The Gospel and its Ministry - ch 10 - RECONCILIATION

RECONCILIATION.

"Happy art thou 0 Israel! who is like unto thee, 0 people saved by Jehovah." Such were the last words of the blessing wherewith Moses blessed the people ere he died. "Who is like unto thee, 0 people saved by Jehovah "

But if God is the Saviour of His people, He has a purpose toward them in salvation. "I bare you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself," was His word to Israel, and such is the great end and aim of the work of Christ to usward. God would have His people near Him. The death of Christ was "to bring us unto God." By that blood we are "made nigh." Here then is the climax of the gospel, and to stop short of this is to lose the highest blessing by separating the Giver from His gifts.

I have already treated of the doctrine of the opening chapters of the Epistle to the Romans. The great truth of righteousness by faith is there established, every objection answered, every difficulty met; and when we reach the fifth chapter, it no longer needs even to be asserted. That we are justified by faith may now. be assumed as a truth beyond question, and a fact beyond doubt, and so the apostle passes on to higher teaching still. And here the first word is PEACE. "Being justified by faith, let us have peace with God." Our justification is not itself our peace, nor yet the source of peace. 'It only clears the way which leads to it. Righteousness once barred the door against us, it now flings that door wide open. Then let us enter in. As we stood without, it was "God the Justifier" we believed in; now we stand face to face with "God the Reconciler." We are justified through redemption in Christ, but our peace is not in redemption, but in Himself. It is not merely what He did for us, overwhelming though the record of it be, but what He is for us, and what He is to God. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

And here, as we stand beneath a cloudless heaven, for Christ our peace is there, we come to discern in its fulness that He Himself was the way by which we entered. By Him it is that " we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand." This grace; not righteousness, that he has treated of, and he has now passed beyond it, but reconciliation, peace. Being justified, we have access through Christ into this sphere where the sunlight of God's presence is unhindered; then let us not remain without, where all is dark and cold. We have access, let us be eager to avail ourselves of it. It is not an inference from what goes before, but an exhortation based upon it. And it is an exhortation, moreover, than which none is more needed with those who have the faith of the Reformation. For us the great doctrine of righteousness has been rescued in a long and deadly struggle. It has come down to us through a bitter and bloody controversy, and it is but natural that we should attach to it exceptional importance. But let us take heed lest we exalt truth at the expense of Him through whom our every blessing comes. To make one blessing a mere consequence of another, treating peace as a result of justification, is little better than pointing to a dead Christ upon a cross, and thence reasoning out salvation as a necessary consequence.

Reconciliation is a step beyond redemption even in its fulness as including both righteousness and holiness. Reconciliation is, as I have said, the fulfilment of the purpose of redemption. It is a most superficial thought, from which a right sense of what God is, or even of what we are, would save us, that forensic or even moral fitness for the presence of God gives any title to approach Him. The cross of Christ has obtained redemption for us, but more than this, it has made peace. We are not only justified and sanctified, but, as a fuller and further blessing, "we are made nigh by the blood of Christ, for He is our peace." Not that we would tolerate the thought, more false and evil still, that God required a victim in whose blood His wrath might quench itself. The cross was Christ's work, but it was a work done for God. God is Himself the Peace-maker. It is not that Christ has reconciled us to God, but that God has reconciled us to Himself. And God has done this, and we have now access to it, and stand in it. I insist on this, because there is scarcely any truth so little known. It is not only that we are pardoned, and justified, and sanctified. All this was true of saints before the cross, and it is not in virtue of these blessings that we can come near to God, for if it were, there would have been access, then, as now. But not even the priests could enter the divine presence; not even Aaron, save when, once a year on the day of atonement, in virtue of his typical office, he passed within the veil.

I do not speak here of the experience of the heart that learned of God, for there is no experience higher than the Psalms. But what was then the attainment of the few, is now the privilege of all; what was then a secret known only to them that feared the Lord, is now a public revelation to the Church. It was, then, a promise faith could grasp; it is now no longer a promise merely, but a fact. And it is a fact for every saint who has ever lived; but it was postponed for them of old, that they apart from us might not be made perfect. It is in Christ that the believer is accepted, and in Him God is well pleased. The believer may fail to enter into this, but it is none theless a fact; God has reconciled us to Himself, let us then know the peace of it.

