From The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton (Volume 1),
edited by B. Talbot Rogers, New York: Longmans, Green, 1914
Christian and Catholic
CREATION is an expression of the thoughts of God. Its progressive character shows it moves to an end. United to God by His power through His immanence, it progresses to a farther union, by union with Him in Jesus Christ. For He, uniting the human and divine natures, joins together thereby the created and uncreated. This is the greatest, grandest work of God. It is the consummation of creation. Whether we agree or not with some modern scientific thought, that this planet occupies a central position and is alone inhabited with beings like ourselves, by God's entering into it by way of the Incarnation He makes it a centre for spiritual influence throughout the universe. The answer, then, to the objection, why should God have come into so little a planet, is, God comes into the universe and on its behalf, and our planet is the point of His entrance. For He came that according to His purpose "He might gather together in one all things in Christ both which are in heaven and which are on earth."
As Christians, we may hold that this was from the first God's original plan. He designed to enter creation and become incarnate, and so unite it to Himself. The other, an also allowable view, is that He came in consequence of man's fall. But this is to make God's greatest, grandest work dependent on His creatures' sin. We believe, on the other hand, that God always intended to come, and man's sin did not baffle God's purpose. He came, indeed, differently from what He would have done, and the remedy of sin brought out the greatest expression of His love. But as Maurice has said, "The fall did not frustrate the scheme of God. It is wrong to speak as if He devised a scheme as a remedy for the consequences of the fall. Christ was before all things, and by Him all things consist. In Him He created man, and His incarnation, though it came later than the fall, was really in God's purpose before it."
Christ came to unite creation to God by a new tie, by uniting man to God in Himself, and, since man was alienated from God by sin and his nature marred, to reconcile him to God and restore his nature. It was by the Cross this work was to be effected. A late French critic maintains that Christ did not expect to die. He considered Himself safe at the Passover feast, because the rulers would not dare then to arrest Him. He intended at its close to go immediately into Galilee where He could meet His disciples. Judas, learning of this project, forced the hand of the high priests to arrest Christ during the feast or else He would escape them. This precipitated the tragedy. But Christ had not intended to die, and it was the peculiar genius of S. Paul, filled with his Jewish ideas of sacrifice, that originated the idea of a redemption through Christ's death.
But this theory breaks down before two facts. The prophets had foretold the suffering death of the Messiah. They had pictured almost every incident of it and had assigned to it a redemptive value. "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." The other fact is that Christ foretold His crucifixion long before it occurred. "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me." He taught the disciples that the Son of Man would be "delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill Him." He earnestly desired it. He said, "I have a baptism to be baptized with and how am I straitened till it is accomplished." He asked S. John and S. James, who sought to sit on His right hand and left, whether they could be baptized with the baptism He was baptized with? He clearly declared to them the redemptive character of His death. The Son of Man came "to minister and to give His life a ransom for many." No question can be raised here concerning the word Christ uses. He came to be a "ransom."
So likewise at the institution of the Last Supper, He said, "Take ye, this is my body." "This is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many." We cite from S. Mark's Gospel where we have the shortest form of the institution. But it is sufficient for our purpose and the others agree with it. Our Lord is contrasting His blood with the blood of the victims under the old covenant. He implies thereby that He also is a victim and His blood is shed in sacrifice. As the blood of the old sacrifice, sprinkled upon the people, established them in a covenanted relation with God, so His blood would be shed for the benefit of many. As S. Matthew records it, "This is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Christ came therefore to die, not as a martyr, or to give an inspiring example of stoic endurance, or to deliver us mortals from the fear of death, but "to give Himself a ransom," "being made sin," i. e., the sin-victim, for us, that we might have "redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins."
Without attempting, what is beyond us, an exhaustive theological analysis of Christ's ransom work on Calvary, yet we may be helped to a practical consideration of this mystery, by noticing the threefold effects of sin which were by the cross removed.
First, sin separates man from God. Secondly, man becomes the servant of him whom he obeys. Thirdly, by sin man mars his own nature. It was to rectify these three evils that Christ endured the cross.
The whole work of man's redemption has its source in the love of the ever Blessed Trinity. It was a conception of Milton, erroneous as audacious, that imagined a divergence between the Father and the Son. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost loved the creature He had made and came to rescue him from his evil and turn the evil into good.
