Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says Yahweh of Hosts. Zechariah 4:6
Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in! Who is this King of Glory?
Yahweh of Hosts: He is the King of Glory. Psalm 24:9-10
"Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity,
and purify unto Himself a peculiar people."
We have seen in former sermons on the preceding context that the Apostle has been setting forth the appearing of the grace of God as having for its great purpose the production of a holy and godly character and conduct. In these words which close the section he returns substantially to the same theme, only, as a great composer will do with some favorite musical movement, he repeats it in a somewhat different key and with variations. The variations are mainly two. Instead of the more general and less definite expression 'the grace of God has appeared,' he now specifies the precise act in which that grace did appear. 'He gave Himself for us.' Christ's self-sacrifice is the 'appearing of the grace of God.' The diffused flame is gathered into a focus, and thus concentrated it has appeared to melt hearts. Then there is a second variation in the treatment of the theme here, and that is that the actor is different. In the former case it was 'we' who, trained by 'the appearing of the grace,' were to deny ourselves and 'live soberly, righteously, and godly.' Here it is 'He' who redeems and purifies us by His gift of Himself. He and we, the human and the divine, cooperate. If we 'deny ourselves' and 'live soberly, righteously, and godly,' it is because He 'has redeemed us.' If He has purified us, it is in the measure in which we deny ourselves and yield ourselves to His influences. And so the two views stereoscope and become a solid reality.
Now then, there are three points to which I would turn especially in the words before us--Christ's great self-bestowment, Christ's great emancipation, Christ's great acquisition. 'He gave Himself,' the great self-bestowment; 'that He might redeem us,' the great emancipation; 'and purify unto Himself a people for a possession,' the great acquisition.
1. First, then, the great self-bestowment.
'He gave Himself,' the supreme token of love everywhere, the natural expression of love everywhere. We know inferior instances of the same sort, and they make the very salt of life. The most self-engrossed recognizes their nobility, and the most cold-blooded thrills at the sight. We know what it is for benefactors, and well-wishers, and enthusiasts of all sorts to yield up themselves joyfully for some great cause not their own, or for some persons who appeal to their hearts. The one noble thing in the devilish trade of war is that there sometimes we can see men flinging their lives away gladly in the thrill of devotion to the cause for which they fight. In the narrower regions of our hearts and homes, happy husbands and wives, mothers to their children, know what it is joyfully to give themselves away.
All these illustrations do help us, but they help us only a very little bit along the road to understand that supreme and transcendent gift of a self of which Paul is speaking here as the basis of all nobleness in the characters of man. After we have traveled as far as any human illustration or analogy will help us, we are still infinitely far from that great fact. They lead us along the road, but it is not only a question of traveling along a road, it is a question of springing from the furthest point attained up into the very heaven itself, for this gift is unique and to be paralleled by naught beside.
It began earlier; the initial step was when 'the Word became flesh.' There was one Man who willed to be Man, and whose not being 'ashamed to call us brethren,' and taking upon Himself part of the children's flesh and blood, was the supreme instance of condescending self-abandonment and bestowment. It began earlier; it went deeper; for not only is His self-surrender unstained by the smallest self-regard, as is manifest by the records of His life, but it goes down deep and deep and deep into such an utter gift of Himself as no mere human beneficence can ever emulate or even approximate to. And it brought with it heavier burdens and deeper sorrows, which culminated in that great act which, by its very greatness, has sometimes led men to separate it from the life of which it was the climax and superlative degree, and to declare that only in His death does the Lord give Himself for the life of the world; whereas the life among men, with all its pains of contact, with all its pains of sympathy, with all its self-oblivion, was as really a part of Christ's giving Himself to the world as was even that death upon the Cross by which the gift was perfected and sealed. So then, brethren, whilst we thankfully accept the analogies which lead us a little way, let us never forget that in this matter degree is not the only difference, and quality as well as quantity are unlike.
