what a splendid inducement is this to believe in the sacrifice of Christ and to rely on his all-sufficient atonement; that a finite creature, a wretched sinner, can thereby honor the holy God to infinity! Herein is a mystery—How shall the finite contribute the infinite? Even by faith, participating in the righteousness of Immanuel, God with us!
6. Behold here the basis of Peace between God and man. Doth God breathe war, when he gave his own Son to be crucified for his enemies? Will he not be reconciled, seeing that Jesus hath become a sacrifice for us? What is requisite for securing peace? Has the law been broken? Behold it fulfilled! Has-the curse been entailed? Behold it endured! Has the character of God been dishonored? Behold it infinitely glorified! God, the offended hath begun; shall not man, the offender follow? The reconciliation has commenced with him that is supreme;—shall not the low and the base, press in for the pardon? The sacrifice is slain—"Peace," is its name; for, "Christ is our peace;"—and will you not lay your hand on his head, and live?
Be not afraid to rely on him who is the Prince and the sacrifice of peace -who died to purchase, and lives to dispense it; but rather, in the gospel hear the trumpet of peace sweetly sounding the notes of reconciliation—yield to the joyful sound—accept the peace, and be at rest. Oh what peace is that! No more curse, no more hell, no more wrath, no more scourge, no more deadly execution—all, all, the " Peace of God "—sweet, mighty, eternal peace!
7. The universal presentation of this sacrifice is a circumstance which ought to secure your individual acceptance. There is virtue in it for everyone;—and to every one is the offer made—why then should anyone doubt? You have just as good reason from the gospel to embrace the sacrifice of Christ, for your own salvation, as if an angel from heaven carried the message from the eternal throne, and read it in your astonished ears. You have an offer, my dear friend, of this atonement to become your own; that offer existed before your appearance in the world—it awaited your birth—it reached you in early life—it has attended you till this hour—it is renewed in this page.
What have you done with it? Is the gift accepted? Has the glorious sacrifice of Christ become yours? Are you justified by its merit? Are you living on Christ's death? Does he seem the loveliest of beings to you, in laying down his life for you? If you can refuse argument, can you get rid of an offer? Although you may reject reasoning, can you cast away a gift?
"This is the record, that God giveth us eternal life, and that life is in his Son!" This gives you an individual right to trust in Christ, and this also lays upon you a divine obligation which you cannot violate without awful guilt.
My subject is not exhausted, my friend, but my limits are exceeded:—yet I trust, not without your finding some food for meditation, and it may be also, for the exercise of faith. Indulge in thought on the subject, in occasional abrupt thought, as well as in steadfast train. Say in your heart,—"It is true—it is real—it is human—it is divine—it is ordained—it is universal—it is individual—it is to me—oh yes, to me" Blessed be God—blessed be Christ! Blessed be the Holy Ghost who hath shewn it to me! Oh happy, happy I, who have such an offer made;—but happier, happier I, who can say now, " the Lord Jesus Christ is become my sacrifice for sin!"
I have said nothing special of that love which was the soul of Christ's atonement; because that was fully illustrated in a former letter—neither have I specified the grace of the Holy Spirit, as coming to us by Christ's death, this being rather a result of the sacrifice, than an element of its constitution. Yet, let me beseech you to remember that whilst in this matter God has to himself been strict justice, he has to us been love—so that we have everything to attract, and nothing to repel us.
And let me also remind you, that the Holy Spirit, who is sent on the basis of Christ's sacrifice, alone can introduce us into its benefits. He unites in faith the mind of man, and the word of God;—he unites, too, the soul of the sinner, and the sacrifice of the Savior, that they become one.
The Spirit reveals the Son, and the Son reveals the Father; and so these three are one in the believer's heart, even as in heaven. Let your soul dwell on the love of God, and the glory of God-heed in the sacrifice of Christ; and the Eternal Spirit will spread forth his gracious energy over you, and cause faith, and love, and hope, and joy, gradually to spring up within you; —until you can with understanding say, "I am crucified with Christ;—nevertheless, I live;—yet, not I, but Christ liveth in me:—and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loveth me, and gave himself for me!"