Another truth helps us. God deals with us as individuals, but also in our collective capacity. He deals with us as families, as nations, and as a race. There is great love and wisdom in God's doing this. As a race, we are possessed of a common human nature. In this we are unlike the angels. They are created by God's fiat, in all their beauty, one by one. God created human nature differently. He created a-nature and gave to it a law by which it extends itself. All individuals share in that human nature and are members of it. It accounts for that sympathy which like a hidden force binds humanity together. Now this nature abused its glorious prerogative, and, becoming disobedient, separated itself from the grace of God.
How was it to be restored to God's favor? Did God's anger need to be appeased? God, we venture to think, needed nothing done to make Him love His child. He had made him. He knew the temptations to which he would be exposed. He knew whereof we were made, He remembered we were but dust. His child's misery only called into exercise the love of His mercy. Sin or lawlessness is repellant to His nature. But He loved His child, perhaps like some earthly father, all the more for the wrong he did to himself by his fall.
But if God loved His creature, did not His justice or righteousness require that some penalty should be undergone on the part of man, or his representative, before a reconciliation should take place? This has been pressed in modern times by some, to the extent of a mercantile theory. According to it, for every transgression, satisfaction must be made by a determined amount of pain. We need not say we do not hold this theory. But in one sense (there may be others), we can see why the justice and righteousness of God demanded that a reparation should be made. God, with an infinite love, loved His child, grieved over his childlike folly and sins and falls and wickedness. In spite of all his errors God's great heart loved him beyond what earthly love can compass or express. But while His child remained in a rebellious attitude, God could not for His child's sake, or in justice to Himself, treat him as He otherwise would. The rebellion of the child hindered the free action ol God's love to him. For sin had created a barrier between man and God. It was this barrier Christ did away. Having taken upon Himself our human nature, He became its representative. And acting for the race, He became its representative penitent. Beneath the olive trees He wept, on the cross He endured sin's penalty. He culminated a life-long obedience by an obedience unto death. It was a great price to pay, but so He paid it. Human nature, on the cross, turned in obedient love to God. The handwriting that was against us was done away. The restraint upon the action of God's love was removed. God and man were reconciled.
Again, man by his lawlessness brings himself under the control of sin. Sin winds its cords about him by ever-tightening habits. They seem at first light as gossamer, but become as steel. The flippant, cynical reason holds in prison the spiritual nature.
The proud, rebellious will easily rules the unbelieving heart. Unseen, yet not without power, stand close to us evil spirits who tempt us, as well as angels who guard. He who knew, as we do not, the unseen world, has revealed to us Satan's malefic power. Serving evil spirits, men have so far come under their control as to be in a degree possessed by them. Sin, too, brings its own punishment. Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Christ, for those who are united to Him, changes death into a gate of life. For others it is only a prelude to that separation from God which is death eternal.
Now Christ by His cross delivered us from our foes--sin, Satan, and death. The cross rises between earth and heaven, for by it God and man are reconciled. It stretches laterally, and on its transverse beam the blessed hands were nailed. The cross was not only Christ's altar whereon He as our high priest pleaded for our ransom; it was also a throne from which as the king He exercised His sovereign power of forgiveness, His pulpit from which He preached. It was a battle-field where He fought with Satan, and all the powers of darkness, and with death, and conquered. He delivered human nature from the dominion of their powers. Death had no dominion over Him nor those members who are His. He delivered us from these our foes at a great cost. As soldiers are said to have redeemed their country, taking it out of the enemy's hand at the cost of their lives, so Christ, our Redeemer, redeemed us, and paid this great ransom. By Christ man was set free, in Him men may be freed.
The third thing Christ did by the cross was to restore and elevate man's nature.
And here we may notice the significant fact that there are two distinct sheddings of the precious blood. It flows down from His bleeding head, His blessed hands and pierced feet. Through His long agony it flowed from the wounds of His holy body. But when this was over, and the " It is finished " was said, there came another outpouring from His pierced side. The soldier's lance that pierced to the heart and caused the water and the blood to flow added nothing save an indignity to Christ's work of redemption. That work was over with the dismissal of His Spirit into His Father's hands, the offering unto death was then made. The merits, infinite by reason of the infinite dignity of His person, were all accumulated. Why then did the divine economy provide for this second and independent blood-shedding? Because human nature had not only to be reconciled and redeemed, but restored.