But mark the other word. 'He gave Himself for us.' Now the Apostle here uses a word which does not imply 'instead of,' but 'for our behoof [benefit].' He is not for the moment dwelling upon the way in which that gift benefits--that comes in the next clause--but simply upon the fact that it does benefit. And Christ gave Himself--in a way to be subsequently declared--for the advantage of whoever may be included in the 'us.' And who are the 'us'? Paul was talking to Titus, and was including with him these Cretan Christians, none of whom had ever been seen by or seen Jesus. So that 'us' is universal, and includes all humanity. But it does more than that. Jesus Christ's giving of Himself to us was no indefinite gift of a general beneficence, which had no knowledge of or feeling towards the individual units that make up the company. But as I venture to believe--and as I would press upon you to consider, whether our Christian conception of Jesus Christ as the Incarnate Word does not necessarily carry with it--the human heart of Christ loved each unit of the mass, that the divine eye separated and distinguished. We cannot 'see the wood for the trees.' We generalize our beneficence, and we lose sight of the individuals that are to be benefited by it. Who of us can specify the single souls or bodies that may be helped by our contributions to a fund for dealing with some general disaster? But Jesus Christ takes men one-by-one, and 'He gave Himself for us' because 'He gave Himself for me,' and you, and you, and all the single souls that make up mankind. Each was in His loving desire a recipient of the gift.
Brethren, I venture to assert, though it is impossible for me to go on here at any length to establish the assertion, that this conception of a Christ who not merely spoke, and was gentle and gracious, and the type of excellence and the realized ideal of human perfection, but who came to do and to give Himself for the behoof of every soul of man, is the heart of Christianity. This is the view which, like a key, will unlock the rusty gates of our wills and spirits. This is the conception which alone adequately represents the teaching of Scripture, the requirements of the deepest reason, and what is even more authoritative, the instinctive needs of hungry, sin-laden hearts. Here is the lever that moves the world: 'He gave Himself for us.'
2. Now, secondly, notice Christ's great emancipation.
The Apostle states the object of the gift in a twofold fashion: 'That He might redeem us all from iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.' Let me deal now with the former of these two expressions. The object of Christ's gift is man's redemption. And what is redemption? Well, it is no doubt a metaphorical expression, and there lies beneath it the image of a slave set free by a ransom. That is in the word, and no fair interpretation of the word can strike that out of the depth of its meaning. So then we begin as the fundamental fact, without which we shall never come either to understand the meaning of Christ's whole appearance or get the highest good out of it for our own souls, with this conception of our condition--that we are in bondage to what the Apostle here calls 'iniquity,' or lawlessness.
Now do not say that this is Pauline, and that the Christ of the gospels does not say so. He does. Do you remember what He said when the people, with that strange but yet universal forgetfulness, or ignoring of the facts of their condition, said to Him while the Roman garrison in the castle might have heard the boast: 'We were never in bondage to any man'? He answered: 'He who does sin is the slave of sin.' You may like it or not like it; you may believe that it is the deepest view of human nature; or you may brush it aside as being narrow and pessimistic and old-fashioned and all the rest of it, but it is Christ's view. Do not say it is Paul's. It is Paul's; but he got it from Jesus, and you have Him to reckon with, and Him to contradict, if you do not. And, alas! a great many of us do not recognize, after all is said and done, that the fact of sin (considered as setting up myself as my own center and law, [which] is antagonism to or in neglect of God who ought to be my center) is the universal experience of humanity. The fetters are on our limbs.
I remember a story of an English author in the early part of last century who was put into prison for some imaginary offense, and who pleased himself in a puerile fashion by twisting flowers round the grating of his window and making believe that he was a free man. Yes, that is what a great many of us do. We try to hide the fetters by putting silk handkerchiefs over them. We, too, like these presumptuous Jews, say, 'We were never in bondage to any man.' No, not in bondage to any man, but in bondage worse than that. What about those tendencies in yourself--these lusts and passions, these temptations to ignoring God and living for self, and to other sins that, like springing tigers, have fixed their talons in us and keep us down in spite of our kicking and struggling? The root cause of almost all the inadequate conceptions of Christ and His work which depart from the plain teaching of Christ and Scripture lies here--that men do not recognize the fact of their bondage to sin. Wherever that recognition is weak, you will have a maimed Christ and an impotent Christ. It is of small profit to argue about theological doctrines unless you can get a man to feel that he is a sinful man in God's sight. And when he has learned what sin means, what guilt means, what the tyranny of a committed transgression means, what the awful voice of a roused conscience means, he will be ready to fling aside all his superficial easy-going thoughts about Jesus of Nazareth and to clutch as his one hope the great word, 'Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.' 'He gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us.'