But not only has the ministry of reconciliation an aspect toward the believer, and here it is too much neglected, but it is also the very essence of the gospel. Mark the words, "we were reconciled by the death of His Son." Righteousness is not spoken of thus. Justification is an act of God's grace toward the sinner who believes. Reconciliation is a work accomplished on the cross of Christ. It is a work done on Calvary for God and to God, apart from its consequences to the sinner altogether; and the believer has access to it by faith through Christ as now risen from the dead. "We were reconciled through His death" but here is a further and higher blessing, "Through Him we have now received the reconciliation. Righteousness is now the rock beneath our feet The cloudless sky above is peace. Glory no longer threatens wrath, but fills the sinner's breast with hope. And thus the purpose of creation is accomplished through redemption, God can rejoice in the creature of His hand, and the creature can rejoice in his God.

And let us not fritter away the truth by supposing this reconciliation to mean a change in the sinner's heart to God. That is not reconciiation but the present work of the Holy Spirit. The change is in the attitude of God to men. Sin not only turned the creature's face from heaven, but made the sinner the enemy of God. That there is enmity to God in the sinner's breast is but too true, but it is not the truth here spoken of. It is impossible that God can be indifferent to His creature;. He must be either for him or against him; He must regard him either with a smile or with a frown; and sin draws down a frown, and not a smile. Apart from the work of Christ, He cannot but be against the sinner; He reckons him an enemy. But "when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son." "God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ." It is not a present work, but a work past and finished. By that death we who were enemies were reconciled. The appeal of the gospel is now that men would receive the reconciliation. "Be reconciled to God," is not an entreaty to the sinner to forgive his God, but an appeal to him to come within the reconciliation God has wrought.

And this is the free gift of the 5th of Romans.' It is not righteousness, it is not life; though it is unto righteousness, and brings life to the sinner who receives it. It has effects as widespread as the sin of Adam. "As through one trespass the came unto all men to condemnation, even so through one act of righteousness the free gift came unto men to justification of life." Not that all men a in fact made righteous, but that such was the and tendency of the grace. It is no question here of results to one sinner or another, but of what the Cross is to God, even though never a child of Adam should be blessed because of it. The sin of Adam turned the throne of God into a throne of judgment. The Cross of Christ has changed that throne into a throne of grace The throne of God cannot be be other than a throne of righteousness, but grace, now reigns through righteousness. It is not that there is mercy for those who seek it, but that God's attitude to this world of ours is grace. Apart from the cross of Christ, righteousness could only deal forth death, and therefore sin was in fact supreme Sin reigned - it made the very throne of God an agency for enforcing payment of its wages. But now, sin is dethroned, and "grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord."

To speak thus of the work of Christ as done to Godward, and as having an importance infinitely beyond its results upon ourselves, may perhaps seem strange to many; and yet a due appreciation of what sin is would prepare the mind for such a truth. We are apt to think of sin only in connection with its consequences to ourselves, just as those who live in crime come to estimate it solely by its penalties. But if the effects of sin be indeed both sad and terrible, these ought rather to turn our thoughts to the essential character of sin itself. If the stream be deadly to its most distant limits, how dire must be the source from which it springs! We do well to think upon the results of sin, but let us not lose sight of what it is which leads to these. results. It makes the sinner guilty and unholy, and calls down judgment and wrath from God. But there is more in sin than this. In its essential character it is neither guilt, nor yet defilement, though both these qualities pertain to it, but lawlessness. "Sin is lawlessness," the assertion of the creature's independence, the repudiation therefore of the Creator's supremacy, the denial of the Godhood of his Maker. Sin has "brought death .into the world and all our woes"; but more and infinitely worse than this, it has compromised the sceptre and throne of God.

