"By death Christ overcame him that had the power of death, i.e. the Accuser."
BY His own death He tore to pieces the Accuser's web of calumnies against God, as if He were compassing the ruin of His creatures,--as if He were wishing them to abide in their evil,--as if He were not upholding the order and harmony of His own creation, but was indifferent to it, and was permitting discord to prevail in it.
No words could have shown that the Spirit of lies was the author of the distrust, which men felt of their Creator,--that he was separating the children from their Father. A mighty transcendent act must supply the demonstration. God perfects His only-begotten Son through death. Death, which was said to be the clear declaration that men are regarded by God as enemies, becomes the sign that Christ gives of His Sonship; as the Resurrection is the great sign, which He, of Whom are all things, and by Whom are all things, gives, that He owns Him as His Son. Christ bears death, not in obedience to an inevitable fate, but to a loving will;--not because the tyrant has conquered the earth, and those who dwell upon it, but as an eternal testimony that he has not conquered it, that it belongs to the Creator, not to the Destroyer. Death seems to make the great and final chasm, of which all other separations were but dim prophecies,--the chasm between the Father and Him in Whom He delighted. Death is made the pledge of their eternal union,--the pledge of their infinite satisfaction in each other. That union is shown to be the ground of every other. The satisfaction of God in His Son is His satisfaction with the world, whose nature that Son bears. His death is the vindication of their death. They have a right to accept it as a sign of adoption,--as an assurance of reconciliation,--as a proof that God, initiating them through sufferings, is crowning their work, is preparing them for a higher work.--Sermons on Sacrifice, p. 241.
"The Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the Devil."
THIS is St. John's summary of the whole matter. He revealed the Father, and so in human flesh He destroyed the great calumny of the devil, that man has not a Father in Heaven, that He is not altogether good,--that He does not care for His creatures. He submits to all temptations in human flesh, and so proves that man is not the subject and thrall of the tempter. He in human flesh delivered spirits, souls, and bodies, out of bondage, so affirming that the state, into which the devil would draw them, is not the state which is meant for them,--that His own humanity is the standard of that which each man bears, and is that to which each man shall be raised.--Sermons on Sacrifice, p. 242.
"He shall not speak of Himself. He shall testify of Me."
OUR Lord says this to us. But what do these words signify? The accusing Spirit forces us into the understanding of them. He says to us--"You may have good desires, right impulses, divine resolutions; these may be inspired by some gracious power. But, though God vouchsafes all these benignant influences to you, you are not really nearer to Him than you were before. A chasm, which none has traversed, divides you from Him. Who shall ascend up on high into that mysterious world of light where He dwells? Perhaps, the gifts, which He bee stows on your minds and hearts, may have something more wonderful and celestial in them, than the gifts of corn and wine, which He bestows on your bodies; but they do not constitute any closer bond between you and Him than those do. One man has more of them than another: but how miserably poor is the condition of the best! What a sense he has of insufficiency, of hollowness, of evil! Nay, is not this sense strongest in the best? Do not they accuse themselves most of being sinners? Is not this the only reason why any men in the world have any comfort or repose, that they do not think of God, and of their distance from Him, and of the offences they have committed against Him? The moment these thoughts are awakened, what shame, what misery, what self-loathing, what struggles to attain a good that is never reached, to avoid an evil that is never escaped, follow in every case! Is it less so among Christians than others; less so among those, who say they have this Spirit, this Comforter, with them? Are not the testimonies which He bears to their manifold transgressions, to the radical evil from which these transgressions flow, the cause of their unhappiness?"
