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The Universality of the Gospel

The Universality of the Gospel

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28


WE have advanced thus far in our statements of Christian doctrine. Our race is universally tainted with the disease of sin, and guilty in God’s sight. But it has pleased Him, of His infinite mercy, to provide a remedy as wide and universal as the disease. The eternal Son of God has taken our nature upon him, and in it wrought out on our behalf a perfect obedience, even up to the point of suffering the penalty of the sin of mankind. On this His work, anticipated as complete in the divine counsels, we asserted that the very existence of this our world depended, and that He does at the present moment, and ever, uphold all things in the sight of the Father by virtue of the eternal redemption which He has wrought for man.
Now our subject to-day, naturally suggested by the Epiphany, or Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, is a very simple, but a very instructive and edifying one: the fact that, in the offer made to us of the acceptance for ourselves of this redemption and all its manifold blessings, there is absolutely no difference between one man and another, but all have a right to it alike, all are alike invited to share it, all have common capacity for receiving it.

Who, you may say to me, does not know this? Why preach us a sermon about so plain and acknowledged a fact? I answer, because it was one of the most wonderful revelations of God to man when it was first made, however plain it may seem now: and also, because, however plain it may seem now, thousands of those who think it so plain, do not understand it, do not feel it, do not act upon it.

First, it was a most wonderful thing, when God revealed it to mankind. All the ages which had passed since the Creation had been putting wider and wider difference between man and man,—between nation and nation, between men’s bodies, and between men’s souls. One nation was God’s people, worshipping they knew what, in communion with the Father of Spirits, walking in the light of conscience and of revelation: another was building altars to the unknown God, bowing down to images graven by art and man’s device, but at the same time acute and trained and instructed to the highest power of the human intellect: a third had almost cast off all religion, but had taken for its acts the governing of the world and the humbling the haughty, and ruled far and wide with its laws and its arms. Then again, one man was much more different from another than we know any thing of under the more equalizing influences of modern times; the conqueror and the vanquished, the master and the slave, the learned and the unlearned,—there was a far wider gap between these than there ever can be under the power of enlightened Christian public opinion, by which all have rights, all have instruction,—and injustice, and cruelty, and grossness, can hardly abound among us. But that a remedy for the evil of the world should be proposed which would suit equally all and each of these,—which could be taken alike, and taken in the same form, by the despot and his bondsman, by the master and his slave, by the learned and ignorant, by the Jew and Gentile,—this was the wonderful thing which had never been revealed to man before; and much trouble and time it cost, before man could receive it.

First came the difficulty about Jew and Gentile. The conflict about it raged long even in the apostolic church itself. It required a heart as fervid, and a spiritual sight as keen and single as that of St. Paul, to see the truth at once, and unflinchingly to maintain it, even against Apostles, when they wavered and dissimulated. How difficult must it have been for one born and bred a Jew, ever to take in the truth that he was to have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, with a man that was born and bred and remained a Gentile! How almost impossible to make such an one ever to bring himself to allow, that the Gentile, without fulfilling any one requirement of the law, was yet to be an heir of God’s covenant promises in their highest sense, just as much and as completely as he himself, a circumcised Jew, an Hebrew by descent inheriting from Abraham! We can little imagine the widening of the view, and enlarging of the heart, and breaking down of prejudices, necessary before such a truth could be taught to a man. We cannot even devise an example in modern times which should teach us this. Every thing about us tends to widen our view, to open our hearts, to diminish our prejudices: but every thing around them tended to shut up their hearts, to narrow their view, and to fortify them in every adverse feeling. One week, they saw the Gentile taking part in his abominable idol rites; the next they might be called on to pass to him the kiss of peace as a Christian brother. It was the first great trouble in the infant church: a trouble which divided even holy Apostles asunder, and which some think was ultimately the cause of the persecution to death even of St. Paul himself.

And the difficulty, though it began here, did not by any means end here. It is natural to us to build up barriers of division between bodies of men and between individuals. The selfish heart is ever insulating itself, and its set, from other persons and other societies. If there were no more proof than this that Christianity came from God, the very fact of such an announcement being made as that in my text, would shew that some influence was at work in it which was not from man alone; some Spirit which was wider than man’s thoughts, deeper than man’s sympathies; which over-leapt all distinctions raised by time and place and descent and circumstance, and referred men’s practice for its rule to the primal truth, that God had made of one blood all nations on the earth.

And let me notice before I come to, and in coming to, the treatment of this great truth for our own times, what a fundamental and all-important principle it has ever furnished for the working and influence of the Church of Christ in all ages. What has been the one thing which has ever made the Christian Church the benefactor of mankind,—the advocate of justice and of mercy,—the enemy of the oppressor, the friend of light and the upholder of freedom? Why is it, that wherever she has not been this, she has decayed and corrupted;—wherever she has taken up the part and done its work, she has energized and prospered? Is it not simply for this reason, that the sacred doctrine, that all mankind are one in Christ Jesus, lies at the very corner of the foundation of her fabric wherever she is built up? that without it her message of mercy falls powerless, her proclamation of truth is a delusion, the God whom she preaches is not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? Her errand can only prosper in the broad sunshine:—she requires for her healthy breathing the whole wide atmosphere of the world:—limit her, and she becomes paralyzed: set bounds to her, and her voice sinks to a whisper: confine her to a privileged set, to a national form, to the habits of one or another age of men, and she ceases to be the Spouse of Him who is the Head and Husband of our entire humanity: put Roman before Catholic, put Eastern before Catholic, put Anglican before Catholic, and you contradict your own words as you speak, and nullify your own deeds as you act. The Church of Christ is catholic, is universal: over all, in all, belonging to all, fitted for all: all things to all men, as was he who wrote of her in our text: taking into herself, hallowing by her influence, transforming for good, all men’s temperaments, all men’s sympathies, all men’s energies: not too narrow for the mightiest of human powers to work in, not too vast and stately for the meanest to find place and honor: limiting none, despising none, degrading none, excluding none. Round her course, through the ages, have sprung up all the blessings of civilization: her path has ever been marked by the soft verdure of the kindnesses of home, the fresh shade of the courtesies of society, the fair trophies of science, the bright blossoms of art. When she has awoke to the purity and holiness of her mission, with her have awoke the exploring eye of discovery, the searching effort of invention: when she has made an onward step, with her have advanced the powers of mind over matter, and love over hatred, of peace over contention: it was she who knit up at first, it is she who has healed when threatened with severance, the bonds of intercourse among nations; and all because of this, that she is the fulness of Him that filleth all:—because she is founded on Him in whom there is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: but all are one in Christ Jesus, the Head and Savior of all.

But though all this is so, and though we thank God for it, and many of us live in the strength and hope of it, how little it has been understood in ages past—how little is it understood even now! What a record of the forgetfulness of this great principle has ever been the history of Christ’s Church! How its blessed effects have broken forth and spread, not because of, but in spite of, that which men purposed and intended!

Let man set up a principle, and work according to a rule of his own making, and the great tide of God’s providence rolls on, and the barriers which are thought so strong are swept down and carried away before it: but let God set up a principle of His, and let men counter-work it as they will, it shall prevail; working under the surface, till the surface heaves with it, and it comes uppermost, and asserts itself in spite of us all.

And so it has ever been in the history of Christ’s Church. Men have attempted to change its character—to profess conformity to it without acknowledging its principles—to get gain out of it while it should lie dormant and be merely a decent outside; to crush down the truths they daily confessed in their creeds, and hinder the efforts which they prayed for in their prayers; but blessed be God, notwithstanding their efforts, and by the very means of their efforts, the holy cause went on and the Truth prevailed: the sowers sowed evil seed, but God transformed it to good; and while they thought they were doing their work of effective repression, He was doing His work of surer and safer advance.

And how stand we now, my brethren, with regard to this foundation principle of the Gospel and Church of Christ? Have we thoroughly made it our own? Is it one of those things which we take most completely for granted in our thoughts of ourselves and others—of our Christian state and work in the world? Are we satisfied, after all these centuries, and all these conflicts, and all these proofs which God has given, that there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female: but that all are one in Christ Jesus?
Alas, would that we were! Let us try the matter by some of its plainest consequences, and judge of ourselves accordingly.

First, if the Gospel is wide enough for all humanity, and embraces it all indiscriminately, then does it not at once seem to follow, that it should take up into itself, and hallow, the whole, and not a mere part of the being of each of us? Now in connection with such a result as this, what think we of Christ and His salvation? Is it not notorious, that most of us, that Christians in general, regard their religious life and their ordinary life as two distinct things—say in fact in an impossible sense the saying, “Give to the world the things that are the world’s, and (not therefore but separately) to God the things that are God’s”—as if all things were not God’s—as if our whole lives, our whole being, body, soul, and spirit, were not bought with the blood of Christ, and His of right by that purchase? The error runs through the thoughts and actions of modern Christians to an extent which we hardly suspect. Our lives are divided into two inconsistent and incompatible portions: we try to be two persons—religious on our Sundays, at our times of devotion, on our sick beds,—and worldly all the rest of the week, and of the day, and of our ordinary time. Many and many a man, who would be offended not to be thought a good Christian, never dreams of acting, in his common resolves and determinations, from simply Christian motives,—because Christ has commanded, or has forbidden, this or that.

Now He who came to fill our whole nature with Himself and His grace, will not submit to be thus limited to a small share of it. He must have it all or none. “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” It is as much a sin against the universal spirit and power of the Gospel, to limit it to one part of our own lives, and exclude the remainder, as it is to limit it to one part of mankind and shut out the rest. We know nothing of its transforming power, or of its efficacy to supply all the wants of humanity, until our own lives with their energies and interests are carried on in that power, and draw, according to their daily need, out of that efficacy.

But again: all are one in Christ Jesus. The most ignorant, the most degraded, the most remote from the abodes of that grace which the Gospel gives, are just as capable of receiving and growing by it, as we who have been born and brought up under its outpouring. Where then is the hindrance to their doing so? Why have they not long ago heard of this universal Savior and been informed of their privilege and claim to be His? Who is in fault? Not God’s Providence, which has cast our lot on days of such wonderful discovery and facility of intercourse with distant nations, that a messenger may go to the ends of the earth now in less time and with less risk than we once could visit the distant parts of our native land: not God’s loving-kindness, which so wonderfully preserves to us the blessings of peace, that His work may not be hindered; which from year to year showers His bounties on us, filling our hearts with food and gladness. No, neither of these,—but our own worldliness, and want of zeal and self-denial; our fear of the scorn of the idle and foolish world about us, which laughs at Missionary enterprise, and questions Missionary success, and so tries to keep the Gospel of Christ from asserting and carrying out its universal kingdom among men. If we really believed this universality, this oneness in Christ, as we profess to do, we should not be content, as we now are, with a list of religious Societies for home and foreign missions, every one of them struggling for existence from year to year; the poorer among us would not be content to let the wealthier do all the work of the Church, but would cheerfully claim their share of it: the wealthy would not let a few do the work of the whole body, but would eagerly vie with one another in hastening on the glad result. We do not, my brethren, present to God or to the world the aspect of a nation which believes in this universality of Christ’s church and kingdom. Compare any one of our great public commercial enterprises with the whole of our puny efforts for Christian missions, and we painfully gather what I much fear is the truth in general, that this people is thoroughly convinced of the nature of the things of this world, but has no such conviction of the reality of its faith. On the one side we see enthusiastic eagerness, active competition, thousands and millions poured along almost any proposed channel, with or without prospect of large remuneration: on the other all is dead as winter, silent as the grave; interest barely kept up by meetings too often without any life in them, leaving for the most part on the heart a painful sense of unreality and hypocrisy: parades of names in subscription-lists, all cramped with the dreary uniformity of the conventional pound or guinea; in too many cases names of persons without heart for the enterprise, without interest, without love, without expectation of result. We serve the world by stirring personal energy, by unbounded hope, by endless contrivance: we excuse ourselves from serving Christ’s Kingdom by delegating our blessed part in it to a lifeless mechanism, from which our persons and our sympathies are alike absent. O beloved, these things would not be so, did we know each for himself, did we know, as a church and nation, the fulness of the power of that Salvation which the Savior of all men brought into the world for all men.

But one more lesson springs from the truth in my text—and that is a lesson of kindliness, of charitable feeling, of allowance for one another. If Christ’s Gospel is this wide and universal remedy for our sins and miseries, it is so not by crushing all men’s characters into one prescribed form, but by adapting itself to, and taking into itself, every variety of human character, with its defects, its weaknesses, its points which are unwelcome to society, and contemptible in the sight of man. It has been said, and not untruly, that the most accomplished man of the world is he who has best learned to hate and to despise. Directly opposite to this is the character of the accomplished disciple of Christ. He is the man who has best unlearned how to hate and despise his fellow-man. And I know of no consideration so effectual to this end, as those which spring from this great doctrine of the universal sufficiency of Christ’s Gospel. Only let it present itself in this light to us. The weakness which you see in your neighbor’s character, which makes you estimate him so cheaply, and regard him as so worthless in the world, is perhaps the very holding-ground for the anchor of a faith which keeps him firm in the truth, and which you yourself do not possess. And again, the very eagerness to seize on faults and to take the unpleasant view of things, which makes your neighbor so disagreeable to you, may be but the rough outer shell of a precious center and heart of a character which loves righteousness and hates iniquity. The surface may be ruffled and irregular, but it may be only a broken and imperfect representation of the great ground-swell of truth and holiness, stirring the depths of the character. O who that knows himself, will not rather rejoice that others are not as he is? It is, my brethren, because we do not know how wide and large and all-embracing Christ’s Spirit is, that we are always tying it down to rules and frameworks, and one or another form of human character, when we ought to be thankful for its manifold operations, glad that it lays hold of and fills and sanctifies every anxiety, every want, every special tendency of our common humanity. We need a large infusion of this Spirit of Christ which wrought in His holy Apostle, before we can properly teach, properly hear, properly feel, on such a subject as this of our text to-day. We need it in our Church life, we need it in our social life, we need it in our individual life: for unless a man be penetrated through and through by it, he has it not worthily at all.

