A Course of Sermons on Solemn Subjects
chiefly bearing on Repentance and Amendment of Life, Preached in St. Saviour's Church, Leeds,
During the Week after its Consecration on the Feast of S. Simon and S. Jude, 1845.
(Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1845).
(Preached on the Thursday Evening, Oct. 30.)
ROM. vi. 3, 4.
Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into His Death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death.
TO the Death of the Son of God in our nature, all true Christians look as the source of life and salvation. He died that we might live. He died, "the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." This is one of the plainest truths of our religion, one of the first elements of the Christian faith. But plain and elementary as this truth is, no Christian ever lived who has fathomed its depth, or fully comprehended its meaning. Those indeed who know the least, know much; for much in truth it is to know that He died for us. And yet those, who know the most, know but little. It is a great and unfathomable mystery, and the more we contemplate it, standing as it were on the brink of the deep, the more we are lost, as we gaze down into the abysses of His love. For the measure of the Cross is the infinite love of God. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!
And yet, my brethren, we know that the things which are written, are written for our learning, "that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope." And so it is our duty to search diligently into whatever God has revealed to us, and with the aid of His Holy Spirit to seek thereby to build up ourselves in our most holy Faith.
In the Death of Christ, we behold the great propitiation made for the sins of the whole world. "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." "God commendeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His Blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God, to declare, I say, His righteousness, that He might be just and yet the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." Such is the provision which God has made in the Death and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, for "saving sinners," for "justifying the ungodly." This is set forth in the earlier chapters of this Epistle to the Romans. And in the latter part of the fifth chapter, the Apostle proceeds a step further, and shews that men have even become gainers through the fall, by redemption; gainers over that estate which they lost in Adam. So abundantly had the riches of the grace of God been manifested. What was lost in the first Adam, was more than regained in the second. Nay, even the entrance of the Law which seemed only to bring the sentence of condemnation, was by the exceeding goodness of God overruled to another end. It manifested the extent of His grace. "The Law entered that the offence might abound," but the multiplication and excess of sin forgiven did but exhibit grace, in opposition to sin, obtaining a greater and more glorious triumph. "For where sin abounded, grace did much more abound, that as sin had reigned unto death, even so might grace through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord."
But if sin has thus occasioned a more glorious triumph to grace, why may we riot, some mistaken or perverse objector enquires, continue in sin that grace may abound? Since the sin of man has so magnified the grace of God, why not continue in sin that His, grace may be more magnified? Such is the perversion which S. Paul had to meet. And now observe how he meets it, and sets it aside. He does not take the ground that a right faith must be productive of good works; that if persons believe in Christ, it is a necessary and legitimate consequence that they should obey Him. Neither does he urge the motives of gratitude, as he does in another place, as that the love of Christ will constrain us to live no longer to ourselves or to sin, but to Him Who loved us and died for us. He takes even higher ground than this, from which He comes down upon the objector with a still more overwhelming and crushing answer. Motives, however high and influential, might fail. They seem to leave it to men's choice whether they will be actuated by them or not. The force of reason, however powerful and unanswerable its arguments, may often be unfelt, or evaded. For who, if he will, may not do violence to the dictates of his reason? But what can be said when a certain course of action is involved in the very form and nature of the Christian's standing? and when the very supposition on which the objector builds, destroys the foundation of his own inference; when the very grace which be believes himself to possess, destroys the sin which he fancies it leaves him at liberty to commit. How can one dead perform the functions of life? This would not be a mere inconsistency, or a mere failure in the motives which ought to influence a rational being; but it would be an absolute contradiction, a positive and actual contradiction, a saying and unsaying of the same thing, at the same time. Now observe, this is the ground taken by the Apostle. He does not speak of sin in Christians, as a mere inconsistency, or as a dishonouring of our profession; but lie says boldly at once, It cannot be. Christians, and continue in sin! Impossible! You have forgotten your own standing; you have forgotten that you are dead to it. You are grafted into Christ, and into Him not as He was in mortal flesh, but now as He is a quickening Spirit; not before He died, but after He had died and risen. To commit sin wilfully or allowedly is in fact to deny this, to deny your union with Him; and this is not inconsistent Christianity, but it is the renouncement of Christianity itself. Christians, and continue in sin! " God forbid! How shall we that are dead to sin, continue any longer therein? Know ye not that so many of us as are baptized into Jesus Christ, are baptized into His Death? Therefore we are buried with Him by Baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."