I might pause here to mark how every attribute of God has thus been called in question; not righteousness and holiness alone, but wisdom, and power, and love. Nor, for proof, should I need to pollute the page by citing what infidelity has urged about the origin of evil. might appeal to thoughts as wicked, which, like unclean birds of night, flit about dark corners of the Christian's heart, and which only the sunlight of the gospel can drive forth. It is not that sin should go unpunished, nor yet that hell can be a doom too terrible for sinners guilty of the blood of Christ. But if sin must lead to consequences so terrible, why was the tempter's whisper not restrained? why was not the mother of our race protected from his wiles? Nay, to go still further back, why did Lucifer himself turn Devil? why did a good and wise and mighty God. allow His noblest creature thus to fall?

Such thoughts as these afford no proof of mental vigour or exceptional sagacity. They are one of the sad fruits of sin itself, and are shared by every child of Adam. The Christian looks off to Calvary,. and awaits with patient confidence the day when all shall be made plain. But it is no mere flight of fancy, but sober truth which every thoughtful person will endorse, that, were it not for Calvary, the mystery must have remained unsolved for ever. Judgment fires might have avenged the majesty of Heaven, but the fact of a lost creation would have survived, an eternal proof that God had been thwarted in His work. Before Heaven all sin is treason; and though rebellion be stamped out by force irresistible, it must leave a stain behind. That sin should be punished and put down is a mere matter of course with Almighty power; but if God were indeed a God to His creatures, would He not have prevented sin altogether? We see then that sin has effects reaching far beyond the ruin of the sinner, and gives rise to questions which the judgment of the sinner cannot settle. The Godhood of God is compromised.

And as far as ever sin has reached, Christ has followed it and triumphed over it: It is but natural that our mean and selfish hearts should slight the work of Christ, save in so far as it brings blessing to ourselves; but its highest character and its greatest glory depend, not on what it accomplishes for men, but on what it is to God. It is no mere remedy for the ruin of our race; it is God's answer to every question to which sin has given rise. Blessed be His name it has brought salvation to lost and guilty men; but it has a purpose and a scope as wide as creation itself.

This gospel of the reconciliation "was preached in the whole creation under heaven." Mankind alone can intelligently hear it, and of mankind they alone who hearken shall be blessed thereby. But in its range and compass the benefit has got no limits, and the day is coming when all this sin-cursed world shall share it. "The whole creation groans," but it shall one day be delivered from this bondage into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Then shall all things indeed look up and put their trust in Him, and be satisfied from the fulness of His goodness. There shall be nothing more to hurt or to destroy. God will again become indeed a God to every creature He has made.

But if the reconciliation be for all, how is judgment possible? I answer, judgment is based upon this very truth. Sin is not an offence against law merely, it is an outrage upon grace. Light came into the world, but men quenched it. God has now set it on high, beyond the reach of wicked hands, and though men may hate or despise it, it shines none the less. The difficulty springs from that false view of the gospel I have already noticed, which connects the sinner's blessings with the death of Christ in such a sense as to exclude the present action of the grace of God. His death has made it a righteous thing to justify ungodly sinners, and but for that death it were impossible ; and yet when the blessing reaches us, it comes direct from the hand and heart of God, and depends absolutely on sovereign grace, and on what Christ is to God as now risen from the dead.

The great end and aim of the work of Christ from first to last is to restore to God the place from which sin has struggled to dethrone Him. Its glory is that it has enabled Him to be gracious to whom He will, and to show mercy upon whom He will. It has set grace free, but it has not brought righteousness into bondage. It was first of all a work done to God-ward, and for God; and here is at once the secret of the Christian's confidence and of his highest joy, while it is the power of the gospel to bring peace to the sinner in his sins. It is because of what God has found in Christ and in His cross, that the lost sinner may be saved, and the saved sinner may rejoice in hope of glory, and exult in God Himself. Adam walked in Eden beneath an open heaven, but sin called up black clouds that covered from horizon to horizon, leaving the world in darkness. Promises and covenants, and blessing upon blessing, pierced the gloom; and, like the Hebrew huts in Egypt, faithful hearts were filled with light from heaven while darkness reigned around. And the clouds that shut out heaven were merciful. If the sunlight cannot bless and gladden, it must only scorch and wither. Judgment will be in flaming fire, with unshrouded glory, but judgment was not yet; and God, who could not smile upon a world of sin, in mercy hid His face. Nor was judgment His purpose toward the sinner. Wrath is but a last resource with power, and judgment must wait on grace. Before God will declare Himself to be the Judge, He must reveal Himself as RECONCILER.