Finally—if this Gospel be thus adapted for all, offered to all, sufficient for all, then is that person inexcusable who, when it is offered, has not accepted it in its power. My brother—my sister—you are sinful, guilty, perishing. You have that in you and about you which will ruin you for this life and for eternity: you have not that in you, or within your grasp, which will rescue you from this ruin. But here is a remedy. Here is a divine and all-sufficing Savior;—yours, thank God, by right of your humanity which He took upon him, and in which He has satisfied God for you;—nay more, yours by the profession of your baptism, and your membership of His Church. If you will not believe in Him with heart and practice;—if you will not have Him to reign over you;—if you will not come to Him that you may have life, O where can the blame lie but with yourselves? God has done His part: the Father sent the Son; the Son obeyed, and died, and pleads in heaven for you; the Holy Spirit is ever striving with you in your consciences, and in the ordinances of the Church, and by my voice here: the Church has done her part; she brought you near to Christ, and washed you in the font of the new birth; she taught you all that a Christian ought to believe and know for his soul’s health; she offers you the rich Feast of her Lord’s Body and Blood, and holy ordinances without number. All has been done, all is ever being done, except your own part.
O delay no longer: but accept in the depths of your heart, and in the fountains of your life, this universal and all-sufficing Savior: take up and fulfil the holy challenge of the Apostle in our Epistle this day, chosen by the Church as a fit conclusion from the rich blessings of the Christmas season—from God’s loving-kindness in having spared us yet another year:—
“I conjure you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine (pp. 68–81). London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

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Palm 8

Psalm 8

“For the music director; on the Gittith. A Psalm of David. Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, You who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! From the mouths of infants and nursing babies You have established strength Because of Your enemies, To do away with the enemy and the revengeful. When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have set in place; What is man that You think of him, And a son of man that You are concerned about him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You have him rule over the works of Your hands; You have put everything under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the animals of the field, The birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8, NASB 2020)


This psalm begins and ends with an admiring recognition of God’s manifested excellence, ver. 2 (1) and 10 (9). In the intermediate verses the manifestation is traced, first in the inanimate creation, ver. 3, 4 (2, 3), and then in animated nature, vers. 5–9 (4–8), with particular reference to man’s superiority. This is indeed the main subject of the psalm, the glory of God in nature being only introduced to heighten his goodness to mankind. We have here, therefore, a description of the dignity of human nature, as it was at first, and as it is to be restored in Christ, to whom the descriptive terms may therefore be applied, without forced or fanciful accommodation on the one hand, and without denying the primary generic import of the composition on the other.
1. To the Chief Musician, on (or according to) the Gittith. This word, which reappears in the titles of two other psalms (the eighty-first and eighty-fourth), would seem, from its form, to be the feminine of Gitti, which always means a Gittite or inhabitant of Gath. See Josh. 13:3; 2 Sam. 6:10, 15:18. As David once resided there, and had afterwards much intercourse with the inhabitants, the word may naturally here denote an instrument there invented or in use, or an air, or a style of performance, borrowed from that city. Some prefer, however, to derive it from the primary sense of Gath in Hebrew, which is wine-press, and apply it either to an instrument of that shape, or to a melody or style which usage had connected with the joy of vintage or the pressing of the grapes. Either of these explanations is more probable than that which derives Gittith from the same root with Neginoth in the titles of Ps. 4 and 6, and gives it the same sense, viz. stringed instruments, or the music of stringed instruments. Besides the dubious etymology on which this explanation rests, it is improbable that two such technical terms would have been used to signify precisely the same thing. The only further observation to be made upon this title is, that all the psalms to which it is prefixed are of a joyous character, which agrees well with the supposition that it signifies an air or style of musical performance. The ascription of this Psalm to David, as its author, is fully confirmed by its internal character.
2 (1). Jehovah, our Lord, not of the Psalmist only, but of all men, and especially all Israel, how glorious (is) thy name, thy manifested excellence (see above, Ps. 5:11, 7:17), in all the earth, which gave thy glory, i.e. which glory of thine give or place, above the heavens. The verbal form here used is, in every other place where it occurs, an imperative, and should not therefore, without necessity, be otherwise translated. Thus understood, the clause contains a prayer or wish, that the divine glory may be made still more conspicuous. To give or place glory on an object is an idiomatic phrase repeatedly used elsewhere, to denote the conferring of honor on an inferior. See Num. 27:20; 1 Chron. 29:25; Dan. 11:21. It here is plies that the glory belonging to the frame of nature is not inherent but derivative.
3 (2.) From the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast founded strength. The instinctive admiration of thy works, even by the youngest children, is a strong defense against those who would question thy being or obscure thy glory. The Septuagint version of the last words in this clause, thou hast prepared (or provided) praise, conveys the same idea with a change of form, since it is really the praise or admiration of the child that is described in the original as strength. This version is adopted by Matthew, in his record of our Lord’s reply to the Pharisees, when they complained of the hosannas uttered by the children in the temple (Mat. 21:16). That allusion does not prove that Christ was the primary subject of this psalm, but only that the truth expressed in the words quoted was exemplified in that case. If the Scriptures had already taught that even the unconscious admiration of the infant is a tribute to God’s glory, how much more might children of maturer age be suffered to join in acclamations to his Son. The sense thus put upon the words of David agrees better with the context than the one preferred by some interpreters, viz., that the defense in question is afforded by the structure and progress of the child itself. If this had been intended, he would hardly have said from the mouth, or have confined his subsequent allusions to the splendor of the firmament.—The effect, or rather the legitimate tendency of this spontaneous testimony is to silence enemy and avenger, i.e. to stop the mouths of all malignant railers against God, whose cavils and sophisms are put to shame by the instinctive recognition of God’s being and his glory by the youngest children.
4 (3). When I see thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, an expression borrowed from the habits of men, to whom the fingers are natural organs of contrivance and construction, the moon and the stars which thou hast fixed, or settled in their several spheres. As we constantly associate the sky and sun together, the latter, although not expressly mentioned, may be considered as included in the subject of the first clause. Or the mention of the moon and stars without the sun may be understood to mark this as an evening hymn. There is no ground, however, for referring this psalm to the pastoral period of David’s life, or for doubting that it was composed when he was king.
5 (4). The sentence begun in the preceding verse is here completed. When I see thy heavens, &c., what is man, frail man, as the original word signifies, that thou shouldst remember him, think of him, attend to him, and (any) son of man, or the son of man, as a generic designation of the race, that thou shouldst visit him, i.e. according to the usage of this figure, manifest thyself to him, either in wrath or mercy. See Gen. 18:14, 21:1, Ruth 1:6, &c. Here of course the latter is intended. The scriptural idea of a divine visitation is of something which reveals God’s special presence and activity, whether as a friend or foe. The interrogation in this verse implies a strong negation of man’s worthiness to be thus honored, not in comparison with the material universe, to which he is in truth superior, but with the God whose glory the whole frame of nature was intended to display and does display, even to the least matured and cultivated minds. It was with a view to this comparison, and not for its own sake, or as the main subject of the psalm, that the glory of creation was referred to the foregoing verse.
6 (5). And remove him little from divinity, i.e. from a divine and heavenly, or at least a superhuman state. The Hebrew noun is the common one for God, but being plural in its form, is sometimes used in a more vague and abstract sense, for all conditions of existence higher than our own. 1 Sam. 28:13, Zech. 9:7. Hence it is sometimes rendered angels in the Septuagint, which version, although inexact, is retained in the New Testament (Heb. 2:7), because it sufficiently expresses the idea which was essential to the writer’s argument. The verb in this clause strictly means to make or let one want, to leave deficient. Eccles. 4:8, 6:2. The form here used (that of the future with vav conversive), connects it in the closest manner with the verb of the preceding verse, a construction which may be imperfectly conveyed by the omission of the auxiliary verbs in English. “What is man, that thou shouldst remember him, and visit him, and make him want but little of divinity, and crown him with honor and glory?” The Hebrew order of the last clause is, and (with) honor and glory crown him. These nouns are elsewhere put together to express royal dignity. Ps. 21:1, 6 (5), 45:4 (3), Jer. 22:18, 1 Chron. 29:25. There is an obvious allusion to man’s being made in the image of God, with dominion over the inferior creation. Gen. 1:26, 28; 9:2. This is predicated not of the individual but of the race, which lost its perfection in Adam and recovers it in Christ. Hence the description is pre-eminently true of him, and the application of the words in Heb. 2:7, is entirely legitimate, although it does not make him the exclusive subject of the psalm itself.
7 (6). The same construction is continued through the first clause of this verse. Make him rule, i.e. what is man that thou shouldst make him rule, in, among, and by implication over, the works, the other and inferior creatures, of thy hands. The use of the future form in Hebrew up to this point is dependent on the question and contingent particle (what is man that) in ver. 5 (4). The question being now exhausted or exchanged for a direct affirmation, the past tense is resumed. All, everything, hast thou put under his feet, i.e. subjected to his power. The application of these terms to Christ (1 Cor. 15:27, Eph. 1:22), as the ideal representative of human nature in its restored perfection, is precisely similar to that of the expressions used in the preceding verse.
8 (7). This verse contains a mere specification of the general term all in the verse before it. Sheep, or rather flocks, including sheep and goats, and oxen, as a generic term for larger cattle, and also, not only these domesticated animals, but also, beasts of the field, which always means in Scripture wild beasts (Gen. 2:20, 3:14, 1 Sam. 17:44, Joel 1:20), field being used in such connections to denote, not the cultivated land, but the open, unenclosed, and wilder portions of the country. The whole verse is a general description of all quadrupeds or beasts, whether tame or wild.
9 (8). To complete the cycle of animated nature, the inhabitants of the air and water are now added to those of the earth. Bird of heaven, a collective phrase, denoting the birds of the sky, i.e. those which fly across the visible heavens. The common version, “fowl of the air,” is descriptive of the same objects, but is not a strict translation. And fishes of the sea, and (every thing) passing in, or through, the paths of the sea. Some read without supplying anything, fishes of the sea passing through the paths of the sea. But this weakens the expression, and is also at variance with the form of the original, where passing is a singular. Others construe it with man, who is then described as passing over the sea and ruling its inhabitants. But neither the syntax nor the sense is, on the whole, so natural as that proposed above, which makes this a residuary comprehensive clause, intended to embrace whatever might not be included in the more specific terms by which it is preceded. The dominion thus ascribed to man, as a part of his original prerogative, is not to be confounded with the coercive rule which he still exercises over the inferior creation (Gen. 9:2, James 3:7), although this is really a relic of his pristine state, and at the same time an earnest of his future restoration.
10 (9). Jehovah, our Lord, how glorious is thy name in all the earth, not only made so by the splendor of the skies, but by God’s condescending goodness to mankind. With this new evidence and clearer view of the divine perfection, the Psalmist here comes back to the point from which he started, and closes with a solemn repetition of the theme propounded in the opening sentence.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 37–40). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

How Then Shall We Live?

How Then Shall We Live?

“And you were dead in your offenses and sins, in which you previously walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience (apeitheia). Among them we too all previously lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our wrongdoings, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the boundless riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:1–10, NASB 2020)

543. ἀπείθεια apeítheia; gen. apeítheias, fem. noun from apeithes (545), disobedient. Disobedience, unwillingness to be persuaded, willful unbelief, obstinacy. In the NT, it corresponds in its use with the verb apistéō (569), to be unbelieving, opposing the gracious word and purpose of God; a stronger term than the syn. apistía (570), disbelief, unbelief (Heb. 3:12, 19); hence we have the sons of apeitheías, disobedience, unbelievers, i.e., heathen, pagans (Rom. 11:30, 32; Eph. 2:2; 5:6; Col. 3:6; Heb. 4:6, 11).  Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

Are we the sons of disobedience or the sons of unbelief?  Both! Why?  Because one of the afflictions of the flesh is a “reprobate” mind! (Romans 1:28 - ἀδόκιμος adókimos “a reprobate abominable mind, a mind to be abhorred by God and man.” Zodhiates) We may, at length, believe our thinking is pristine.  However, when compared to Christ, my thinkin’ is always stinkin’!  This terminal fault in our DNA leads us to all manner of misconceptions we find present in the flavor of the day philosophy.  Ultimately it leads us to our death!

“And just as it is destined for people to die once, and after this comes judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27, NASB 2020)

Since I do not believe Christ with my reprobate mind my life demonstrates disobedience–the physical manifestation of the wrath of God inflicted against all unrighteousness and all ungodliness (Romans 1:18).  An unrighteous person lives as if there is no will of God revealed.  An ungodly person lives as if there is no God.  But since that day when the Grace of Christ made provision for me to believe I now live in Christ.

How then shall we live?  Perhaps we may glean some insight from Hebrews 4:12-13. The context, Sabbath Rest!