"He shall testify of Me." This Spirit shall answer these accusations,--not by reminding you that you have done one good work or another, or that you had one kindly affection and right desire, or a thousand; that you have different dispositions and affections from your fellow-men, and have had a trust and hope of which they gave no signs; not by such miserable, ragged comfort as this, which fails in every great crisis, which a fit of pain,--or the recollection of a single evil act or unkind thought,--or the discovery of a wrong in yourself, which you never knew to be in anyone else,--or the discovery of something right and good in a man you took to be an outcast from God, which you never knew to be in yourself,--or any single revelation of your own character, such as God in His mercy will not suffer you to want--may sweep away in a moment. The Spirit of Truth does not sustain His office as an Advocate and Consoler by feeding you with wind; but He says:--"The Accuser speaks to you as men conscious of separation from God. You have that consciousness; you feel that it is an evil thing, a sin, to have it. Why do you feel it? Because there is a bond of union between you and God; because that bond is one, which existed before all evil was in the world, and because no evil can destroy it. Therefore your conscience tells you that you are wrong for being separate from God, seeing that your right and proper state is one of union with Him; seeing that you are created for that state in Christ Jesus; seeing that you were redeemed for that state in Christ Jesus."--Sermons on Sacrifice, pp. 251-253.
"The sting of death is sin, the strength of sin is the Law."
DEATH is utterly horrible, as long as it is linked to that distrust of God, which is sin, and the root of all sins; so long as it keeps that up in our minds; so long as it teaches us that our safety is in fleeing from His Presence. And the Law, which pronounces us to be sinners, which makes us inwardly conscious that we are, and yet which we are sure proceeds from God, aggravates that distrust; and, if it comes alone, makes us wish that we could be atheists. "But thanks. be to God," he goes on, "Who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" Thanks be to that God, Whom we have counted our enemy, Who we supposed had pleasure in our death, for conquering the very enemy we accused Him of sending among us! Thanks be to God, for giving us the victory through our Lord Jesus, through Him, Who has been made sin for us, knowing no sin; through Him, Who has made the one free, perfect, voluntary Sacrifice, which takes away the sin of the world! Thanks be to Him, for giving us the victory, not over death only, but over him who had the power of death, who changed all the witnesses, which God was bearing in our hearts and consciences, that we had forgotten Him, and that we could not live without Him, into reasons for turning away from Him! Thanks be to God, that we can now answer the Accuser with these words: "We know what Death is, for Christ has died. We know that His Death is the proof of God's Eternal Love,--the pledge that He has reconciled "the world to Himself,--the encouragement to draw nigh to Him,--the assurance that a new and living way is opened into His Presence, and that in that Presence is fulness of joy!"
For now the Accuser of the brethren is cast down, he that accused them before God day and night. Now we are sure that there is not an Accuser, but a Mediator, between us and our Father; that the Son of God and the Son of Man is with us and with Him. By the Blood of the Lamb and the Word of His testimony, we can answer the charges which the Accuser brings in our hearts,--against ourselves, for Christ has made us one with Himself,--against our brethren, for His death is, for us all, the bond of peace between Him and us,--against God, for it is God Himself Who justifieth us; who then can condemn? It is Christ Who points to His own Sacrifice for the sins of the whole world; what power in earth or hell can prevent us from drawing nigh, in the might of that Sacrifice, to the Father of all?
And, if Death does not separate us from Him, or from those who are with us on earth;--if the Death of the Cross is the one way of reconciling us to Himself and to each other;--how can it separate us from those, who have passed through the veil? Sin is the divider; there is no other. When we eat that Flesh and drink that Blood, whereby the victory has been won, we may be sure that there is fellowship with all, wherever they are, who have overcome. We may not know it, because we have not resisted unto blood, striving against sin, and therefore do not feel the power and mystery of that Sacrifice, which takes away sin. But, perhaps, if God gives us grace not to love our lives to the death,--if He makes us willing to sacrifice ourselves, for His glory and the good of men,--the communion may become very real even here. Helps, greater than the old world dreamed of, when they spoke of mysterious champions descending to the fight, may be granted to those, who are struggling hard with the Accuser. At all events, they will prevail at last; for God has made the Death of His Son the Gospel of peace to men with Him, and the Gospel of everlasting woe and damnation to every power, which would divide men from Him.--Sermons on Sacrifice, p. 244.