Judgment is still to come; but reconciliation is accomplished. Now, God need hide His face no longer. An opened heaven will disclose a throne of grace, where the guiltiest sinner may draw nigh. The work of Christ has banished every cloud, and swept our sky as clear as when Adam walked in innocence with God. The light of this glorious gospel now shines unhindered upon earth. Blind eyes may shut it out, but they cannot quench or lessen it. Impenitent hearts may heap up wrath against the day of wrath, but they cannot darken this day of mercy or mar the glory of the reign of grace.

But though we have reached the summit of this vast and glorious truth in its bearings upon Adam and his world, the Scripture points us higher still. And yet we may not follow. The height is too stupendous; and if we gaze with reverence and awe, it is that thereby we may shake free from the little-nesses of our poor and niggard hearts, and gain truer thoughts of our glorious Lord. The words I have quoted from the Epistle to the Colossians are the sequel to a passage which is one of the most sublime in Holy Writ. The Gnostic philosophy, which made such havoc in the early Church, was gaining ground among the Christians of Colosse. Oriental theories of the creation of the world, the origin of evil, and the intrinsic corruptness of everything corporeal, were undermining the faith of Christ. The Son was thus degraded to the position of a creature, while yet the reality of "the body of His flesh" was set aside. Inferior beings were made the agents in our creation, thus gaining a title to our homage, and the Godhood of God was practically denied. But He who can "bring meat out of the eater, and honey out of the strong," has made these evils and errors the occasion, of the fullest and most glorious revelation to the Church, of Him before whom we bow as Lord.

Christ as, indeed, the First-born of all creation, yet not because He has His place within it. If He holds this title of dignity and precedence relatively to the universe, it is because it exists as His creature. The whole universe,- things in the heavens, and things in the earth, things visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers,- all things have been created by Him, and for Him. He was the One who called them into being, and He is the end and aim of their existence. And He Himself exists before all things, and it is in virtue of His power that the universe subsists. And He is the Head of the body, the Church, in that He is the beginning, the First-born from among the dead, that He may become in all things pre-eminent. And God was pleased that the whole fulness should dwell in Him. And He was pleased by Him to reconcile again the universe to Himself, having made peace by the blood of His cross; by Him, whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens - the creation of God in every part and to its utmost limits.
'A valued and revered friend, to whose judgment these latter chapters have been submitted, suggests to me that Revelation xxi. gives the complete fulfilment of the reconciliation spoken of in Colossians i. The thought is full of interest. It is certain that millennial blessedness and glory will be a direct result and proof of the preciousness of the cross of Christ to God; but it is no less certain that an eternity of glory and blessedness, still to follow, will depend upon that cross as really and immediately. In our view, creation limits itself to our own race and sphere, but with God the universe is one great whole, of which the Adamic world is but a part. And as sin has disturbed the harmony of Creation in this its widest sense, God's answer and remedy are the cross of Christ and a new creation. It is not merely the kingdoms of this world that are given up to Christ, but the throne of the universe of God. And when "the end" shall come, and God shall again assume the sceptre He will hold it in virtue of Calvary. If one could dare to speak thus of God, we might say that His moral right to make all things new depends on that blood. And the word is 'I make ALL THINGS new.' The promise is not of a new earth only, but of new heavens too. And why "new heavens,' if sin and the cross concern only earth? "It is finished" was the cry that rose amid the agonies of Calvary: "Behold I make all things new" is the response from the glory. The "It is finished" of the cross, shall still vibrate until it is lost in the "It is done" of the throne. (Rev. xxi. 5, 6.)