“For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, even penetrating as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him to whom we must answer.” (Hebrews 4:12–13, NASB 2020)

When the majority of one’s neighbors are dedicated to values different from one’s own, and may even regard one’s ambitions and priorities as foolish, one must either surrender one’s values or find some way to offset the force of the majority’s opinion. Many minority cultures in the Greco-Roman world accomplished this by focusing their adherents on the opinion and approval of God.  Each of these groups believed that their values were in fact in line with what God valued, and that their priorities reflected God’s priorities.  Commitment to the values of a particular group, then, could be enhanced by affirming that those who fulfilled those values pleased God, while the majority of humanity, unaware of what God truly valued in God’s creatures, lived out their whole lives displeasing God and pursuing what God hated or regarded as empty.  If representatives of that majority culture would, from time to time, reproach the group members for their commitment to different values, the group members or their leaders could sustain commitment by saying, in effect, “The opinion of the uninitiated matters nothing. Remember the One whom you must please, whose approval matters for eternity.”  deSilva, D. A. (2000). Perseverance in gratitude: a socio-rhetorical commentary on the Epistle “to the Hebrews” (p. 171). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

But if any of the violent men who are unmentioned, and who have at different times risen up against the people in their several states, and have enslaved not only other nations, but their own countries too, have still died without meeting with punishment, it is not to be wondered at, for in the first place man does not judge as God judges, because we investigate what is visible to ourselves, but he descends into the secret recesses of the soul without making any noise, and there contemplates the mind in the clear light, as if in the sun; for stripping off from it all the ornaments in which it is enveloped, and seeing its devices and intentions naked, he immediately distinguishes between the bad and the good. (Philo, On Providence)

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Psalm 7

Psalm 7

“O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and deliver me, lest like a lion they tear my soul apart, rending it in pieces, with none to deliver. O Lord my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands, if I have repaid my friend with evil or plundered my enemy without cause, let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it, and let him trample my life to the ground and lay my glory in the dust. Selah Arise, O Lord, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake for me; you have appointed a judgment. Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered about you; over it return on high. The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me. Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous— you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God! My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts. Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends. I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.” (Psalm 7:1–17, ESV)

The Psalmist still prays for deliverance from his enemies, ver. 2, 3 (1, 2), on the ground that he is innocent of that wherewith they charge him, ver. 4–6 (3–5). He prays for justice to himself and on his enemies, as a part of that great judicial process which belongs to God as the universal judge, ver. 7–10 (6–9). He trusts in the divine discrimination between innocence and guilt, ver. 11, 12 (10, 11). He anticipates God’s vengeance on impenitent offenders, ver. 13, 14 (12, 13). He sees them forced to act as self-destroyers, ver. 15–17 (14–16). At the same time he rejoices in God’s mercy to himself, and to the whole class whom he represents, ver. 18 (17).

The penitential tone, which predominated in the sixth psalm, here gives way again to that of self-justification, perhaps because the Psalmist here speaks no longer as an individual, but as the representative of the righteous or God’s people. The two views which he thus takes of himself are perfectly consistent, and should be suffered to interpret one another.

1. Shiggaion, i.e. wandering, error. The noun occurs only here, and in the plural form, Hab. 3:1, but the verb from which it is derived is not uncommon, and is applied by Saul to his own errors with respect to David (1 Sam. 26:21). See also Ps. 119:10, 118. Hence some explain the word here as denoting moral error, sin, and make it descriptive of the subject of the psalm. See above on Ps. 5:1. Still more in accordance with the literal meaning of the root is the opinion that it here denotes the wandering of David at the period when the psalm was probably conceived. In either case, it means a song of wandering or error, which he sang, in the literal sense, or in the secondary one of poetical composition, as Virgil says, I sing the man and arms, i.e. they are the subject of my poem. To the Lord, Jehovah, to whom a large part of the psalm is really addressed. Concerning (or because of) the words of Cush the Benjamite. It is clear from ver. 4–6 (3–5), that the words referred to were calumnious reports or accusations. These may have been uttered by one Cush, a Benjamite, who nowhere else appears in history. But as this very circumstance makes it improbable that he would have been singled out, as the occasion of this psalm, from among so many slanderers, some suppose Cush to be Shimei, who cursed David when he fled from Absalom (2 Sam. 16:5–13). As the psalm, however, seems much better suited to the times of Saul, some suppose Cush, which is properly the Hebrew name of Ethiopia, to be here an enigmatical name applied to Saul himself, in reference to the blackness of his heart, and perhaps to his incorrigible wickedness. See Jer. 13:23, and Amos 9:7. The description Benjamite, is equally appropriate to Saul (1 Sam. 9:1, 2; 16:5, 11) and Shimei, who, indeed, were kinsmen. This explanation of the word Cush is less forced than it might otherwise appear, because enigmatical descriptions of the theme are not infrequent in the titles of the Psalms. See above, on Ps. 5:1, and below, on Ps. 9:1; 22:1; 53:1; 57:1; 60:1.

2 (1). The psalm opens with an expression of strong confidence in God, and a prayer founded on it. O Lord, Jehovah, my God, not merely by creation, but by special covenant, in thee, as such, and therefore in no other, I have trusted, and do still trust. This relation and this trust entitle him to audience and deliverance. Save me from all my persecutors, or pursuers, a term frequently employed in David’s history. See 1 Sam. 24:15 (14); 26:20. By these we are here to understand the whole class of worldly and ungodly men, of which Saul was the type and representative. The all suggests the urgency of the necessity, as a motive to immediate interposition. And extricate me, or deliver me. The primary idea of the verb translated save is that of making room, enlarging. See above, on Ps. 4:2 (1).

3 (2). Lest he tear, like a lion, my soul. The singular form, following the plural in the foregoing verse, may have particular reference to Saul, or to the class of which he was a type, personified as an ideal individual. The imagery of the verse is borrowed from the habits of wild beasts, with which David was familiar from a child. See 1 Sam. 17:34–37. The soul or life is mentioned as the real object of attack, and not as a mere periphrasis for the personal pronoun, as if my soul were equivalent to me. Rending, or breaking the bones, and there is none delivering, or with none to deliver.

4 (3.) He proceeds upon the principle that God will not hear the prayer of the wicked, and that he must hear that of the righteous. He proceeds, therefore, to assert his innocence, not his freedom from all sin, but from that particular offence with which he had been charged. O Lord, Jehovah, my God, as in ver. 2 (1), if I have done this, which follows, or this of which I am accused, referring to "the words of Cush," the calumnies, which gave occasion to the psalm itself. If there is, with emphasis on the verb, which might have been omitted in Hebrew, and is therefore emphatic, if there is indeed, as my accusers say, perverseness, iniquity, in my palms, in the palms of my hands, here mentioned as instruments of evil. The apodosis of the sentence is contained in ver. 6 (5) below.

5 (4). If I have repaid my friend, one at peace with me, evil, and spoiled, plundered, (one) distressing me, acting as my enemy, without a cause. There seems to be an allusion here to the two periods of David’s connection with Saul, that of their friendly intercourse, and that of their open enmity. During neither of these had David been guilty of the sins charged upon him. He had not conspired against Saul while in his service (1 Sam. 22:7, 8), and when persecuted by him he had spared his life (1 Sam. 24:10, 11). Some suppose this last fact to be here referred to, and translate the second clause, yea, I have delivered him that without cause is mine enemy. The Hebrew verb is certainly used elsewhere in this sense (2 Sam. 22:20, Ps. 6:5), but its primary meaning seems to be that of stripping or spoiling a conquered enemy. The first construction above given is moreover much more natural, and agrees better with the grammatical dependence of the second verb upon the first.

6 (5). His consciousness of innocence is expressed in the strongest manner by invoking the divine displeasure if the charge can be established. An enemy, or by poetic license, the enemy, whether Saul or the ideal enemy referred to in verse 3 (2), shall pursue, or may pursue, which is equivalent to saying, Let the enemy pursue my soul, the figure being still the same as in verse 3 (2) above, but carried out with more minuteness, and overtake (it), and trample to the earth my life, and my honor in the dust make dwell, i.e. completely prostrate and degrade. Some regard honor as equivalent to soul and life, the intelligent and vital part, which is the glory of man’s constitution. But the analogy of Ps. 3:4 (3) and 4:3 (2) makes it more probable that in this case also there is reference to the Psalmist’s personal and official honor. The allusion, however, is not so much to posthumous disgrace as to present humiliation. All this he imprecates upon himself if really guilty of the charges calumniously brought against him. The solemnity of this appeal to God, as a witness and a judge, is enhanced by the usual pause. Selah.

7 (6). Upon this protestation of his innocence he founds a fresh prayer for protection and deliverance. Arise, arouse thyself, O Lord, Jehovah. See above, on Ps. 3:8 (7). Arise in thine anger, raise thyself, or be exalted, in, i.e. amidst, the ragings of my enemies. The idea because of my enemies is rather implied than expressed. The sense directly intended seems to be that, as his enemies are raging, it is time for God to arise in anger too. As they rage against him, he calls upon God to rise in anger against them. And awake, a still stronger figure than arise, because implying sleep as well as inactivity. Awake unto me, at my call and for my benefit. Judgment hast thou commanded, or ordained. Let that judgment now be executed. He appeals to the general administration of God’s justice, as a ground for expecting it in this one case. As it was part of the divine plan or purpose to do justice, both on friends and foes, here was an opportunity to put it into execution.

8 (7). And the congregation of nations shall surround thee, which in this connection is equivalent to saying, let it surround thee. The most probable sense of these obscure words is, appear in the midst of the nations as their judge. The same connection between God’s judicial government in general and his judicial acts in a particular case, that is implied in the preceding verse, is here embodied in the figure of an oriental king dispensing justice to his subjects in a popular assembly. And above it, the assembly, to the high place, or the height, return thou. This may either mean, return to heaven when the judgment is concluded, or, which seems more natural, Resume thy seat as judge above this great ideal congregation. Above it, thus assembled to receive thee, to the high place, or the judgment-seat, return thou, after so long an absence, previously intimated by the summons to arise and awake. Inaction, sleep, and absence from the judgment-seat, are all bold metaphors for God’s delay to save his people and destroy their enemies.

9 (8). The same thing is now expressed in a direct and formal manner. Jehovah will judge, is to judge, the nations. This is laid down as a certain general proposition, from which the Psalmist draws a special inference in the shape of a petition. Judge me, O Lord, Jehovah! If it be true that God will judge the world, redress all wrong, and punish all iniquity, let him begin with me. Let me share now in the justice which is to be universally administered. Judge me, O Lord, according to my right, and my completeness, or perfection, over me, i.e. according to my innocence which covers and protects me. All such expressions must be qualified and explained by the confession of unworthiness in Ps. 6 and elsewhere, which sufficiently demonstrates that the Psalmist here makes no claim to absolute perfection and innocence, nor to any whatever that is independent of God’s sovereign mercy.

10 (9). Let cease, I pray, the badness of wicked (men). The future has an optative meaning given to it by the Hebrew particle (נָא), which is often rendered now, not as an adverb of time, but of entreaty. Between man and man, it is frequently equivalent to if you please in modern parlance. When addressed to God, it scarcely admits of any other version than I pray. The assonance or paronomasia in the common version, wickedness of the wicked, is not found in the original, where two words, not akin to one another, are employed. The plural form of wicked is also lost or left ambiguous in the common version. And thou wilt confirm, or establish, a righteous (man), and a trier of hearts and reins, constantly used in Scripture for the internal dispositions, (is the) righteous God, or (art thou) O righteous God, which last agrees best with the direct address to God in the preceding clauses. This does not merely mean that God is omniscient, and therefore able thus to try the hearts and reins, but that he actually does it. Here he is specially appealed to, as a judge or umpire between Saul, or "the wicked" whom he represented, and "the righteous," of whom David was the type and champion.

11 (10). My shield (is) upon God. My protection or defense depends on him alone. The figure is the same as in Ps. 3:4 (3) and 5:13 (12). Here again the hope of personal deliverance is founded on a general truth, as to the course of the divine administration. My shield (is) upon God, saving, or who saves, the Savior of the upright, straightforward, or sincere in heart. This is a new indirect assertion of his own integrity and innocence.

12 (11). The second word in the original of this verse may be either a participle or a noun, so that the clause admits of two translations, God (is) a righteous judge, and, God is judging, i.e. judges, the righteous. The first would be a repetition of the general truth taught in ver. 9 (8) above, but here applied to the punishment of the wicked, as it is there to the salvation of the innocent. According to the other construction, the verse before us presents both ideas: God judges the righteous, i.e. does him justice, and God is angry every day. The object of this anger, although not expressed, is obvious, and is even rendered more conspicuous by this omission. As if he had said, "God, who does justice to the righteous, has likewise objects for his indignation."

13 (12). If he, the sinner at whom God is angry, will not turn, i.e. turn back from his impious and rebellious undertakings, his sword he will whet, i.e. with a natural though sudden change of subject, God will whet his sword, often referred to as an instrument of vengeance. His bow he has trodden on, alluding to the ancient mode of bending the large and heavy bows used in battle, and made it ready. The bow and the sword were the most common weapons used in ancient warfare. The past tense of these verbs implies that the instruments of vengeance are prepared already, and not merely viewed as something future.

14 (13). And at him (the wicked enemy) he has aimed, or directed, the instruments of death, his deadly weapons. This is still another step in advance. The weapons are not only ready for him, but aimed at him. His arrows to (be) burning he will make, i.e. he will make his arrows burning arrows, in allusion to the ancient military custom of shooting ignited darts or arrows into besieged towns, for the purpose of setting them on fire, as well as that of personal injury. The figurative terms in these two verses all express the certainty and promptness of the divine judgments on incorrigible sinners. For even these denunciations are not absolute, but suspended on the enemy’s repentance or persistency in evil. That significant phrase, if he will not turn, may be tacitly supplied as qualifying every threatening in the book, however strong and unconditional in its expressions.