See how the Apostle here speaks of Christian Baptism: not as a mere outward form, a mere sign or pledge of blessings already received or to be yet received, but as a real ingrafting into Christ Who has died and risen again. It is the taking in of one person into another, and constituting them one. And He into Whom the baptized is received, has already passed into a state of death, through it, and out of it. And so then by virtue of real vital union with our Lord every one baptized has in Him died and is risen. The Body is as the Head. The virtue of the acts which were done by and in the Head extend to the members also. Hence it is that what was done by Christ and in Christ eighteen hundred years ago, is now wrought in every true Christian. Was He born? So if we be His, are we spiritually born, born by His Spirit. Was He circumcised? So are we, by a circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh. Was He crucified? So are we, as the Apostle testifies; "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Is He risen? So are we. "If ye then be risen with Christ," assuming this as the starting point of the Christian life. Or we may put the same truth conversely thus. Christ is ever doing in His members what He did in His own Person as their Head and Representative. He is formed in us; He is born in us; He suffers in us, dies in us, rises again in its, lives in us; all which forms the very reality of the Christian life.
Thus then our Baptism is the real, not merely figurative, grafting of us into Christ. Therein, as we are taught in the first rudiments of our faith, "we are made members of Christ." And most significantly does Baptism itself point to that mysterious participation which it gives us in the acts of Christ. Still more significant indeed, when, as in early times, the Sacrament was administered by immersion. For in the waters of Baptism we die and are buried and come forth cleansed, born again into a pure and holy life; the going down into the Baptismal waters being an emblem of our death and burial, and the coming up from the Baptismal water being an emblem of the resurrection. Baptism is an emblematic acting over again of the Death and Resurrection of Christ in us; significantly pointing to the interior mystery, "buried with Him in Baptism, wherein also we are risen with Him through faith of the operation of God, Who raised Him from the dead."
And here it is important to observe, that our conformity to the Death of Christ includes two things. One consisting of what God does upon us and in us. The other of what we by the aid of His Holy Spirit must be continually doing for ourselves, not of ourselves, for it is God that worketh all in us. That which God does upon us and in us, is the causing us virtually to die in Christ's Death; inflicting death upon the natural man, a death upon our natural propensities, a death unto sin. "Knowing this," says the Apostle, "that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed." Thus has the Christian undergone a mystical or moral death. A deathblow has been given to the power and energy of that nature which he has inherited from the fallen Adam. "For he that is dead is freed from sin." Now this is altogether not only the work of God, but so to speak His act. Of ourselves we could neither have the will nor the power thus to crucify ourselves, to inflict death upon ourselves. The emblems of Scripture truly express this reality, or rather what we see in nature is but the emblem of what is real in grace. No man can create himself, can cause himself to be born, can bring himself through death to a resurrection. He may indeed contribute to the placing of himself in such a position as that these acts may be done upon him. He may yield himself as clay to the hands of the potter; such is the little child brought to the baptismal fontsuch is the adult heathen who lays down his pride, and believes the Gospel; but neither one nor the other contributes to his own birthno more to this birth of the Spirit, than he can to his birth of the flesh. This therefore, I say, is done not only by the power of God, as all good things are done, but, so to speak, by His Divine Agency. He is altogether the Doer of it. It is altogether effected by that real but mysterious union in which God makes us one with Christ, causing those things which were actually and literally done in Him, to be really and virtually done in us. So that His Death on the Cross is done over again in every Christian. A death which God inflicts by the power of His Spirit, through the instrument of Baptism. Hence in the text, which is followed by the Baptismal office, Baptism is called the being buried with Christ in His Death. This act then is altogether God's merciful act. "Of His own Will begat He us." "Not of him that willeth nor of him that ruineth, but of God that sheweth mercy." He takes us utterly helpless as we are, bathes us, as it were, in the Blood of Christ, and stamps upon us the marks of the dying of the Lord Jesus.
But when this is done upon us and in us, there follows our part, not which we can do of ourselves, but which nevertheless we may do and must do by the aid of God's Spirit. And this is, to keep our old nature in a state of death; nay, we may not shrink from this full truth in a state of crucifixion. Strength is given us to do this, and we are responsible for doing it. Let no fastidiousness in the use of terms, no fear of attributing too much to the work of man, conceal from us the plain Scriptural truth, that God having crucified our old man, and this by His free unmerited grace, "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy;" the keeping of our old man crucified, depends upon ourselves. I put it strongly, because we are so prone to rid ourselves of our responsibility by seeming to exalt God's grace. It is indeed by the grace of God; but that has been, and continues to be, given. God has chosen us to be holy, He has slain sin in us, and given us His Holy Spirit to keep it dead. So then, when I say it depends upon ourselves, of course I do not mean that it can be done of ourselves, or that we are not, at the last equally as at the first, blessedly dependent upon the aid of the Holy Spirit, Who is the very life by which our souls live. All is of God, yet not without us, but in us and by us. What I mean is, that unless we use this grace which has been given to us, unless we give ourselves to the work of keeping the old man within us in a state of death, of keeping down the rebel nature, he will rise upon us like a strong man armed, and will overcome us, and our last state will be worse than the first. Observe then the true position of the Christian. The vantage ground has been given to him, and be must keep it. He is placed as it were within the citadel, and it must be his care to defend it. The enemy has been put under 'his feet, be must keep him there. This, I say, is the true position of the Christian combatant. And hence it is that our death to sin in the Death of Christ, though inasmuch as it is the work of God upon us, is done at once, is yet by us to be done day by day. As St. Paul speaks, "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus." It is a work to go on from the day of our baptism to the day of our death, We must be dying daily that we may be daily rising; we must be crucifying the flesh that we may live in the Spirit; watching the enemy within us, lest be break his bonds, and stand up against us. And hence, even little children are to be brought up in habits of self-control and self-government. They are to be trained in faith of the baptismal blessing as having in them a seed of life, not indeed to be too hastily developed, not to be unnaturally forced to bear precocious fruit, (than which nothing can be more ruinous to the youthful mind;) but to be watched over, and fostered, and remembered in every step of mental training, until it comes forth in the due season the ripened fruit of self-denial and self-discipline.