In the presence of words so plain and simple, faith will not dare to question or to doubt; and in view of truth so immeasurably vast and deep, no worshipping heart will venture upon argument or inference. "Secret things belong to the Lord our God," and it is not given us to know what the death of Christ may bring to other worlds than ours. But "things which are revealed belong to us and to our children," and this at least is plain as God can make it, that that death shall bring either eternal life, or judgment, to every child of Adam to whom the gospel testimony comes. Men may reason of the Fatherhood of God, and idly dream of universal blessing, or at least of the annihilation of the lost; and none would rejoice as would the Christian, if such might be the end of wicked men. But to construe Scripture thus is in fact to slip the anchor of our hope of life eternal ; for it is in the very words which promise blessing that God has warned of wrath. "These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into everlasting life."

The day is near in which God Himself shall be the only mystery unsolved; when faith and hope shall merge in the completeness of our knowledge, and the realisation of every promise that has cheered us here. But faith and hope are now the guide and beacon of our life, and we hail this unfathomable mystery of reconciliation as placing yet another crown upon our Saviour's brow. Upon His head are many crowns, but His pierced hand now holds the only sceptre, for the Father has given Him the kingdom, and all things are placed beneath His feet. The outcast of the earth now fills the throne of God. "We see not yet all things put under Him," for a long-suffering God still waits, and grace must spend itself ere judgment can sweep back on those whom grace has failed to win. But we do see Jesus, the rejected and despised of men, now crowned with glory. He is the mighty God, the Father of Eternity, the Prince of Peace, and the government is on His shoulder, and all power is His in heaven and on earth. And He it is who is our Saviour, and through Him the weakest and the worst of men may gain deliverance from judgment and from sin. Willing knees now bow before Him, and willing hearts confess His name; but the day is hastening on when every knee, in heaven, earth, and hell, shall bow, and every tongue shall own Him Lord.I may add that every objection of any weight which has been urged against eternal punishment, applies as really, though not to the same extent, to punishment for a millennium or a century. And if the Christian be wrong, no one will suffer from his error; but if he is right, how terrible must be the discovery for those who trade upon the hope that he is wrong! In my "Human Destiny" I have dealt with this whole subject, discussing and refuting both the heresy of annihilation and that of universal restoration.

The day is near in which God Himself shall be the only mystery unsolved; when faith and hope shall merge in the completeness of our knowledge, and the realisation of every promise that has cheered us here. But faith and hope are now the guide and beacon of our life, and we hail this unfathomable mystery of reconciliation as placing yet another crown upon our Saviour's brow. Upon His head are many crowns, but His pierced hand now holds the only sceptre, for the Father has given Him the kingdom, and all things are placed beneath His feet. The outcast of the earth now fills the throne of God. "We see not yet all things put under Him," for a long-suffering God still waits, and grace must spend itself ere judgment can sweep back on those whom grace has failed to win. But we do see Jesus, the rejected and despised of men, now crowned with glory. He is the mighty God, the Father of Eternity, the Prince of Peace, and the government is on His shoulder, and all power is His in heaven and on earth. And He it is who is our Saviour, and through Him the weakest and the worst of men may gain deliverance from judgment and from sin. Willing knees now bow before Him, and willing hearts confess His name; but the day is hastening on when every knee, in heaven, earth, and hell, shall bow, and every tongue shall own Him Lord. "And then THE END, When He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet. And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all."' Such then is the Christian's faith, and such his hope: no day-dream of weak minds, no fable cunningly devised, but a hope both sure and steadfast, and a most holy faith. A vain philosophy rnay reason of the past, and dream about the future, but, in the calm confidence of faith, the Christian can look back to a past eternity, when, before all time, and ere there was a creature made, "IN THE BEGINNING" the Word was alone with God; and on through the ages of ages to "THE END," when, time having run its course, in the midst of His creation, God shall be all in all: and in adoration he exclaims," From everlasting to everlasting Thou art God!