15 (14). Behold, he, the wicked man, will writhe, or travail (with) iniquity, (towards others), and conceive mischief (to himself), and bring forth falsehood, self-deception, disappointment. The meaning seems to be, that while bringing his malignant schemes to maturity, he will unconsciously conceive and bring forth ruin to himself.

16 (15) The same idea is then expressed by other figures, borrowed perhaps from certain ancient modes of hunting. A well he has digged, i.e. a pitfall for his enemy, and hollowed it, or made it deep, and fallen into the pit he is making, or about to make. The change from the past tense to the future seems to place the catastrophe between the inception and completion of the plan. The translation of the last verb as a simple preterite is entirely ungrammatical.

17 (16). Still a third variation of the same theme. His mischief shall return upon his own head, literally into it, like a falling body which not only rests upon an object, but sinks and is imbedded in it. And on his own crown his violence, including the ideas of injustice and cruelty, shall come down.

18 (17). While the wicked enemy of God and his people is thus made to execute the sentence on himself, the Psalmist already exults in the experience of God’s saving mercy. I will praise the Lord, Jehovah, i.e. acknowledge his favors. See above, on Ps. 6:6 (5). According to his right, desert, or due, as in ver. 9 (8) above. Or according to his righteousness, his justice, i.e. the praise shall correspond to the display just made of this attribute, as well in the deliverance of the Psalmist as in the destruction of his enemies. And I will sing praise, praise by singing, praise in song, the name, the manifested excellence (see above, on Ps. 5:12 (11),) of the Lord, Jehovah, High or Most High. He will praise the Lord in this exalted character as manifested by his dealings in the case which gave occasion to the psalm. The resolution thus expressed may be considered as fulfilled in the psalm itself, so confident is he that it cannot be performed before his prayer is answered. Or the words may be understood as engaging to continue these acknowledgments hereafter.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained. Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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The Righteousness of One Man

The Righteousness of One Man

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18–19, ESV)

Two things are to be noticed in this text, before we proceed to consider the subject of it. First you will observe that in our bibles the words "judgment came" and "the free gift came" are in italics, that is, are put in by the translators to fill up the sense, but do not form any part of the sacred Word. The Verse more simply stands, "As through one trespass, the issue (or effect) was unto all men to condemnation, even so through one righteous act the issue (or effect) was unto all men unto justification of life." And secondly, that the "many" spoken of in the latter portion of it are clearly the same as the "all men" in the former, the word being used only by way of contrast with the word "one," and not as meaning a different set of persons from that spoken of before.

We may now ask, what it is that the text tells us. Here we have two things set over against one another; trespass, righteous act: one man’s disobedience, one man’s obedience: all men made sinners, all men made righteous: an effect upon all unto condemnation, an effect upon all unto justification of life.

Now that which we have to treat to-day, Christ’s obedience, and its effects, is a very important subject: important to our soundness in the faith, and to our answering the unbeliever, and to our own purity and our own comfort in believing. May God guide us to consider it aright.

We address God in our Collect as having made His blessed Son to be circumcised and obedient to the law for man. We take that undergoing of the ordinance of circumcision as an example, as the first and chief example, of our Lord’s becoming obedient to the law. And rightly: for though it was not originally of the law, as we shall see further on, yet it was the law’s first command when a man came into the world; and without obeying it, the whole life would have been an act of disobedience to the law. He entered on his course of obedience to the law by this act. So that we need not to-day fix our thoughts on that ordinance any further than as it brought the Lord into the state of being under the law and obedient to the law.

But first, what law? Not, the universal moral law of conscience: this He had as Man, had in its highest and purest form as Man without sin: in unclouded certainty, in undeviating equity, in uninterrupted action. When He was made man, He was rendered subject to this law, and needed no outward rite to introduce him into its dominion and obedience. Again then, what law? The answer is plain. A certain code of laws given on Mount Sinai to the children of Israel. But why should the Son of God humiliate himself for us in this peculiar manner, so as to become subject to that law and not to any other? In order to answer this, remember to whom and for what purpose, that law was given. It was given to a nation chosen out from among the other nations of the earth by God, that they might be a people of his own—the selected vehicle of his revelation of Himself to mankind. And the purpose of its being given was, we are expressly told, to bring about the knowledge of sin; to detect, as we heard in a previous sermon of this course, and make men aware of, their guiltiness and helplessness in God’s sight. Mind,—and this is a most essential point for us to-day, as you will presently see,—this law was not given to bring any man to salvation: as I then tried to make plain to you, no law could do this: much less could this one, which was but an imperfect manifestation of God’s holy will,—holy, just, and true as far as it went, but going only a little way: not helping man’s weakness, not revealing God’s law, not shedding abroad God’s Spirit.

Now all this which I am saying is not meant by way of going over old ground again, to prove that by the works of the law shall no flesh be saved in God’s sight: this we know: but it is in order that we may the better and the more clearly see, what it was that our Savior did, when He became obedient to, when He fulfilled that law for man. Now look at it in this way. This law was not, could not be, for salvation to any man. Did then, could then, our Blessed Lord work out salvation for us by keeping this law? Most clearly not. We sometimes hear it said, that His perfect righteousness was found in his fulfilment of this law of Moses, and that His righteousness, as thus formed and wrought out, is imputed unto us. But I cannot find such a doctrine either in Scripture or in the belief of God’s church. There is a doctrine which sounds something like it, and might be mistaken for it, and on which I shall have a good deal to say by and by: but which is not, and is very far from being, the same.

But let us for a moment imagine that the matter were so: that Christ’s fulfilling of all the Mosaic law in all its requirements constituted His perfect righteousness before God, and is made ours by being imputed to us. Well—what follows? Why, two most unsatisfactory results. First, the righteousness thus obtained is formally not of the kind we want. We, all mankind, we Gentiles, were never bound under the law of Moses: Gentiles were never invited to put themselves under it, nay they were expressly excluded from its obligations and its benefits. So that, according to this view, Christ did for us what we were never bound to do for ourselves: and more: Christ justified Jews only. And secondly, this righteousness is not, essentially and in itself, of the kind we want. We want something far above and beyond the ordinances and provisions of the law of Moses. That law crept in, was introduced by the side, as the Apostle says in the verses following my text, for a lower and a special purpose, to persuade of their guilt that people to whom the Redeemer was to be sent, and by its types to keep their minds fixed on Him and His future work: but we want what it could never give, even had a man obeyed it to the utmost; transformation into God’s image; new creation in the power of purity and love; the inspiration and indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. The righteousness in which our Redeemer must be perfect, and which by his Death and Resurrection and circumcision and gift of his Spirit He must make ours, is something infinitely above and more glorious and heavenly than this law of carnal ordinances, this law given by Moses. It was not by fulfilling the law of Moses that our Blessed Lord became our righteousness. He did fulfil it indeed: not one jot or tittle of it was neglected or passed uncared for, because every part of it was given by divine command, and by the mediation of angels, and men appointed by God: He did fulfil it: and He fulfilled it for man. But His fulfilling it was not our righteousness.

What was it then? How does Holy Scripture ever speak of it? Why simply thus; as a taking out of the way—cancelling, annulling, of that law. He fulfilled it, and made an end of it. He was the end of the law with a view to righteousness. It has lost its power as regards us who are in Him. And it did thus lose its power, the day that our Blessed Lord was fastened to his Cross; He blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his Cross. This marvelous completion of the work does not form our subject to-day: it will come before us, God willing, hereafter; but the great preparation for that completion does come before us to-day and thus early in our course. And we shall be led to speak of it in several of its forms and manifestations; among which one is, this keeping of the limited, special, Mosaic law of ordinances and precepts. Let us then now look at this observance a little more closely. What was it, in itself? and what was it, for us? In what consisted its necessity, its fitness, its usefulness for mankind?

What was it in itself? It was careful, precise, undeviating, complete. From his eight days old circumcision to the Passover the night before his Sacrifice, our Lord made a point of not falling short in any thing, but walked in all the commandments and ordinances of his Father blameless. Then, it was necessary for us. In the course of God’s arrangements for the salvation of man, the Redeemer could not and must not be born a Gentile. The Jews were the people set in the bright line of the revelation of God to man. To them belonged the law: this is much to our purpose: but, which is much more to our purpose, to them belonged the promises and the covenant of faith with Abraham, in fulfilment of which promises, and in the discharge and line of which covenant, this very Redeemer was to come. The terms and matter of these promises and covenant absolutely required that our Lord should be a Jew. And what was a Jew? One born under the law of Moses. As a Jew, condescending to take our nature in that particular form and under those special circumstances, our Lord became personally bound to the observance of this law. Had He not observed it, He would not have been the spotless One in all the will of God: He would not have Himself stood accepted with our nature perfect and acquitted in the sight of the Father: and we should not have been accepted in Him.

So that thus He kept the law for man: not that man might get righteousness by that kept law, which righteousness it could not give, whether Christ kept it, or any one else kept it: but that He who was to be the righteous Head of our nature, might fulfil all righteousness. And so, when He came to be baptized by John His forerunner and His inferior, and John was preventing him, He replied, Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.

And I entreat you, in fixing in your minds the verities of the Christian faith, to remember this clearly and well; that it was not on our Blessed Lord’s fulfilment of the law that our justification in God’s sight by His righteousness depends, as some would try to persuade you. This is only in one, and that a partial sense, true: that law indeed lay in the course of His own personal work: in the course of working out that perfect Righteousness which when complete in Him is reckoned for ours, and wrought in us by the Holy Ghost.

Now to-day’s subject, the Circumcision, will carry us a step further yet in the direction of the great doctrine given out in our text. The ordinance of circumcision, as stated just now, was not first given when the law was given. It was not of Moses, but of the fathers, declares our Lord Himself. And St. Paul teaches us, in a passage read for the Epistle to-day, that Abraham received it as a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had being yet uncircumcised. So that our Lord not only obeyed the law for us, and entered on that His obedience, in this the first ordinance of the law, but by it He also entered into and complied with the terms of that covenant of faith which God made with Abraham centuries before the law was given. Now this covenant was of a far higher order than the law: for remember how St: Paul compares the two in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians, and proves the promise and the covenant greater than the law. It is of that promise that we are the inheritors, and by that covenant that we look for God’s heavenly kingdom, and not by the law at all. And now just consider what that covenant is, and what were its promises. It was universal—"In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed:" faith was its very entrance and condition—"Abraham believed God:" justification was its firstfruit: "it was counted to him for righteousness:" sanctification and renewal in holiness were its conditions also—"God said to Abraham, I am Almighty God—walk thou before me and be thou perfect." And into this covenant and condition did our Blessed Lord enter for us by this ordinance, and all his life through He continued to fulfil it: He walked by faith in his heavenly Father: He walked before Him and was perfect: not in the law only, with which we have no immediate concern: but in God’s higher and better covenant of faith, which is our covenant and condition also.

But there is more than this yet behind: nor have we yet reached the wide stretch and universality of the assertion in our text. The law of Moses, which our Blessed Lord fulfilled, was, so to speak, a narrow and prescribed path or groove of obedience: and even the covenant made with Abraham was in a special line of descent and with limited ordinances of obedience, however much in character, and duration, and ultimate extent, superior to the law. But the obedience of the One Man must reach beyond either of these: it must be as wide in its extent and effect as the disobedience of the one man had been in former times which had brought death on all our race. By means of that, death spread through unto all men, for that all were sinners. There was, as our text says, a consequence resulting to all men from that one offence, Adam’s disobedience. And so is there, as it also says, a consequence resulting to all men from that righteous act, Christ’s obedience. What, even to those who are not in the covenant of faith, not in the line of Christian ordinances, not in the fold of Christ’s church? Yes, my brethren, even to them: or else God’s word in our text cannot be true. As all men are partakers of the detriment occasioned by Adam’s sin, so all men are partakers of the benefit occasioned by Christ’s righteousness.

First Why? and secondly, How? And to the first I answer, Because Christ is the righteous Head of our whole race: because His obedience was not limited to the law, nor to the covenant with Abraham, but was perfect, entire, universal: because that obedience of His was carried infinitely further than any code of precepts could order, than any conditions of a covenant could prescribe. What does St. Paul say? "Being found in fashion as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient even as far as unto death." Obedient, even up to death. Why this is no mere obeying of law. No law ever ordered a man to die, as one of its duties. We shall say more of this another time; but you see even now how infinitely the bounds of the Lord’s obedience for us transcend those of law and covenant. He came to do God’s will: not His revealed will merely, but His entire and perfect will: not His will as a Jew only, but His will as Man. Standing in the center and stem of our Humanity; with all its duties, all its dignity, all its blessedness upon Him, He carried out all that the Almighty Father ever intended it to do and be: He brought it through trial and temptation and suffering, spotless, blameless, perfect: He, being not a single individual man self-contained and limited, but being God, the Son of God in man, the second and righteous Head of our nature, undid in it what Adam did, planted righteousness in it which it had not without Him, and finally carried it up through Death and out of the grave to God’s own throne, where He at this moment is reigning as Man, in your nature and mine, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

And, my beloved brethren, now come we to our second enquiry about this matter of the effect of one man’s obedience on all men. How does it affect all men? You may say to me, "Do you mean to tell us that a poor heathen who has never heard of Christ, that a hard-hearted sinner in Christendom who will not have Christ for his master, that such as these are affected by the righteousness of which you have been telling us?" I can only answer that my text tells it you; and it is not for me to question what Christ’s Apostle says, but to endeavour to understand it for myself and to explain it to you. There certainly is an effect produced on every man living, by Christ’s finished work of righteousness. Let me make this plain to you in one or two ways. We all believe in the certainty of a Resurrection of the dead: that all men with their bodies will one day come up out of their graves: the just to the resurrection of life: the unjust to the resurrection of judgment. Well: why is this? why shall this be? Go to one of the most solemn chapters of the Bible, and read the reason. Hear how St. Paul proves it. It is, and shall be, just simply as a consequence of this obedience of the man Christ Jesus of which we are speaking. His death was the crown of that obedience: His resurrection followed on that obedience, because on Him personally death, the consequence of disobedience, had no lasting power: and because He rose, all shall rise. Here then is one such effect upon all men, good and bad, Christians and heathens, believers and unbelievers.

