Sermon XVIII. Forgiveness and Justification through Christ. [A Sermon for the Easter-Season.] Acts xiii. 38, 39. Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.
Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.
WE have followed the man of sorrow through the varied scenes of suffering and of afflictions which he was called upon to encounter, and the bitterness of which he meekly endured. We have seen Jesus of Nazareth, him that was approved of God among the nation of the Jews, by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him in the midst of them, as they themselves also knew; we have seen him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, taken, and by wicked hands crucified and slain. Beholding with wonder and with grief the strangeness of this event, we have been assured, and that [259/260] assurance has been confirmed to us by St. Paul, by virtue of a renewed attestation from heaven, that he died for our sins according to the Scriptures; for they that dwelt at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which were read every Sabbath day, they fulfilled them in condemning him. But God raised him from the dead, and we have heard those to whom he showed himself alive after his passion, by many infallible proofs, and who were his witnesses unto the people, declaring the glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again.
My brethren, the emotions with which we have hailed the festival dedicated by the Church to the memory of the resurrection of our Lord, and the feelings with which we have together celebrated its recurrence, should not be the impulse of a momentary gladness, nor the expression of a transient joy. Nor will it be, if we consider duly our interest in it, and the consequences it involves. Had we commemorated merely the rescue of innocence from the machinations of its enemies, or the glorious triumph of unresisting virtue over the unhallowed and apparently successful arts of power, of oppression, and of malignant hatred; even then we might with gratitude recur to the event for the moral, conveyed to our minds, of the [260/261] justice of God, and for the hope of ultimate deliverance held out in this example of suffering affliction, and of patience, to all who are called upon to submit to the trial of their faith, or who, for conscience toward God, endure grief, suffering wrongfully. But, my brethren, we have higher motives, and better reason, for dwelling on these scenes. That belief of God's justice which they teach, natural religion might have prompted; and that hope of deliverance a reasonable trust in his goodness might have inspired. And therefore, the inculcation of these, however worthy of God, and consonant to his character, could never be deemed otherwise than inadequate to account for the appearance on earth of the Son of God, for the mystery of his holy incarnation, for the wonders of his life, for the unspeakable horror and supernaturally heightened agony of his death.
In every part of his miraculous history, and especially in the terrors of that its closing scene, there would seem to be an immense disproportion between the object intended, and the means employed; nor should we be able to discover, either in the occasion or its results, any thing which, on the maxims of propriety laid down by the common sense of all mankind, would sanction and justify this fearful and tremendous interposition of God. Nothing less than that representation which the Scriptures contain, that Jesus Christ came to satisfy the claims of eternal justice in our [261/262] behalf, that as the good shepherd he laid down his life for the sheep, that he gave his life a ransom for many, and that on the cross he took away the sins of the world, can sufficiently account for his appearance on our earth; for the manner of that appearance in taking upon him the form of a servant, and being made in the likeness of man; nor for any of the many extraordinary facts already alluded to, connected with his advent, his birth, his cross, and passion, and precious death. Infinitely more important, then, than as presenting an example of patience, vastly more glorious than as inculcating and setting forth any mere moral truth, or precept, or system of doctrine, the purpose and object of the coming and death of Christ was to propitiate the wrath of an offended Creator against the race of men who had fallen from their allegiance; to restore to their first probation those who had forfeited their original inheritance; to open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. On every page of the New Testament, therefore, we find the most explicit declarations of that great truth which the types and shadows, the rites and ceremonies, the sacrifices and offerings, of the Jewish ritual plainly prefigured; and which not less the express predictions of the prophets foretold, that the seed of the woman was to bruise the serpent's head, that Messiah was to be made an offering for sin, that he was to bear our iniquities, that he was to be cut off, but not for himself, and [262/263] that by his death, sealing up the vision and prophecy, he was to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness. To this purpose are those plain declarations, that God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing unto men their trespasses; that in him we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; that now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made! nigh by the blood of Christ; that he, his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree; that; he has given himself an offering and a sacrifice to God; that like as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so was the Son of man lifted up; that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. So full, so ample, and so clear, are the testimonies to the vicarious offering and propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ. "Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses." Here, my brethren, are grounds of permanent and exalted joy. Here are reasons for the warmest gratitude. Here are motives to the most zealous [263/264] and undeviating obedience. And these should appeal to all to whom the message is addressed; for all are interested in its gracious offers.
From none are the benefits of Christ's redemption withheld. Far from being limited in respect of numbers, or from being circumscribed in point of time, he tasted death for every man; and the application of his merit runs back to the first transgression, and forward to the last of living men who shall stand upon the earth. Jesus Christ has opened wide the door of pardon to all who are penitent, and has placed within the reach of all who will improve his offered grace, that felicity which shall for ever endure. Wherever sin has spread its poison and its guilt, wherever with fear oppressing the conscience, and banishing from the heart its joy, it has made life undesirable, and death the messenger of terror and despair; there is in the sacrifice of Christ, that which shall remove from conscience its sting, and from death its fear. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. Different from the blood of Abel, which cried aloud from the ground for vengeance against the offender, the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for our guilt, is in heaven pleaded for our, pardon, and his blood cleanseth from all sin.
Thus it is, that this blood of sprinkling speak-eth better things than the blood of Abel; for through it, being justified by faith, we have peace with God.