Man needed four great aids to achieve his proper greatness. He needed greater light concerning himself and destiny than nature alone could give. But if this was his only need, God could have satisfied it by sending angels who week by week might teach us our duty and our destiny. But man wants something more than light. Angels might bring it to us. But moral truth in abstract form would little profit us. Angels with more than human eloquence might present it to us, but we should reply, you have not a nature like our own and you cannot understand us. What man cries out for, is truth and life embodied in an example. It must be in a form that we can see. It is one who goes before us, that says, step where I step, take my hand, lean on my arm.
This is what we know Christ came to do. He is our great exemplar. But if this was all we needed, why should He not have come as the first Adam is believed to have come? Why did He not take on Himself the nature of man, formed from the dust, or in some other way? Why did He humble Himself to be born of a virgin? Why did He not appear, as we find Him in His public life, and so set us an example of the ideal man? If we only needed a great exemplar He might have done so. But what we also needed was to be delivered from the pangs of conscience, the burden of sin, and to be reconciled to God. Man had sinned and needed forgiveness. And so, that He might deliver the race, God entered into the race. He made Himself one with it. He took our nature on Him in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. He did not become like one of us, but one of us. And so, as our representative, effected the At-one-ment for the race and opened the way for man's pardon.
But if the work stopped with our reconciliation and pardon, why, when our Lord had effected it, did He not lay aside the nature He had assumed? Why should He not only rise from the tomb with it, but carry it into heaven? Why wear it now and for all eternity? Yet this is a fundamental Christian truth. The reason is, because man needs not only acceptance and pardon, but restoration. "No remission of penalty," said S. Athanasius, "or equivalent compensation, no fiat of God's will would have sufficed; there was needed a change in man himself." "It is not only the penalty for sin, but sin itself, from which man must be freed. The condition of deadness within him must be quickened into life."
Of the forgiveness of sin and deliverance from its effects nature knows nothing. "Each of us," said Bishop Alexander, of Derry, "is set down in the perilous game of life to contend with a player who is perfectly fair but absolutely remorseless. Play but one pawn ill, and you must abide the consequences. You cannot take back a single move. You have to do with the passionless majesty of an order that can never be broken, with the pitiless sequence of an unforgiving necessity. You are in the grasp of a tyrant who says
"Fool! All that is at all Lasts ever. Past recall.
But what nature cannot do, Christ can.
As symbolizing this and proclaiming the means, Christ's side is opened and the water and the blood stream out. This mystery of the precious blood declares to us that as Eve was formed out of the side of Adam, so the Church, the second Eve, should be formed from out the side of the second Adam, the head of the new race. We can thus better understand the text, "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." We do not die in Adam by believing in him, or by any mental connection with him. We die in Adam because we are connected with him by an actual and real contact of natures, through descent. Even so in Christ we are to be made alive; not by any act of faith or trust or repentance merely, but by union of our natures with His. And the only way ordained by which this can be secured is by the sacraments. For human nature needed not only light, an exemplar, pardon, but healing of its wounds, restoration, the invigoration by a new, divinely given energy. So the water and the blood are extended to us through the divinely ordered channels of grace. We are by them incorporated into Christ, are inoculated with His life, made partakers of His victory over sin and death, are crucified to self and the world through union with His crucifixion, are buried and risen with Him in newness of life, and so pass through the living Door and Way, which is Himself, to a joyful resurrection.
And here we may answer some questions we have often heard.
If it is true that we are restored, not merely by acts of faith but by an incorporation into the triumphant nature of Christ, how are the heathen and the faithful Jews who lived before Christ to be saved? Concerning the faithful dead who lived before Christ, we know they did not go to heaven. One very satisfactory reason is that for man heaven did not exist. Heaven is not only a place but a state in which man enjoys the beatific vision of God. The human nature of Christ was the first that possessed this vision and it is as members of Christ and in Him that we shall. The fathers of the Old Testament were in a state of waiting and preparation. When our Lord descended into Hades, He preached to them. He delivered to them by word the same graces He gives us, who are in the flesh, through the sacraments. They had been justified by faith. They were just men, justified by faith. But when Christ communicated to them the grace of His humanity, they became "the spirits of just men made perfect." Thus our Lord provided for all the elect who had preceded Him. The heathen, we are told, are a law unto themselves. But as the only way to eternal life is in and through Christ, we may believe, as He provided for the faithful Jews in that waiting world of "many stations," so in some way He may reach them.