But I will tell you another and a more notable effect of the obedience of this one man: even your existence and mine; the fact, that we are in the world at all. If it had not been for this obedience of Christ, foreseen and graciously reckoned as belonging to our nature, the race of man must have come to an end at the time when Adam sinned. "In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die," was the word to him of God who cannot lie nor repent. And why did he not die? why did he not cease to be? why did the holy and pure One who cannot abide iniquity, tolerate him any longer? Simply because of the Blood of Jesus Christ which taketh away the sin of the world: because of that Lamb, slain from before the foundation of the world in God’s gracious purposes. And the power of the same blood,—the atoning virtue of that obedience, crowned by the propitiatory sacrifice of His death,—is the simple reason why you and I are alive before God at this moment. The blessed and glorious Son of God has reconciled God and man; and by His obedience this effect has come upon all men; that, though sinners, they live and move and have being in the presence of a God who hates sin, just because Christ is the Head of their nature; because Christ in that nature obeyed God to the utmost; because Christ died and rose again and is at God’s right hand in heaven.

And there is yet another effect which this obedience of Christ has had upon all men. It has brought them all within the blessed range of the promises which are in Christ; so that there is now no longer any distinction in this matter between one nation and another, or one man and another, but "Christ among you, the hope of glory," is preached to all the world,—to learned and unlearned, bond and free, Jew and Gentile. But this part of my subject will more properly come before us next Sunday, when we shall have entered the season beginning to-morrow with the Epiphany, or Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.

I must not however conclude my present sermon without reminding you that there is a meaning for us in the circumcision of our Lord, touched on in the Collect, and deserving our serious attention. What He did and submitted to for us, not only had its own value as a part of His working out of our redemption, but also in every case was our example, by some sense which it bore, having a reference to our spiritual state and duties. And this ordinance was one typifying the cleansing of the faithful soul from all uncleanness. "Grant us," we pray in the Collect, "the true circumcision of the Spirit, that our hearts and all our members being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will." Just as this ordinance was the first and necessary step in our Lord’s obeying of the law for us, so is that which it signified, the cleansing of our hearts and bodies from all impurity, the necessary condition of our serving God and obeying His holy will. Only the pure in heart shall see God. Though the effect of Christ’s obedience passed upon all men, and brought all men near to God, only those who, turning to Him with their hearts, perfect holiness in His fear, are made partakers of the divine nature, and inherit the blessedness of justification unto life. Let us, now we are beginning the duties and the faith of another year, cleanse our hands and purify our hearts: let us prove ourselves God’s peculiar people, by being zealous of good works, and enemies of all impurity, all untruthfulness, all serving of Him deceitfully and in a worldly spirit: that so our obedience may be, if not up to the measure of, at least after the pattern of Christ’s obedience: simple, earnest, pure, self-denying and self-forgetting: the blessed and acceptable fruit of faith working by love.

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine. London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

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Psalm 6

Psalm 6

“O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord—how long? Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.” (Psalm 6:1–10, ESV)

The psalmist prays for the removal of God’s chastisements, ver. 2 (1), because they have already brought him very low, ver. 3, 4 (2, 3), because the divine glory will be promoted by his rescue, ver. 5 (4), and obscured by his destruction, ver. 6 (5), and because, unless speedily relieved, he can no longer bear up under his sufferings, ver. 7, 8 (6, 7). He is nevertheless sure of the divine compassion, ver. 9 (8). His prayer is heard and will be answered, ver. 10 (9), in the defeat and disappointment of his enemies, by whose malignant opposition his distress was caused, ver. 11 (10). This reference to his enemies constitutes the link of connection between this psalm and the foregoing series, and maintains the contrast, running through that series, between two great classes of mankind, the righteous and the wicked, the subjects of Messiah and the rebels against him, the friends and foes of the theocracy, the friends and foes of David, as an individual, a sovereign, and a type of the Messiah. At the same time, this psalm differs wholly from the others in its tone of querulous but humble grief, which has caused it to be reckoned as the first of the Penitential psalms. This tone is suddenly exchanged, in ver. 9 (8), for one of confident assurance, perfectly in keeping with what goes before, and true to nature.

1. For the Chief Musician, (to be sung) with stringed instruments upon the eighth. This last word corresponds exactly to our octave; but its precise application in the ancient music we have now no means of ascertaining. An instrument of eight strings, which some suppose to be the sense, could hardly be described by the ordinal number eighth. We probably lose little by our incapacity to understand these technical expressions, while, at the same time, their very obscurity may serve to confirm our faith in their antiquity and genuineness, as parts of the original composition. This psalm, like the three which immediately precede it, describes itself as a psalm of (or by) David, belonging to David, as its author. The correctness of this statement there is as little reason to dispute in this as in either of the other cases.

2 (1). O Lord, Jehovah, do not in thine anger rebuke me, and do not in thy heat, or hot displeasure, chasten me. Both the original verbs properly denote the conviction and reproof of an offender in words, but are here, as often elsewhere, applied to providential chastisements, in which God speaks with a reproving voice. This is not a prayer for the mitigation of the punishment, like that in Jer. 10:24, but for its removal, as appears from the account of the answer in ver. 9–11 (8–10). Such a petition, while it indicates a strong faith, at the same time recognises the connection between suffering and sin. In the very act of asking for relief, the psalmist owns that he is justly punished. This may serve to teach us how far the confident tone of the preceding psalms is from betraying a self-righteous spirit, or excluding the consciousness of personal unworthiness and ill-desert. The boldness there displayed is not that of self-reliance, but of faith.

3 (2). Have mercy upon me, or be gracious unto me, O Lord, Jehovah, for drooping, languishing, am I. The original construction is, for I am (one who) droops or withers, like a blighted plant. Like a child complaining to a parent, he describes the greatness of his suffering as a reason for relieving him. Heal me, O Lord, Jehovah, for shaken, agitated with distress and terror, are my bones, here mentioned as the strength and framework of the body. This might seem to indicate corporeal disease as the whole from which he prays to be delivered. But the absence of any such allusion in the latter part of the psalm, and the explicit mention there of enemies as the occasion of his sufferings, shews that the pain of body here described was that arising from distress of mind, and which could only be relieved by the removal of the cause. To regard the bodily distress as a mere figure for internal anguish, would be wholly arbitrary and destructive of all sure interpretation. The physical effect here ascribed to moral causes is entirely natural and confirmed by all experience.

4 (3). The Psalmist himself guards against the error of supposing that his worst distresses were corporeal. And my soul, as well as my body, or more than thy body, which merely sympathizes with it, is greatly agitated, terror-stricken, the same word that was applied to the bones in the preceding verse. The description of his suffering is then interrupted by another apostrophe to God. And thou, O Lord, Jehovah, until when, how long? The sentence is left to be completed by the reader: how long wilt thou leave me thus to suffer? how long before thou wilt appear for my deliverance? This question, in its Latin form, Domine quousque, was Calvin’s favourite ejaculation in his times of suffering, and especially of painful sickness.

5 (4). The expostulatory question is now followed by direct petition. Return, O Lord, Jehovah, deliver my soul, my life, my self, from this impending death. As God seems to be absent when his people suffer, so relief is constantly described as his return to them. (Oh) save me, a still more comprehensive term than that used in the first clause, for the sake of thy mercy, not merely according to it, as a rule or measure, but to vindicate it from reproach, and do it honour, as a worthy end to be desired and accomplished.

6 (5). As a further reason for his rescue, he now urges that without it God will lose the honour, and himself the happiness, of his praises and thanksgivings. For there is not in death, or the state of the dead, thy remembrance, any remembrance of thee. In Sheol, the grave, as a general receptacle, here parallel to death, and, like it, meaning the unseen world or state of the dead, who will acknowledge, or give thanks, to thee? The Hebrew verb denotes that kind of praise called forth by the experience of goodness. The question in the last clause is equivalent to the negative proposition in the first. This verse does not prove that David had no belief or expectation of a future state, nor that the intermediate state is an unconscious one, but only that in this emergency he looks no further than the close of life, as the appointed term of thanksgiving and praise. Whatever might eventually follow, it was certain that his death would put an end to the praise of God, in that form and those circumstances to which he had been accustomed. See below, on Ps. 30:10 (9); 88:11–13 (10–12), 115:17, 18, and compare Isa. 38:18. So far is the argument here urged from being weakened by our clearer knowledge of the future state, that it is greatly strengthened by the substitution of the second or eternal death.

7 (6). I am weary in (or of) my groaning, I have become wearied with it, and unless I am relieved, I shall (still as hitherto) make my bed swim every night, my couch with tears I shall dissolve, or make to flow. The uniform translation of the verbs as presents does not bring out their full meaning, or express the idea, suggested in the Hebrew by the change of tense, that the grief which had already become wearisome must still continue without mitigation, unless God should interpose for his deliverance. Thus understood, the verse is not a mere description, but a disguised prayer.

8 (7). Mine eye has failed, grown dim, a common symptom both of mental and bodily distress, from vexation, not mere grief, but grief mixed with indignation at my enemies. It has grown old, dim like the eye of an old man, a still stronger expression of the same idea, in (the midst of) all my enemies, or in (consequence of) all my enemies, i.e. of their vexatious conduct. Compare Ps. 31:10 (9). In these two verses he resumes the description of his own distress, in order to shew that the argument in ver. 6 (5) was appropriate to his case, as that of one drawing near to death, and therefore likely soon to lose the capacity and opportunity of praising God.

9 (8). Here the key abruptly changes from the tone of sorrowful complaint to that of joyful confidence. No gradual transition could have so successfully conveyed the idea that the prayer of the psalmist has been heard, and will be answered. The effect is like that of a whisper in the sufferer’s ear, while still engrossed with his distresses, to assure him that they are about to terminate. This he announces by a direct and bold address to his persecuting enemies. Depart from me, all ye doers of iniquity, the same phrase that occurs in Ps. 5:6 (5). The sense is not that he will testify his gratitude by abjuring all communion with the wicked, but that his assurance of divine protection relieves him from all fear of his wicked foes. When God arises, then his enemies are scattered. This sense is required by the last clause of ver. 8 (7), and confirmed by a comparison with ver. 11 (10), For the Lord, Jehovah, hath heard the voice of my weeping, or my weeping voice. The infrequency of silent grief is said to be characteristic of the orientals, and the same thing may be observed in Homer’s pictures of heroic manners.

10 (9). Jehovah hath heard my supplication. The assurance of this fact relieves all fear as to the future. Jehovah my prayer will receive. The change of tense is not unmeaning or fortuitous. The combination of the past and future represents the acceptance as complete and final, as already begun, and certain to continue. The particular petition thus accepted is the one expressed or implied in the next verse.

11 (10). Ashamed and confounded, i.e. disappointed and struck with terror, shall be all my enemies. The desire that they may be is not expressed, but involved in the confident anticipation that they will be. In the second verb there is an obvious allusion to its use in ver. 3, 4 (2, 3). As he had been terror-stricken, so shall they be. As they filled him with consternation, so shall God fill them. They shall return, turn back from their assault repulsed; they shall be ashamed, filled with shame at their defeat; and that not hereafter, (in) a moment, instantaneously.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained. Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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God's Remedy for Sin

God's Remedy for Sin

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,” (Romans 8:3, ESV)

We have advanced thus far in our statement of Christian doctrine, or rather of the introduction and preliminaries to Christian doctrine. We have laid down the sinfulness of our whole nature: the manifoldness and deceitfulness of sin: the guilt and eternal consequences of sin. So far we have spoken of the disease: to-day we deal with the remedy.

Our text will furnish us in this matter with safe and sufficient guidance. It tells us of a way in which sin could not be cured: and of a way in which God has brought about its condemnation and cure.

Now remember how we have been treating sin throughout: as a taint, a disease in our nature, destructive to it, but pervading the whole of it, so that it is all sinful, all guilty, all perishing: so that it has absolutely no power to renew itself unto good or to cast out evil from itself. The witness of conscience it has: the help of God promised, and vouchsafed, we believe, even in ignorance and degradation: but this is not of itself: this depends entirely upon and flows from that Redemption of which we are to speak to-day.

Behold then man, guilty, helpless, lost. And what do we now hear of? How first does God manifest himself to him? We now first hear of a law being revealed to him. But it might be said, of what use can a law be to one who has no power to obey it? The answer is very simple: to teach him that he has no power to obey it. This was the use of the law given on Sinai. We have already seen, that one of the most fatal symptoms of the disease of sin is, a man’s unconsciousness of its presence. The sinner goes on imagining all is well; saying peace, when there is no peace. And in this ignorance he would live and die, were there not something to bring out and detect sin within him. This office the Law performed: by the Law is the knowledge of sin. But the Law had, and could have, no power whatever to overcome sin, nor to enable any man to contend with sin; any more than a command to rise up and walk could have on the man laid helpless on a bed of sickness. And this is what is meant in our text, when it is said, that the law was weak through the flesh. Its only organ of acting was, the weak, powerless, helpless flesh of man: that flesh which is infected and penetrated by the taint of sin. And let us stop as we pass by, to remark, that this same must be the case with all human systems of morality, all rules for good conduct, all discipline and codes of law: they have not, and cannot have, any power whatever to renew human nature, or to help it to overcome sin. Sin reigns in spite of them: nay sin has reigned most, and most fatally, where they have been best known, and most deeply studied, and most implicitly trusted to. All of them are just what their far greater example, God’s revealed law, was; and that is, merely a means whereby sin might be brought to light and known: means whereby the sinner might be rendered inexcusable, the proud heart might be crushed down, the dry and tearless eye might be filled with tears of repentance, and the sinner, hardened and careless before, driven to fly to God for mercy and pardon.