This twofold feature of conformity to the Death of Christ pervades the writings of St. Paul. Thus in the text; "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His Death, buried with Him by baptism into death?" Here our conformity to Christ's Death is set forth as the one act of God. Then in the subsequent verses he speaks of our daily conforming ourselves to it. "Reckon yourselves dead unto sin." Let not sin reign over your mortal bodies, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof." Again, "The body is dead because of sin." Here is the work of God within us. "If ye live after the flesh ye shall die, but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body ye shall live."' Here is the work of the Christian by the Spirit keeping down the enemy slain within him." Again, "I through the law am dead to the law. I am crucified with Christ." This was the work of God. "Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Again, "Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth, for ye are dead." And then afterwards the Apostle proceeds, "Mortify, put to death, your members which are upon the earth." Here in the plainest way He brings together the twofold character of our death. Ye are dead, and yet ye are to inflict a constant death on yourselves. So again, "He was crucified through weakness, but He liveth by the power of God; we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God." And hence too, such expressions as these, "I die daily," "I am crucified to the world and the world is crucified to me." "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." "If we be dead with Christ, we shall also live with Him."
And truly, my brethren, if we would but see it, this is the one great idea presented to us in the discipline of the Christian life. It is not life simply, but always life out of death. In all we must first die, if we would learn to live aright. Die to the world, that we may use it without abusing it. Die to ourselves, else our own pleasure and not the evils of God will be our rule. Die to the dearest objects of our affection, husband, wife, children, else we shall make them idols. And when we have died to all, then do we live indeed. Then can they "who have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep as though they wept not; and they that rejoice as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy as those that possessed not; and they that use the world as not abusing it; for the fashion of this world passeth away." Such then, we are taught, my brethren, is the power of our Lord's Death; such its virtue to heal.
And now then more particularly to apply this great doctrine. In one sense, sin has been slain in all of as one part of conformity to Christ's Death has been effected in us all. For it may be assumed that we have all received Holy Baptism. We have all probably received it as infants, when there was in us no actual sin to form a bar or hindrance to the efficacy of that Holy Sacrament. And what then is this Baptism which we have received? It is a death unto sin. It is the being buried with Christ in His Death. And surely, brethren, this is an awful gift to have received. It is a fearful thing to have been brought into such close contact with the mysterious Death of our Lord; nay, to have bad that very death acted over again within us. How little do many Christians think of this-even the most thoughtful too little. Let us strive to recall such thoughts as may have filled our mind, in the solemn season of Holy Week-when the Passion of our Lord has been so vividly presented to the mind. Then we think of it as an awful thing to have stood by the very Cross of Jesus to have been so very near that great mysterythe Death of the Son of God of God manifest in the flesh: and yet in truth, my brethren, we have all individually been nearer to that mystery than they who with their bodily eyes beheld itnearer than were the Blessed Virgin Mother and the beloved disciple. For we have died with Himwe have been nailed to His Cross-we have been bathed with the Blood which flowed from His Wounds. O then, brethren, what all exceeding fearful thing it is to be a Christian; to have had done in us and upon us that which has been done in and upon us all. Hence we may learn of what exceedingly terrible import are those words of Scripture, "the crucifying of the Son of God afresh, and the treading under foot the Son of God, and the counting the Blood wherewith we have been sanctified all unholy thing." What is this but the very sin of those who, having been baptized into His Death, live in sin? We call all of us appreciate the guilt of sin when connected with a religious profession. It would shock most, for instance, to think of one receiving the Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood, and then straightway committing the sin of drunkenness, or fornication, or other gross iniquity. But consider how near their sin comes to this, who have come forth from the purifying waters of Baptism only to wallow in the mire of sin-, who have received the very mark of the dying of the Lord Jesus; nay, have become partakers of His Death, and yet with the Blood of sprinkling upon them, deny the Lord that bought them, and live a life of worldliness or pleasure, in forgetfulness of God!