And so we come to the conception that that giving Himself for us is more than a giving of Himself on behalf of us in some vague way, and that the way in which Jesus Christ gives Himself for us is that He gives Himself instead of us.
And there, as I humbly venture to believe, is the point of view at which we must stand if we would give due weight either to His words or to His Cross. There is the point of view at which, as I humbly venture to believe, we must stand if we would receive into our hearts the greatest blessing that that Lord can give--emancipation from sin's guilt by that great Sacrifice of His, emancipation from sin's power by the presence within us of His own life and spirit. Christ came into the world 'to give His life a ransom for many.' Again I say, therefore, do not pooh-pooh such teaching as this of my text, or may I venture to say (I do it with all humility) such teaching as I am trying to give now, with the easy and superficial remarks that it is Pauline. It is Christ's--'The Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many.'
Oh, dear friends, there is the power. Christianity minus that Sacrifice is not a Christianity that the world or the flesh or the devil have ever been or ever need to have been much afraid of. We may gather metaphors in crowds to illustrate that Sacrifice, but they all fail, for it is unique and transcendent. Men have given themselves up to fetters that others might be made free. Men have given themselves up to the death that others might live. There was a Swiss soldier in one fight who gathered the spears of the enemy into a sheaf, and pointed them to his own breast, that a path might be cleared for the advance of his comrades. The angel that came into Peter's cell touched him and the fetters fell from his limbs. Christ has come into the dark prison of our humanity, and a drop of His blood on the fetters that bind me to my sin, and my sin to me, corrodes them into dust, and my limbs are free. He confronts all our tyrants as He confronted the Roman soldiers, and says, 'I am He; if ye seek Me, let these go their way.' He 'gave Himself for us that He might redeem us.'
3. And now your time will not allow me to speak, except very inadequately, about the last point that is here, and that is Christ's great acquisition.
'That He might purify unto Himself a people for a possession'--as is the proper rendering--'zealous of good works.' The Apostle is quoting, as I suppose we all know, from the ancient words which make the charter of the Israelitish nation, in which God declared that they were to Him a 'people of a possession above all the nations that are on the earth,' and he transfers these great words to Christ and our relation to Him. He, too, has won a people for His very own. Christ wins us for His because He has given Himself to be ours. Mark how beautifully the reciprocalness of the relation is suggested by the former clause of our text, 'He gave Himself for us,' that He might win us for Himself 'for a possession.' Yes, in the commerce of love, nothing but a heart can buy a heart, nothing but a heart can pay for a heart. Jesus gives Himself to me that I may give myself to Him. That is the only gift that satisfies Him. The only result which He recognizes as being the fruit of the travail of His soul, which is sufficient for Him, is that we poor men, delivered from our selfishness, emancipated from our sins, with our wills set free, should go to Him and say, 'Lord, Thou art mine, and I, poor as I am, little as the gift is, I am Thine.'
We shall only be His in the measure in which we are 'purified.' And it is His love that purifies us, and His gift that purifies. For that gift sets in operation within us a multitude of new motives and new desires. And, more than that, He gave Himself that our sins might be taken away. But there is the present gift, as well as the past one, for He is giving Himself still, moment by moment and hour by hour, to everyone that cleaves to Him. And that gift of Himself comes into our hearts as, according to Luther's old metaphor, the Elbe was turned into the stable to sweep out all the filth, and make all things clean.
So, dear friends, let us cleave to that Lord. Let us see to it that we have fathomed, and not only fathomed but accepted, the great gift of Himself in its most transcendent form, in its mightiest efficacy, the gift by which, by His death, He has taken away the guilt, and by His life within us breaks the power of our sins, and makes us eager zealots, enthusiasts for all manner of 'good works.'
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