But here comes in a question which requires an answer, and to answer which will materially further our enquiry. "You tell us," it may be said to me, "that the law on Sinai, that every moral law, whether in the conscience, or in man’s writings and declarations, was given just to prove man guilty, and to drive him for mercy to God. But you know, and we know, and this Christmas Day reminds us, that it was not till four thousand years after man’s fall, that God’s grace and mercy was revealed to mankind by the Redemption which is in Christ. Do you mean to tell us, that the great God of compassion and goodness, who alone knew the way in which this dread disease of sin could be healed, allowed men to go on in their disease all this time without that cure, contenting Himself with making provision that they might know their guilt, and, knowing it, perish in it?" No, my brethren, nothing of the kind was the case. This Redemption by Christ, which first began its real course on the stage of this world about four thousand years after the creation, was no mere worldly course of events then first brought about,—no happy discovery then first made: it had been fixed in the divine counsels, and its glorious effects anticipated in God’s infinite loving-kindness, before the world began, before man’s sin was ever committed. Nay, all creation, the whole of this visible universe, is but a part, but a trifling portion, of this great divine scheme of Redemption. Every thing ever created, every thing that ever happened or shall happen, all these are simply elements in, contributions to, the glorious issue of the mediatorship of our Blessed Lord. All things are by Him and for Him: by him the universe holds together. And accordingly, we believe that there never was a time, in the history of man’s sin and of God’s dealing with it, when there was not opened to man a way of pardon and peace with God, through a Redeemer to come, or present, or having come. The antediluvian church, the Patriarchal church, the Jewish church,—these were in the direct track of that ray of light from above, which was to shine ever more and more unto the perfect day. By sacrifices, by types, by prophecies, the great Redeemer to come was made known to them as God saw fit for them, as they could bear and profit by the knowledge: at no time was access to God, and reconcilement, and pardon, denied to the sinner. Before the flood, Enoch walked with God, Noah was perfect in his generations, and preached righteousness: before the law, Abraham’s faith was counted to him for righteousness, Jacob wrestled with. God and prevailed, and, dying, waited for His salvation: before the Gospel, Joshua determined that as for him and his household they would serve the Lord: David, amidst grievous weakness and sin, sought pardon and found it, and was the man after God’s own heart: Hezekiah walked in all the ways of the Lord, turning not to the right nor to the left: Simeon waited, in the light of the promise of the Holy Ghost, for the consolation of Israel. And if we turn to the other nations of the earth, though the picture of man’s delinquency is dark and gloomy enough, though our knowledge of their state and opportunities is but scanty and surrounded by difficulties, yet the argument of the Apostle in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and other expressions here and there dropped in Holy Scripture, enable us safely to affirm, that God left not himself without witness even amongst them: and that no where and at no time has it been true, that man has been abandoned by God to live and die in his sins.

This reply has prepared the way for entering on the further portion of my text, which indeed forms our proper subject to-day. The Law,—any law,—could not save man from sin. But God has done what the law could not do. He has sent One into the world, whose express object, as testified by the very Name given him, is, to save his people from their sins. He sent One into the world:—and who was this? That it was no mere son of man, must be evident at first sight: any and every such person would be born with the taint of sin on him, powerless to save himself, to say nothing of others. Every such person would be a mere unit in manhood, bounded by the limits of his own responsibilities, and unable to transfer any thing or pass it on to another: so that even suppose he could save himself, that would be all. The same objection would apply to any created being whatever: and this besides, that the combining our nature with any other nature, however exalted and angelic, would not do for us that which was required to be done: no angelic being has, or can have, righteousness of his own: every such one stands by divine grace imparted, may fall by grace rejected. No such Savior could suffice for us, or could save us from our sins. Then what did God? The language of our text is very important and explicit on this point: "He sent His Own Son." There is here a peculiar and intended emphasis on the words His Own. Angels are sons of God: we are said to be sons of God: but neither angels nor men are God’s own sons; for that imports, of His very nature and essence, very God begotten of very God,—eternal as Himself,—equal to Himself. There is but One, there never was but One, of whom this term can be used. That One was in the beginning: before creation existed: in union with God, and himself God.

But the particular respecting Him with which we are now more immediately concerned is, that God sent Him into the world. The question, when? is readily answered: as on this day. The event was one which happened, and was recorded, like any other in the history of our earth. In Bethlehem, a town of Judæa, a place which may even now be visited and seen, a child was born, whom we and all Christians believe to have been, and to be now, this Son of God,—God’s own Son,—the Savior of mankind. Important as the fact is, it requires little dwelling upon by me: because it is so plain, so well understood, so universally known. But the question, how He was sent into the world, is one which does require dwelling upon: because on the rightly answering it depends our soundness in the Christian faith;—depends the fulness of our joy in believing, depends the firmness of our trust, and the acceptableness of our obedience, and the progress of our sanctification, and the measure of our heavenly glory. According as a man does or does not apprehend rightly the Christian doctrine of our Blessed Lord’s Incarnation, depends it, whether his belief will yield him full consolation in his daily want of pardon and grace, in his daily struggles with sin, in the solemn hour of death, and in the decisive day of judgment. So let us endeavor earnestly to lay hold on the truth revealed to us in this all-important matter.

God sent His own Son into our world: how? Our text tells us one most essential particular. It was in the likeness of sinful flesh: of the flesh of sin. The form in which He appeared in this world was this form of ours. He was made man. That flesh of ours, which had become tainted with sin, prone to sin, sure to commit sin,—did He take that on Him? Now observe the words of our text, and remember well what has been before said in these sermons. Remember how earnest we have been to impress upon you, that sin is not ourselves: is not our nature, but is something fatal and hostile to our nature. The Son of God took on Him our nature; became very man. He therefore took on Him our Flesh; for this tabernacle of flesh and blood is necessary to the nature of man, and none is full and very man, but those who bear it about with them. But sin is not man: sin is not necessary to our nature: sin is destructive of our nature: sin is the very negative of our nature. And for this reason, and by a reason also inherent in Himself, on account of His absolute and perfect holiness and purity, the Son of God did not, when he took our nature, take sin with it: did not, when he entered into our flesh, enter into sinful flesh. His flesh was our very flesh: it had the same attributes, the same necessities, the same pains, the same liability to death, even as had Adam before his sin: but sin it had not. He looked like sinful men: was of the same shape and form: mingled in their crowds, conversed with them, felt for them, wept when they wept, suffered as they suffer, died even as they die: but He was not sinful man, nor was His flesh sinful flesh. In Him was no sin.

But our text tells us, that besides sending Him in the likeness of sinful flesh, of that flesh which had become pervaded by sin, God sent Him into the world for sin. Sin was the reason why He came; the errand on which he was sent had regard to sin: "He was sent," says St. John, "to take away our sins:" "He himself," said the Prophet Isaiah, "bore our sins:" "He who knew no sin," says St. Paul, "became sin for us."

Now this taking away our sins He accomplished by two great things which He did: by His life, and by His death. The Apostle Paul puts this very plainly and clearly before us: "If," he says, "when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the Death of His Son, much more being reconciled we shall be saved through His Life." The whole process of this wonderful matter—how His Death reconciled us, how His Life saves us, will come before us, please God, hereafter: to-day we are concerned with the first step, leading on to both: His Incarnation—His being born into our world.

What then do we see in the event of this day; in that event which fills every Christian heart with joy, in spite of adverse circumstances,—in spite of national mourning? We see this eternal and holy Son of God, becoming man. Let us take care that we get a right apprehension of this. That clear and most valuable confession of our faith which we have used this morning, will guide us aright. "The right faith is that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man: God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and man, of the substance of His mother, born in the world: perfect God and perfect man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting: equal to the Father, as touching His Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching His manhood. Who although he be God and Man: yet He is not two, but one Christ (i.e. not two persons, not two Christs, but veritably and only one Person and one Christ): one, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God"—that is, when he united the Godhead and the Manhood in Himself, becoming God and man and still remaining one Person, He did it, not by sinking, as it were, the Son of God into the Son of Man, becoming a human Person and ceasing to be a divine Person: but by the very opposite: by continuing to be the divine Person which He was from all eternity, and into that divine Personality taking the nature of Man. And then the Creed in its next verse further explains the same by saying, "One altogether: not by confusion of substance"—not by mingling together in a confused manner that which constituted the Godhead and that which constituted the Manhood: "but," it goes on, "by unity of Person:" by the divine Son of God entering, with all His Divinity entire, into our nature: taking it on Him, as St. Augustine excellently says, "from the very highest boundary of the rational soul down to the very lowest boundary of the animal body."

Now, my dear brethren, let not these considerations seem to you dry refinements of technical theology. They are, I assure you, far otherwise. They are statements of great doctrines, on which rest the very foundations of our Christian life: and I could not make to you this year what I am very anxious to make, a full and clear statement of the doctrines which form the faith of the Church of Christ, if I did not thus try to lay them out and explain them.

It is only left for us now to shew, how thus the foundation is laid for the Redemption of our race and its restoration to righteousness. The Son of God has become Man: our nature is united to the Godhead. A new and righteous seed is implanted in it: a second and perfect Head is granted. The first Adam was tried and fell: but this new Adam shall be tried and shall gloriously conquer. The first Adam, being created liable to Death, lost by sin the means of escaping death, and bound it as a lasting curse on himself and his posterity: the second Adam, also born liable to death, was pleased to become obedient even unto death for our sakes; thus condemning sin, the cause of death, in our flesh. The first Adam brought the penalty of his sin on us, the Head on the members: the second Adam suffered the penalty of our sin for us, the Head for the members. Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life: for to believe on Him is to be united to Him, and to do as He has done, and to go where He is: and He did not perish, but rose up out of death, and was glorified, and when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of God.

It is His Birth into our world which we celebrate to-day. It is the day which the church has set apart as the Birthday of Christ. It is for us a day of joy, as it ought to be. Shall we not rejoice, that our deadly wound is healed—that there is pardon and peace provided for the guilty sons of men? And it need not be surprising to any, that this our joy is not confined to devotional exercises of prayer and praise, but spreads itself over our social life, and is, even by faithful Christian men, celebrated outwardly and visibly, in mirth and gladness peculiar to the season. To forbid such manifestations, would be surely to forget that He who took our whole nature upon Him, came to bless it not in one part only, but altogether: came to make our desert rejoice and blossom as the rose: and to hallow even those bodily recreations and enjoyments which sin has polluted and marred. To keep Christmas by excess and licentiousness, is to profane it, and to insult Him whose birth we profess to honor: to shew ourselves to have no part nor lot in Him who was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil. But to keep it in peace and good-will and hearty thankfulness, gathering our families about us, and making what cheer we may, to keep an English Christmas, open-hearted and open-hearthed, this is not to dishonor Him, but to do as He would have us, who rose as our day-star, that we might walk in His light; who left us His words and triumphed for us, that our joy might be full: at whose birth angels from heaven sung peace on earth among men of good-will.

With such joy as this no deep religious feeling need be inconsistent, no time of prayer need be incongruous, no note of praise discordant: with such joy as this not even times of national grief need interfere. For is it not this day’s birth which has taken the sting from death? is there not to-day, even for the bereaved and weeping, the joyous cry, "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given?" is not this the day above all others which calls back again, and places by our sides those who have gone before us? which fills up the gaps in families, and brings round us our long-parted friends? the day which carries our thoughts onward to that great second birth, when He who sitteth on the Throne shall make all things new?

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine. London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

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Psalm 5

Psalm 5

“To the choirmaster: for the flutes. A Psalm of David. Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you. Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me. For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue. Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you. But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.” (Psalm 5:title–12, ESV)

The Psalmist prays for the divine help, ver. 2 (1), on the ground that Jehovah is his King and his God, ver. 3 (2), that he early and constantly invokes his aid, ver. 4 (3), that the enemies, from whom he seeks to be delivered, are the enemies of God, ver. 5, 6 (4, 5), and as such must inevitably perish, ver. 7 (6), while he, as the representative of God’s friends, must be rescued, ver. 8 (7). He then goes over the same ground afresh, asking again to be protected from his enemies, ver. 9 (8), again describing them as desperately wicked, ver. 10 (9), again appealing to God’s justice to destroy them, ver. 11 (10), and again anticipating certain triumph, ver. 12 (11), on the ground of God’s habitual and uniform dealing with the righteous, ver. 13 (12). As the two preceding psalms appear to constitute a pair, so this one seems to contain such a pair or double psalm within itself. It is also obvious that this is but a further variation of the theme which runs through the preceding psalms, and therefore an additional proof that their arrangement in the book is not fortuitous or arbitrary. If ver. 4 (3) of this psalm be supposed to mark it as a morning hymn, its affinity to the two before it becomes still more close and striking.