But then it is sometimes asked, why should God have required all this process of Redemption: His incarnation, redemption, suffering, machinery of Church and sacraments? Why should not the Almighty Father by a word of His power have restored man and removed all evils from him? Granting that He could have done so, a difficulty would yet remain. You complain that the scheme of redemption does not look simple. You look at it askance as being theological. Although there is nothing very simple in this world, yet you want a very simple solution of a matter the most intricate and mysterious. Why, you ask, should not God have determined the whole matter by a word of forgiveness and restoration? But this difficulty would remain. How many times would you ask Him to go on doing so? No forgiveness nor restoration by an external word of power would secure man in a sinless condition. As S. Athanasius said, man would then be worse off than he was in his original state because he would have learned to sin. Moreover, if restored in such wise he would be more likely, restoration being found so easy, to sin again. So God would have to go on eternally, and man would not be delivered from the power of sin, and evil would continue in God's universe.
And this brings us to the final cause of the Redeemer's work. He sought not only to provide a way for man's forgiveness, deliverance, and restoration, but to drive out sin and all evils from His universe. He would complete creation, by so establishing it that righteousness should reign forever.
If God's purposes are tending to so glorious a consummation our hearts should be filled with hope and joy. Men, straining their eyes into the future, prophesy great things for their country or for the race. But "civilization is a self-limited elevator of men." It rests on the law of inequality in men's mental equipment and an unequal distribution of wealth. It brings temptation as well as amelioration. It has no specific remedy for the source of all evil, sin. We know, too, how earthly kingdoms rise and fall, and how the planet itself must run its course and die. But the end of creation, revealed by Christ, gives us the vision of a permanent kingdom that can never dissolve and of a glory that will never pass away. It secures forever the happiness of man and reveals a purpose and an end of creation worthy of God.
Do we in childish wonder ask, why did not God begin by so making the universe? One reason is because, in His great love, He desires us to work with Him in the making of it. This is the greatest privilege of man that he is allowed to be a co-worker with God. If, for a short time and in a preparatory stage, God allows sin and evil, it is that we, by a victory over temptation, may be fitted for that further state. God indeed might have so created us that, like the plants and trees, we should have mechanically obeyed His laws. But He has shown His omnipotence not merely in making things, but in so making, that with a free-will endowment His intelligent creatures might, with His aid, rising to a higher degree of union with God, make themselves.
But how is it that this condition of life and being is to be eternally secured?
To understand this we must know that there are three degrees of union with God. First, man is united to God by His power. We live and move and have our being in Him. Next, as Christians we are united to Christ, the God-Man, by grace. We are in Him and He in us. Then there remains a third union which is to come. Union with God in glory. In Christ we may attain to the beatific vision and be upheld, in a new way, in union with God's holiness and bliss.
This final union with God is called the gift of eternal life. "The gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord." It is a gift, an added blessing, not something that inherently belongs to our nature. It is different from immortality. Immortality belongs to us by the terms of our nature. The greatest of earth's philosophic thinkers have believed this. What is so universal a desire in man's nature must have its satisfaction. But there is a vast difference between natural immortality and the gift of eternal life. Immortality only assures us a future, it says nothing more. It tells us nothing of the character of that future. It secures us nothing in it. We merely know that we shall hereafter exist
If, believing that we shall pass finally into some fair heaven, pray ask yourself the question, what is to secure your state or residence there? The angels fell from heaven. Adam sinned in Paradise. You may be sheltered there from many temptations, but you will have yourself still to contend with. One sin lost the angels their heavenly estate. One sin forfeited for Adam Paradise. Any one spiritual sin would shut out the brightness and joy of heaven from the soul. It would fall like Lucifer. If then we are merely elevated to a condition or place where our position is only secure on our perfect obedience, is this immortality to be desired? Is the warfare never to cease? Is the struggle with self and temptation never to be over? If this is so, take back, Mr. Philosopher, your arguments about immortality. Under this agonizing condition we don't want it. A heaven in which we are not eternally secure is not desirable and is no fitting climax to a divine creation.
The gift of eternal life makes our condition secure. We enter into it, by a union by grace with Christ here and attain in Him to a union with God in glory.
It is this final union with God that secures our eternal happiness. For our real and true happiness depends on our sinlessness. God is omnipotent, but some things He cannot do. He cannot break His own laws or violate His own nature. He cannot make two and two five or make it right to tell a lie. And He can only permanently secure men from falling into sin but by uniting them in Christ to Himself in glory. So the blessed souls who attain that state may look down the opening avenues of eternity, and know with absolute certainty that nothing can separate them from the love and holiness of God, and that in Him their estate is eternally secured.