 Such is the representation of Scripture respecting the benefits of Christ's death. The excellence of that sacrifice, and its superiority to all the expiations and propitiatory offerings of the law, are declared in the text. "For by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses." Now when we reflect that God was the author of that former covenant, when we think of its numerous observances and costly sacrifices, of its daily oblation both morning1 and evening, and of its stated offerings on the more solemn days of atonement, of its various ablutions and purifyings, of its gorgeous ritual, of its numerous priests standing daily ministering, of its succession of high priests deriving their authority expressly from divine appointment, we might suppose that so extended and imposing a system, so formal and authorized an appeal to God, though there was in it no actual efficacy to take away sin, must at least have had power to satisfy the conscience of the sincere and pious worshipper, and to give him peace. Great, however, as were the privileges of the worshippers under the law, ours under the Gospel are infinitely greater. All their service was but ceremonial and typical. There was in it no reality nor inherent efficacy. It was only a shadow. But the substance was of Christ. This was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices that could not [265/266] make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience. Its only efficacy consisted in this, that it represented to the eye of faith better things to come, and carried forward the thoughts to the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did, by the which we draw nigh to God. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, by a sacrifice for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who, through the Eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot unto God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God! For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin. But the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Such, my brethren, are the grounds of our rejoicing. Such are the higher reasons which believers have under the Gospel for magnifying the grace of God. For if the ministration of condemnation were glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. God is in Christ reconciling the [266/267] world unto himself, not imputing unto men their trespasses. Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you, in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God; for he hath made him who knew no sin to be a sin offering for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Two considerations present themselves. First, salvation is exclusively by Jesus Christ; for him hath God set forth to be a propitiation for sin, through faith in his name. The law of Moses, with all its provisions, was but temporary, intended to continue only till the seed should come to whom the promise was made, and that law which could not have given life, in him found its completion and fulfilment, and is no longer of any avail. Christ has opened for us a new and living way, by the sacrifice of himself. At once the victim and the priest, he hath taken away the sins of the world. Presenting the merit of his blood, he is our Intercessor with the Father; and by virtue of his perfect obedience in our behalf, he is made of God unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. For there is no other name under heaven given amongst men, whereby we can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ. Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid. He is the only medium of access to the Father; for no man cometh to the Father but by [267/268] him. He is the way, and the truth, and the life. Neither is there salvation is any other.
This is the first consideration which is presented to us, when we contemplate the sacrifice of Christ, Through all the annals of the human history, he alone is designated as the sent of God to proclaim pardon and forgiveness. It is his blood, and that alone, which can reconcile us to God, or give us hope of enjoying his favour. The second, which is but a corollary and deduction from the former, is the danger and exposedness of all who reject that sacrifice, and who neglect so great salvation. This, I say, my brethren, is most clearly a matter of the justest inference; for if Christ be the only medium of access to the Father, they who reject him can have no access. If he be the only channel of pardon, they who make light of his atonement cannot be pardoned. Nor is this a subject which is left to inference and deduction merely. There are the most express declarations to this effect. Thus, when St. John declares, in his First Epistle, "This is the record that God hath given to us eternal life: and that this life is in his Son;" he adds, not only, "he that hath the Son, hath life;" but further, and most emphatically, "he that hath not the Son, hath not life." Thus, too, the Baptist, when declaring to his disciples, "The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things [268/269] into his hands," not only asserts, "He that "believeth on the Son hath everlasting life;" but further, "He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." And to show that whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father, our Saviour declares, "He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father, which hath sent him;" "except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood," virtually acknowledge your faith in his sacrifice, and in heart sincerely embrace it, "ye have no life in you." "He that believeth in him is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." And when he also declared, "ye will not come unto me that ye might have life," he fully implied, that refusing to come to him they must perish; that rejecting him they could not have salvation; which also he himself explicitly asserted in these fearful words, "I said, therefore, unto you, ye shall die in your sins; for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins." My brethren, if the Scriptures be true, and if words have any meaning, these passages must convince us of the danger, not of infidelity merely, but of being deficient in the temper and spirit which Christianity requires; for if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if there be any who, trusting in their own [269/270] merits, or in God's unpropitiated mercy, reject and scorn the mediation of his Son, through whom alone the forgiveness, of sins is offered, and raise up vain and captious objections to the atonement, let them listen to the caution addressed by St. Paul to those to whom the first promulgation of this offer was made--"Beware lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the Prophets, Behold ye despisers, and wonder and perish. For I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you." But if there be any who, sensible of their unworthiness, and confessedly destitute of any claim or reliance in themselves, would seek to be justified by the atonement of Christ; if, distrusting all other resource, they would flee for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them in the Gospel; to such the invitation is freely extended by our Lord himself, "Come unto me, all ye that travail, and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you." And to banish from their minds all ground of fear, it is his own promise, "Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out; for God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." "Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren," known as a matter of the most perfect certainty, as a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, "that through this man is preached unto you the [270/271] forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses."
And since all these promises and assurances are made only to those that believe, let us perceive how necessary it is that repenting of every cherished sin, and bringing forth fruits meet for repentance, ours should be the unfeigned and availing faith in the Gospel--that faith which worketh by love, and purifieth the heart--that faith which inspires the resolution to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, and to give all diligence to make our calling and election sure--that faith which shall distinguish us from the world by its transforming power, experienced inwardly in the renewing of our minds, and manifested outwardly in making us a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Thus, by a true and living faith, embracing the interposition of Christ in our behalf, and being conformed to his image by cherishing continually the effectual influence of his Holy Spirit, we shall be authorized to believe that our sins are forgiven; that we are justified from all things from which we could not be justified by the law of Moses; that the majesty of the Father is reconciled; that we are again restored to the favour of the Most High; that it is our privilege, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, to serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the [271/272] days of our life. And sustained by his grace to the end of this mortal pilgrimage, we may pass through the valley of the shadow of death, and fear no evil; we may quit the world in peace, in confidence, in triumph; rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.