1. To (or for) the Chief Musician. See above on Ps. 4:1. To (or for) Nehiloth. This, though undoubtedly a part of the original inscription, is obscure and enigmatical. Its very obscurity indeed may be regarded as a proof of its antiquity and genuineness. Some understand it to mean flutes or wind-instruments in general, as Neginoth, in the title of the fourth psalm, means stringed instruments. The sense would then be: (to be sung) to (an accompaniment of) flutes or wind-instruments. But as the Hebrew word is nowhere else used in this sense, and the preposition here employed is not the one prefixed to names of instruments, and flutes are nowhere mentioned as a part of the temple music, others make Nehiloth the name of a tune, or of another song to the melody of which this was to be adapted: (to be sung) to (the air of) Nehiloth. Others follow the ancient version in making it refer, not to the musical performance, but the subject of the psalm: (as) to inheritances, lots, or destinies, viz. those of the righteous and the wicked. This is favored by the circumstance, that most of the other enigmatical inscriptions of the psalms may be more probably explained as having reference to their theme or subject than in any other manner. The title closes, as in the foregoing psalm, by ascribing it to David as its author. Nor is there anything, as we shall see, to militate against the truth of this inscription.

2 (1). To my words, O Lord, Jehovah, give ear, perceive my thought. Attend not only to my vocal and audible petitions, but to my unexpressed desires, to those "groanings which cannot be uttered," but are no less significant to God than language (Rom. 8:26, 27). The second verb suggests the idea of attention, as well as that of simple apprehension.

3 (2). Hearken to the voice of my crying, or my cry for help, to which the Hebrew word is always specially applied. My king and my God, not as a mere creator and providential ruler, but as the covenant God and king of Israel, whom David represented. As he was himself the king of Israel, so God was his king, the lord paramount or sovereign, in whose right he reigned. This address involves a reason why his prayer must be heard. God, as the king of his people, could not deny them his protection, and they asked no other. For to thee, and thee only, will I pray. As if he had said, It is in this capacity that I invoke thee, and I therefore must be heard. This is a specimen of that παῤῥησία, or freedom of speech towards God, which is recognized as an effect and evidence of faith, in the New as well as the Old Testament, Heb. 4:16, 10:19, 35; 1 John 2:28, 3:21, 4:17, 5:14.

4 (3). O Lord, Jehovah, (in) the morning thou shalt hear my voice. This is not so much a request to be heard as a resolution to persist in prayer. The reference may be either to stated hours of prayer or to early devotion as a proof of earnestness and faith. See Ps. 55:18 (17), 88:14 (13.) (In) the morning I will set (my prayer) in order, to (or for) thee. There is here a beautiful allusion to the Mosaic ritual, which is unavoidably lost in a translation. The Hebrew verb is the technical term used in the Old Testament to signify the act of arranging the wood upon the altar (Gen. 22:9, Lev. 1:7, 1 Kings 18:33), and the shewbread on the table (Exod. 40:23, Lev. 24:6, 8). It would therefore necessarily suggest the idea of prayer as an oblation, here described as a kind of morning sacrifice to God. And I will look out, or watch, for an answer to my prayers. The image presented is that of one looking from a wall or tower in anxious expectation of approaching succor. A similar use of the same verb occurs in Hab. 2:1, and Micah 7:7. True faith is not contented with the act of supplication, but displays itself in eager expectation of an answer.

5 (4). Here, as elsewhere, the Psalmist identifies his cause with God’s, and anticipates the downfall of his enemies because they are sinners and therefore odious in God’s sight. For not a God delighting in wickedness (art) thou, as might appear to be the case if these should go unpunished. It is necessary, therefore, for the divine honor, that they should not go unpunished. Not with thee, as thy guest or friend, shall evil, or the bad (man), dwell. For an opposite use of the same figure, see below, Ps. 15:1, 61:5 (4). It is still implied, that the impunity of sinners would appear as if God harbored and abetted them, and therefore must be inconsistent with his honor as a holy God.

6 (5). What was said in the preceding verse of sin is here, to prevent misapprehension, said of sinners. They shall not stand, the proud, or insolent, here put for wicked men in general and for the Psalmist’s enemies in particular, before thine eyes. Thou canst not bear the presence of thy moral opposites. Sin is not only opposed to God’s will, but repugnant to his nature. By ceasing to hate it, he would cease to be holy, cease to be perfect, cease to be God. This idea is expressed more directly in the other clause. Thou hast hated, and must still hate, all doers of iniquity. This last word is originally a negative, meaning inanity or nonentity, but like several other negatives in Hebrew, is employed as a strong term to denote moral deficiency and worthlessness.

7 (6). As the preceding verse extends what was said of sin in the abstract to personal offenders, so here what was said of the divine dispositions is applied to divine acts. That which God hates he must destroy. Particular classes of transgressors are here put, as before, by way of specimen or sample, for the whole; with special reference, however, to the sins of David’s enemies. Thou wilt destroy speakers of falsehood; see above, on Ps. 4:3 (2). A man of blood, literally bloods, the plural form being commonly used where there is reference to blood-guiltiness or murder. See Gen. 4:10, 11; Ps. 51:16 (14). A man of blood and fraud, a bloody and deceitful man, the Lord, Jehovah, will abhor; he must and will shew his abhorrence by the punishment of such offenders. This confident anticipation of God’s righteous retributions really involves a prayer for the deliverance of the Psalmist from his enemies.

8 (7). For the same reason he is equally confident in the anticipation of his own deliverance. Since his enemies must perish as the enemies of God, he must escape, not on account of his own merit, nor simply as an object of God’s favor, but as the champion of his cause, his earthly vicegerent, the type and representative of his Messiah. And I, as distinguished from these sinners, in the abundance of thy mercy, which excludes all reliance on his own strength or goodness, will come to thy house, the tabernacle set up on Mount Zion by David. I will worship, literally prostrate or bow myself, towards thy temple of holiness, thy holy temple, or rather palace, so called as the residence of Israel’s divine King, and therefore no less applicable to the tabernacle than the temple. See 1 Sam. 1:9, 3:3, Ps. 27:4, 28:2. Towards, not in, because the worshippers did not go into the sanctuary itself, but worshipped in the court, with their faces turned towards the place of God’s manifested presence. Such usages are now superseded by the advent of the true sanctuary. See above, on Ps. 3:5 (4). In thy fear, the reverence engendered even by the view and the experience of God’s mercy. There may be an allusion in this verse to David’s painful sense of his exclusion from the house of God (2 Sam. 15:25); but it cannot be merely an anticipation of renewed access to the sanctuary, which was equally open to all others, and could not therefore be used to indicate the contrast between his condition and that of others. The verse is rather an engagement to acknowledge God’s delivering mercy in the customary manner. See below, Ps. 66:13. As if he had said, While my enemies perish by the hand of God, I shall be brought by his mercy to give thanks for my deliverance at his sanctuary.

9 (8). The Psalmist here begins his prayer and argument anew, pursuing the same order as before. O Lord, Jehovah, lead me, guide me safely, in thy righteousness, i.e. in the exercise of that same justice which destroys my enemies, on account of my enemies, that they may not triumph; make straight before my face thy way, i.e. mark out a safe and easy path for me to tread. The explanation of the way as that of duty and obedience, although not at variance with scriptural usage, is less suited to the context here, in which the prayer throughout is for protection and deliverance.

10 (9). The same reason as before is now assigned for his deliverance from his enemies, viz. because they were the enemies of God, and they were such because they were atrocious sinners. For there is nothing in his mouth, i.e. the mouth of any one of them, or of all concentrated in one ideal person, sure or certain, i.e. true. Their inside, their heart, their real disposition, as distinguished from the outward appearance, (is) mischiefs, injuries, or crimes, consists of nothing else. A grave opened, to receive the victim, (is) their throat, like that of a devouring monster. Or the throat may be mentioned as an organ of speech, as in Ps. 149:6, 115:7, and compared with the grave as a receptacle of corruption or a place of destruction. Their tongue they smooth, or make smooth, by hypocrisy or flattery, as the wicked woman is said to make her words smooth, Prov. 2:16, 7:5. The Septuagint version of this clause is quoted by Paul (Rom. 3:13), with several other passages from the Old Testament, as a strong description of human depravity. The last words are rendered in that version, "with their tongues they have used craft or deceit," an idea really included in the literal translation.

11 (10). Condemn them, literally make them guilty, i.e. recognise and treat them as such, O God! They shall fall, i.e. they must, they cannot but fall, a common figure for destruction (Ps. 36:13, 141:10), from their plans, i.e., before they can accomplish them, or in consequence, by means of them. (Compare Hos. 11:6). In the fulness, or abundance, of their sins, thrust them forth, cast them out from thy presence, and down from their present exaltation. For they have rebelled against thee, not me, or against me only as thy instrument and representative. Or the opposition may be between rebelling against God and simply sinning against man. The imperative and future forms, in this verse, both express the certainty of the event, with an implication of approving acquiescence. Such expressions, in the Psalms, have never really excited or encouraged a spirit of revenge in any reader, and are no more fitted to have that effect than the act of a judge who condemns a criminal to death, or of the officer who executes the sentence. The objections often urged against such passages are not natural, but spring from over-refinement and a false view of the Psalms as expressions of mere personal feeling. See below, on Ps. 7:13 (12).

12 (11). The transition and contrast are the same as in ver. 8 (7) above. While the wicked perish, the righteous shall have cause for everlasting joy. And all (those) trusting in thee, making thee their refuge, shall be glad; for ever shall they shout (or sing) for joy, and (not without cause, for) thou wilt cover over (or protect) them; and in thee, in thy presence and thy favour, shall exult, or triumph, (the) lovers of thy name, i.e. of thy manifested excellence, which is the usual sense of this expression in the Old Testament. The believers and lovers of God’s name, here spoken of, are not merely friends of the psalmist who rejoice in his deliverance, but the great congregation of God’s people, to which he belonged, and of which he was the representative, so that his deliverance was theirs, and a rational occasion of their joy, not only on his account but on their own.

13 (12). The confident hope expressed in the foregoing verse was not a groundless or capricious one, but founded on the nature of God and the uniform tenor of his dispensations. The psalmist knows what God will do in this case, because he knows what he does and will do still in general. For thou wilt bless, and art wont to bless, the righteous, the opposite of those described in ver. 5–7 (4–6) and 10, 11 (9, 10), O Lord, Jehovah! Like the shield, as the shield protects the soldier (so with) favour thou wilt surround him, or enclose him, still referring to the righteous; see the same comparison in Ps. 3:4 (3.) The confident assertion that God will do so, implies that he has done so, and is wont to do so, to the righteous as a class. And this affords a reasonable ground for the belief, expressed in the preceding verse, that he will do so also in the present case.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained. Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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The Guild and Consequence of Sin

The Guilt and Consequence of Sin

“Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4, ESV)

The guilt and consequence of sin,—these form our subject to-day. May God give us grace to consider it aright. In order to this, we must bear firmly in mind one most important fact. Sin dwells in us,—works in us,—prevails too often over us: but sin is not ourselves. Sin is no more a man’s self, than the disease is the patient. "It is not I," says St. Paul, "but sin that dwelleth in me." And this is closely connected with what I maintained in the first of these sermons; that the evil to which we are prone by the disease of our nature is not any thing necessary or natural to us, but something both hateful and hurtful. It is not our nature, but is destructive of our nature. And yet, at the same time, the tendency to evil which leads to sin is so universal, and our nature is so penetrated by it, that to separate man from sin is for man impossible. The taint is at our root, and every branch shares in it. It is not a mere act or set of acts; but a state, a condition of spiritual disease. The new-born babe, who never committed sin, is yet sinful, and it is certain to commit sin, as soon as its faculties begin to unfold themselves. Original or birth-sin is not merely a doctrine in religion; it is a fact in man’s world, acknowledged by all, whether religious or not. Let a man be providing for an unborn child in case of distribution of worldly property; he will take care to bind him by conditions and covenants which shall guard against his fraudulently helping himself to that which he is to hold for or to apportion to another. He never saw that child: he does not know but that child may be the most pure and perfect of men: but he knows it will not be safe to put temptation in his way, because he knows he will be born in sin, and liable to sin, and sure to commit sin.

Now the guilt of sin is a very important matter: and if you will give me your attention, you will at once see that the unbeliever, who denies the guilt of sin because it is a disease tainting our whole nature, has no ground to stand upon. If God had given us no means of resisting sin: if sin were identical with all our convictions and tendencies and desires, then sin would be equally destructive of our happiness and of our nature as it is now, but there would be no guilt in us personally: no one could find fault with us for falling victims to that which we should be powerless to withstand. We should be objects of pity, not of blame. But how different is this now. We have conscience, ever protesting against sin: the written law of God, guiding and enlightening the conscience: and more than all that, the great Redemption which is by Christ, providing a full and sufficient escape from and cure of the fatal disease.

Now you see, wherein consists the guilt of sin: why it is that though born in sin, and prone to sin, I yet am a guilty creature if I sin. It is because sin is not myself, but my enemy: because I know it to be my enemy. Wherever this knowledge is present,—and it is present in some degree in every son and daughter of Adam,—there is, speaking generally, no excuse for sin: it is known to be wrong, and he who falls into it is a guilty person. And observe, that in the just government of God, this guilt varies according to the degree of light and knowledge. The poor heathen, the very savage, has some light of conscience, however dim and insufficient. The Christian has the full light of God’s revelation of Himself in the face of Jesus Christ. Between the savage who lives in sin, and the Christian who lives in sin, the difference of degree of guilt is immense. It will hereafter be made manifest in the case of many a Christian, that it would have been well for him if he had lived and died a poor ignorant heathen. It shall be more tolerable in the day of judgment for the lowest and most degraded of our race, than for us, the favored of God, if we repent not, and serve Him with our hearts.