But it may be asked, what of those who do not attain this condition? What can we say but what Christ has said? There will come a time, how soon we know not, when the drama of creation will come to its last act; when creation shall be perfected and shine with radiant beauty, and God shall be all in all; when those who are eventually in Christ will rise up into that final union with God in everlasting bliss; when, sad as it is to say it, there will be those who miss their proffered end, and who will be lost.
But will not good eventually triumph over evil? Shall there not come a time when truth and righteousness shall triumph? Shall not God at last conquer and banish all lawlessness and sin? Surely this conflict is not to go on forever? The good must win, sin must disappear.
Very true, when the kingdom of glory begins sin will cease. God's ideal creation will be complete. But how is it that sin will cease? In this wise: Those who are gathered into the Divine Life and Light will not sin, for they will be upheld in holiness by that special union with God. Those who are left without will sin no more; for, all grace being withdrawn, they will not be able to act against it. They are in this unhappy condition. They cannot separate themselves from the power of God, for that were to annihilate themselves, and to annihilate is an act of Deity as great as to create. They cannot thus separate themselves from God and destroy themselves, but they have separated themselves from the grace of God and so ruined themselves. They continue in existence, but their spiritual life is gone. They are in the darkness, not in the light.
But should they ever repent could not God receive them?
A superficial view might lead us to think this possible, but there are difficulties in accepting it. The idea seems based on the theory that whenever man repents God is bound to forgive him. Now God has provided a way by which man can escape from the evils he has brought on himself; if man does not accept it, is God bound to do any more? If man may go on, not only in this world but indefinitely for ages in the next, defying God, and God is bound, whenever man chooses to repent, to forgive him, we have the spectacle of God dethroned, for God has not conquered man, but man has conquered God.
Another difficulty is, that those in this condition will feel no desire to repent. As they cannot sin because they have no spiritual life nor grace to sin against, so also they cannot repent, for they have no grace to repent with. One can no more repent without grace than an animal can breathe in an exhausted receiver.
What we must realize is that creation is a majestically progressive work. It proceeds under the impulse of the Eternal Infinite Energy from stage to stage. When one period, with its own productiveness and work is past, another succeeds. There is no return; the door is shut. We see this written everywhere in the great parable of nature. Take the monkeys whose antics amuse us as children, but whose strangely human faces repel us in later years. As some biologists have said, we are descended or developed from the same primordial germs. Only there were some germs that corresponded to their environment in one way and became humans, and the others corresponded differently and became monkeys. If the latter had at an earlier stage taken another direction they would have developed to the higher range of life. But they failed. They missed it. It became lost to them. It is a permanent loss. They are forever condemned to be monkeys. So it will be for those men who will not correspond to their Christian environment. They will miss their end, forfeit what they might have been, and be lost.
But we say, if a man is a good moral man, a good citizen, good to his neighbors, public spirited, why should he be lost? The reason is because he was so self-willed and self-opinionated that he would not use the means to be saved. Eternal life is not immortality. It is a gift of God in Jesus Christ. It is, being a gift, something added to nature. It is thus a supernatural end offered to man. And a supernatural end cannot be attained by natural goodness or means. It can only be gained in Christ. There is no other name given under heaven whereby we may be saved.
Unwilling to accept Christ's terms, men wrap themselves in the delusion that they are as good as most, and that God must be a merciful God, and it is inconceivable He would let any suffer an eternal loss.
True, most true is it, that God is goodness and love itself. Most true is it that He is a merciful God. He is so merciful that He sent His only-begotten Son to suffer and die for us. Every drop of blood that was shed, every agony He endured, tells of His exceeding mercy and His love.
If tempted to reject His invitation, not to use the means of union with Him, kneel down, and ask yourself these questions: What could God have done more than He has to show His love towards us? How could His mercy have made the terms of salvation easier than they are? If I reject His mercy extended now, how can I before His judgment seat claim a mercy I have refused and rejected? If obstinately acting on my own theories and opinions I remain unmoved by love's entreaty and am lost, as I shall be, whose fault will it be? Say it over again and again to thyself, self-slain soul, Whose fault will it be?
"As froth on the face of the deep,
As foam on the crest of the sea,
As dreams at the waking of sleep,
As gourd of a day and a night,
As harvest that no man shall reap,
As vintage that never shall be,
Is hope if it cling not aright,
O Lord Christ, unto Thee."