And yet awful as this aspect of the doctrine seems to be and really is, still it has no discouraging aspect towards those who desire now to serve God, and to give themselves heartily to Him. It is indeed one of the sad consequences of sin that it has not only its own specific penalty, but it weakens our power for good. It paralyses the arm that would raise itself against it, it dims our spiritual vision, and incapacitates its both for discerning and pursuing the path of duty. Wretched indeed is the position of the sinner when lie first wakes up and finds himself far from God; and when he would break his fetters, first finds their real strength, and how powerless are his utmost efforts to free himself This truly is so: miserable is the feeling of weakness and desolation at such a time. Yet let it encourage him to call to mind that though a prodigal he is still a ion. The present kindlings of repentance are a token that the sacred bonds of this relationship are not yet utterly broken. He has a principle within him, which although it has long lain dormant and has been weakened and overlaid by evil, is even yet not without life. He is not even now as a heathen man. True, his sin has been greater, but the very reasons which make it greater may be pleaded in his behalf. He is in a nearer and dearer relationship; he can fall back on a higher principle. In him sin has received its deathblow, the virtue of his Baptism is not utterly destroyed. Had it been so, no penitence would be felt. Let him arise then and even now call forth the energies of the life within him. So far from yielding to despair or wishing himself unpossessed, as some are tempted to do, of those great blessings which lie has hitherto abused, let the fact of his possessing them even now outweigh the discouragement of having abused them. He is still a Christian; he is still one that has been baptized into the Death of Christ. Let that be to him a source and spring of hope. Let him fight as with enemies which have been conquered, which have received their deathblow; which have hitherto been strong only through his supineness. He has a power within him which as yet be knows not of. True, the power of sin has become great by indulgence. It is as a strong man armed keeping his goods. But still there is One stronger within, Who will master him and take from him the armour in which he trusted. O that every one wandering from the fold of Christ in whom there are the kindlings of repentance; who is wearied with the bondage of sin, wearied with the world, wearied with its emptiness and nothingness, or terrified with the prospect of God's heavy judgment, would realize this to him still blessed truth. O Christian, although thou hast been a profligate, or a worldling, or a covetous man who is an idolater, or, what shall I say more? if thou hast been an adulterer or a murderer; yet know assuredly, if thy heart be kindled into penitence, sin has been slain within thee. Thou still belongest to Christ, if thou wouldest still have Christ belong to thee. Sin which has been thy master, may yet be thy slave. Still victory awaits thee, if thou wilt but nerve thine arm for the conflict, and call mightily on the Lord God of hosts.
And be it the care of all more entirely and personally to realize this great truth, as possessing in themselves this energizing principle of spiritual life. Surely it has been the very master-piece of Satan, that he should have prevailed on so many Christians to use the Death of our Lord rather to comfort them under the consciousness of sin, than as a power to slay sin within them; to take up with the miserable comfort arising from the thought of pardon, while Sin still remains within them as their tyrant and tormentor, rather than seek the blessed comfort of a pure heart and a cleansed conscience. For is it not so when they make so much more of mere forgiveness than of holiness as the result of Christ's Death? when on being overtaken by sin, their thoughts turn so much more readily to the Cross of Christ, as the source of pardon, than as crue tying them to sin, and slaying sin within them? One reason of this is, that the Death of Christ has been thought of too exclusively as an event past, from which indeed great benefits bave flowed to us, but not enough as having a present reality to each of us and in each of us; so that we are to bear about in us, as St. Paul did, "the dying of the Lord Jesus." Towards attaining this conviction, mental prayer and meditation on the Passion will be most helpful; repeatedly to bring up before our mind's-eye, the very image of our Lord dying for us. To fix our thoughts upon it, till our minds and hearts become insensibly formed after it, and moulded upon ituntil in some measure we can look on the world, its sins and follies, its vanities and pleasures, its riches and its show, as they would seem in the eyes of one crucified. Thus will the Death of Christ, ever gazed on with grateful remembrance by the soul without us, ever copied and traced upon her by His Holy Spirit within us, become a powerful principle of life, conforming us to itself, transforming us after His Blessed Image, quenching in us the fire of evil passions, subduing our pride, mortifying thoughts, of ambition and worldly glory, making us to esteem lightly the praise of men, weaning us from undue attachment to the comforts and innocent enjoyments of life, and even enabling us to love poverty and shame and worldly contempt as the path of Him Whom we best love to follow. So shall death work in us a better life, we shall be dying daily that we may live for ever; "our light affliction which is but for a moment"light because borne with Him and for Him and by Him within us"shall work for us a far more abundant and eternal weight of glory."
Grant, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the Death of Thy Blessed Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with Him; and that through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for His merits, Who died, and was buried, and rose again for its, Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.