From guilt, we are naturally led on to punishment. If the sinner is guilty, what will happen to him? Now to any of you who have intelligently followed me, it will be plain, that I have not put this question exactly in the form in which we must first answer it. It will be evident, that the punishment of sin will not be in proportion merely to personal guilt, but to the mischief which it works on our nature. Our whole nature is diseased and perishing: and if I encourage the disease, and give it opportunity, and way, and power over me, then my punishment will be, not only just retribution for that my undoubted and inexcusable guilt,—but also the consequence, whatever that may be, of the prevalence and history of the dread disease itself. And notice, that in the Christian man this also is a direct punishment for personal guilt. He knew the cure, and he did not apply it. He chose to perish, and he perishes accordingly.

But now, you see, two questions rise before us. What is the consequence of sin, unchecked, encouraged, prevailing, pervading a man’s being? This is the first: and the second is, What have we reason to think will be God’s punishment for one who has allowed sin thus to conquer him? Will it be simply the consequences of the malady, or will it be something else, over and above them?

Let us apply ourselves to the former question. We said in our first sermon, that sin was, entering into evil:—thinking, saying, doing that which is bad. We have simply to enquire then, what is the effect on us of thinking, saying, doing that which is bad? Let me ask any one of you, what do you suppose you were made for? I imagine the general answer will be, or will amount to this: "Our Maker must be good and beneficent, and must have made His creatures to be happy. And if He has given us powers and faculties above His other creatures, it must be because He wills that we should aim at, and reach, a higher degree of happiness than His other creatures." This reply which I have put into your mouths, is, as far as we are concerned, undoubtedly the right one. God made us to be happy, to strive after happiness to the highest reach of our faculties and powers. Well, now let me ask again; How do you suppose that happiness is to be attained? Is it to be a happiness gained by the pampering of the body, by giving scope to the lower appetites and passions? If so, why were we endowed with reason, and conscience, and desires after higher and better things? Go a step further:—Is it a happiness to be served by the indulgence of present temper and feeling,—by the lust of wealth and of power, by serving a man’s own narrow interests, and earthly purposes? If so, again, how is it that such present indulgence constantly and proverbially does not bring with it happiness, does not bring satisfaction; but the man who gives way to it is ever casting it aside as worthless, ever seeking something beyond it; and the man who goes on for years giving way to it becomes at last a miserable disappointed creature, a burden to himself and all around him? Surely this cannot be the way to happiness. And if not, what is? Is it not this,—to flee from evil and seek good? Is not the man who does this as a principle, as a habit, is not this man every where and at all times the happy man? Has he not a happiness which the world with its varying circumstances cannot touch: which outward and seeming misery cannot deprive him of: which survives in the midst of desolation, of persecution, of sickness: which is not diminished but increased by that which to other men is the height of misery, the approach of death itself? And if this be so, if to depart from evil, if to fight with and overcome sin, be the way, and the only way, to real happiness, what do you suppose is the consequence of evil cherished, sin practiced and followed, sin overcoming the man and leading the man captive, and triumphing over him? What can it be, but misery and ruin?

Look at its course; watch its progress. Let us try to enliven a dull but necessary argument by setting an example before you. Some matter is proposed to a man which he knows to be wrong—knows to be sinful. But it is very tempting; it will serve his interests; it will add to his means; it will increase his comforts; it will help his family after him. He stands at the parting of the two ways: duty, with toil and privation, with humble means for many a year; sin, with ease and competence, with worldly plenty and worldly consideration. One thought, nay not a thought, an intuition, a flash of irresistible Light, tells him in a moment which path he ought to choose. But he hesitates, he parleys with the enemy, he looks twice and thrice, and he makes up his mind: he grasps the present advantage: he casts away the protest of conscience, and the dread verdict of the certain future, and he adopts the sinful course.

Now the question for us is, what has this man done? what has happened to him? First, he certainly is not a better man; he is, in our common language, a worse man than he was before. And what meaning is there in these words, a worse man? O what is there not, that is miserable, that is deadly to all health, that is fatal to all happiness? His sin has put him further from good: he has descended a step from God and from happiness. And what is the consequence, I ask again? What further is in store for him? Can he rest where he is? Having made this compromise with evil, can he say "Just thus much I find necessary to my comfort, to my advantage, and here I will stop? I cannot have the full field of goodness for my course—I have barred myself out of part of it, but within the limits which remain I will be a good man?" Ah, my brethren, this may not be. Many and many a sinner tries it; jealously fencing round his reputation, taking credit for all that he does or says that looks like good, keenly resenting any charge on his fair name. But alas, he who lets in evil into his practice, is letting in a wild ocean to which no man may say "Hitherto and no further." He is a worse man. Not only part of his good is gone, but all his good is marred, is poisoned; his heart is no longer simple, it is divided; he is become a hypocrite, an actor of a part before men; he has a dark corner which he does not want the world to see into,—a locked closet at the door of which he keeps watch with fear and trembling, lest any discover its contents. And if this before men, O what before God? Ah, my brethren, when and as long as a man makes an agreement with evil, fosters evil, lives by evil, there is no more God for him; prayer, praise, the sacraments, God’s word, God’s house, God’s ministers, God’s people, these have all become for him nauseous things, unwelcome reminders whence he has fallen: for appearance sake he goes to church, he even presents himself, sad to say, at the Table of the Lord,—because if he did not, neighbors would question, friends would drop off, customers would forsake him; but he hates all such things; and he hesitates not, when he thinks himself safe, and worldly interests not at stake, to unburden his pent-up thoughts by shewing his hatred. The fact is, he has chosen that God shall be his enemy; and he cannot bear to face the terrible fact: and so he wants to forget Him, and not to have the thought of Him ever making him miserable.

And from this to the life of the scorner and blasphemer there is but a very short step, and one which few can resist taking. Almost all such characters among us, almost all those who are bold against God, questioning His word, despising His ordinances, are not men whose unbelief is their misfortune, an unhappy turn of mind, or a conscientious form of doubt: they are ever, it is true, ready enough to take refuge under this: but almost all of them are men whose unbelief has become a miserable necessity to them by reason of their choosing to live in and to live by sin: so that a professed unbeliever of correct life is a very rarity in nature. But whether in profession or not, in heart the sinner is an unbeliever and a hater of God.

And then further; how does this state proceed, supposing it unrepented of? Life is full of new temptations, ever arising: and in such a life, the enemy who has gained one victory is not likely to relax his assaults: he who consents to sin, draws on him sin, as Holy Scripture has it, with a cart-rope: conscience, once overborne and silenced, speaks fainter next time, fainter still the time after, soon scarce audibly, after a while not at all. And so the sinner becomes hardened in his sins, more and more lost to true inward shame, less and less able to disentangle his feet from the net thrown round him: to conceal one sin, others have become necessary, and more again to varnish over those, until to stir without sinning has become well nigh impossible: he has to ask leave of evil, to let him speak or act at all. So life speeds on, and life’s end stands before him, and the new and final state has to be entered. God, whom he has so long striven not to know, is unsought by repentance. He goes out of the world as he lived in the world; and what is his state then?

Remember we are confining ourselves at present to the mere consequences of his sinful life, irrespective of any actual infliction of divine wrath. What is his state, do we ask? what can it be, but what it was here, only with every deceit laid open, and every door of hope shut? God he hated and fled from; and the joy of that state is the shining of God’s countenance: what has he to do with that? Good he deliberately refused: the delight of the blessed is to be purely good, to do nought but good, to bask in the beams of His light who is Good itself: what has he to do with this, or with them? What can the inward state of such a soul be but an enduring and living death?

Did we ever reflect on the terrible meaning of those words, eternal death? What is more dreadful to us here, than the process, the act, of bodily death? The great relief from our thoughts of it is, that it is short: it is the anguish of an hour, or of a few hours; or if it is prolonged to a day, or more than that, the announcement is terrible; "two days dying"—we shrink from the very mention of so distressing a fate. And why? Why, but because it is a time of sharp agony and fierce contention of hostile powers in man’s expiring frame: life struggling to continue, decay holding its own, and increasing its domain; the soul in dire apprehension, or at least in unknown conflict? And if this be so, if the prolongation of bodily death even for a short time be dreadful, what must be the eternal death of the soul—all its marvelous powers, no longer dulled by the world and the flesh, at wild variance with one another; self-accusation and remorse for ever inwardly working, conscience no longer to be silenced, but speaking too late,—all the elements which should have contributed to happiness made, by the poisoning power of sin, ingredients in ineffable misery? And there is no reason to think that state on the other side to be a passing one, as this is, or to be a preparation for another; every thing tells us that it is final, prefaced and determined by this present condition of trial. Sin here, earns death there; not annihilation, not a change into some further state, but the never-ending break up, and confusion, and unspeakable terror, and dismay, and dejection, and despair, of the guilty and corrupted soul.

We have however yet another question to ask and answer. Such are the consequences of sin in a man: so destructive, so irreparable, so final. But is this all? Are these natural consequences of sin the whole punishment which it will bring? If it consisted merely in acts done against our own happiness, this might be so: but recollect a moment what sin is. We explained it, after the Apostle St. John, as being transgression of God’s law. Now can we suppose that a just and almighty Lawgiver would make laws for His creatures which He knows to be for their welfare, promulgate them with all the sublime manifestations of His majesty, as of old on Sinai,—or with those of His infinite love, as by the mouth of Him who spake as never man spake,—can we suppose that He would do this, and then leave mankind, if they broke His laws, simply with the risk of the consequences upon them, as if those laws had never been thus made known? Is no penalty due to that God whom all sinners offend? Nor are we left to answer this question by our own speculations. God has again and again declared, that He will punish the sinner: that there are special punishments prepared for all who live and die in sin: punishments to which all the consequences of the sin itself, bad as they are, are as nothing in proportion. Holy Scripture exhausts the most terrible images in language and thought to make this clear to us.

But first, before them all, the plain words of our text demand our consideration, as announcing a punishment for sin, which is to be coextensive with its guilt: viz. that of death. There can be no doubt that bodily death in its present form as existing in our race, is the punishment of our sin,—the consequence of our sinful state. Whether we have any right to carry this further, and to say that death would not have come into the world at all but for man’s sin, is very doubtful: Scripture gives no authority for such an idea, and the appearances presented by nature are against it. But as now inflicted on all mankind, we are expressly told that death is the punishment of sin. There can indeed be little doubt that man, as he came from the hands of his Creator, was liable to death. This the Apostle Paul clearly shews us, when he declares that the first man was "of the earth, earthy:" this argument, and the propriety of the words "Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return," apply just as much to man before his sin as after it. But from a hint given in the third chapter of Genesis, it would appear, that had man remained pure and upright in Eden, the mysterious use of the tree of life would have wrought in him immortality and raised his body out of the power of decay. From this use however he was specially excluded on account of his sin. "Lest he put forth his hand and take of the tree of life and eat, and live for ever," a guard was placed which barred his access to that tree. So that death in us, with all its preceding evils, disease, weakness, pain, terror, and all its succeeding miseries, mourning, lamentation and woe, is the special punishment, by God’s own declaration, of our sin. We are sinful: therefore we die. And from this portion of sin’s punishment, no son or daughter of Adam is exempt. So entirely and of course is the whole of our nature subjected to it, that He who took that nature on him free from sinfulness either transmitted or personal, yet took it with this penalty attached to it, and became subject to all the approaches of death, and finally to death itself. It will come before us further on in our course to shew, how He by His death took the curse out of bodily death, and made it to us as nothing to them that believe in Him: it may be enough now to mention the blessed fact, and that by way of contrast: that we may be better able to declare that on them who live and die in sin, on the unbelievers in Christ, and the unworthy members of Christ, Death still retains all his hold and inflicts all his terrors. To them, death is not only the dissolution of the body, but the eternal misery of the soul: the state of the abiding wrath of God, from which there is for them no escape.

Thus much, my brethren, are we bound to believe, thus much to impress upon you, as to the consequence and punishment of sin. And all this is the deserved lot of every one among us; though by God’s infinite mercy in Christ, which we have yet to unfold, it will be the actual lot only of those who refuse His offers of grace, and prefer the service of sin to His service. The progress of that wonderful Redemption which He has wrought out, will open before us in that which we have to say on the morning of the approaching great Christmas Festival.

Meantime let us earnestly lay to heart the deadly nature, and the grievous peril, of sin. Our Collect to-day teaches us to confess that "through our sins and wickedness we are sorely let and hindered in running the race that is set before us." May we not only say this to-day and during the week, but may we every one of us deeply feel it: by searching and knowing our own peculiar faults and infirmities, by watching and praying against them, by ever living closer to Him whose bountiful grace and mercy can alone help and deliver us.

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine. London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

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Where's That Smile

Where's That Smile

A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit. The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.All the days of the oppressed are wretched but the cheerful heart has a continual feast. Proverbs 15:13-15 NIV Bible Gateway

How you feeling today? Grumpy, angry, alone, scared? Why not try to give those emotions over to God and exchange them for a big beautiful smile. 

Smiling and laughing is proven to be good for you and not bad to those on receiving end being blessed with a happy face. Now that many places are being able to take off masks that beautiful smile can shine through mightily! 

It is so much easier to be cheerful than gloomy. Of course there are situations where sadness is not an option such as in death of a friend or family member or pet. But as you go about day to day try your best to be cheerful even when you don’t feel like it. 

PRAYER: I like to smile and bring joy to others. Even those people at stoplights asking for handouts can use a smile and eye contact sometimes. Share Christ love with a smile! In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Becky Juett Miller

God's Lemonade Stand

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