PUBLISHED BY FRANCIS G. FISH.
This was the last Sermon composed by the author: and it is printed as a Memorial of him for the Congregation.
He was ordained Deacon, July 13th, 1845, and died April 19th, 1846, aged 23 years.
HEBREWS XIII., 7, 8. "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God:
whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation; Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to day, and forever."
For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him Crucified.
1 Corinthians, 2 chap. 2. v.
It was not enough for the Apostle that he should know nothing among the Corinthians but Jesus Christ. After discarding all other subjects as unworthy of a moment's attention from him, and confining himself to that one alone, he still narrowed his boundaries. He determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ: and to know him--even him--in only one aspect; not heralded by angels at his birth, nor approved by a voice from heaven at his baptism, nor glorified in his transfiguration, nor applauded by the multitude, nor risen victorious over death and the grave, nor ascending up on high, nor reigning at God's right hand--but crucified between two thieves. Of course, St. Paul did not mean that he would literally allude to no other fact and recognise no other fact than this; but he did mean that all others should be forgotten in comparison with this, whilst this should stand forth as the grand theme of his preaching--the one thing which he was wholly bent upon exhibiting and applying. [3/4] It is true that his instructions took a wide range, embracing every variety of doctrine and precept. Nevertheless, it has been well said, that these were the circumference of which that one truth was always the centre. Every thing was exhibited in its relation to that. Everything was made to turn upon that continually. If that be taken away, St. Paul's writings are an enigma, and his life is a mystery. He moved, he spoke, he thought, with that one truth forever before him. He said on one occasion, "For me to live is Christ;" and he might almost have said, in the spirit of the text, "For me to live is Christ crucified."
But the text has an especial reference to his preaching. He determined to know nothing but Christ crucified in his ministry. This one doctrine he considered sufficient to accomplish all the designs of a preacher of the Gospel. If rightly set forth, he did not doubt that it would overcome the most formidable obstacles, and triumph over the strongest enemies, and subdue every heart to the dominion of the Messiah. It was, indeed, "to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness;" but in the Apostle's estimation the foolishness of God was wiser than men, and the weakness of God was stronger than men, and he was well assured that in the end it would prove "the power of God and the wisdom of God." In this assurance he formed the determination recorded in the text. He would trust for success to the preaching of this one doctrine alone, being fully persuaded that it contained whatever man needed to know as the moral creature of God.
 Now, this was not mere declamation on the part of St. Paul; nor was it an extravagant and unmeaning form of speech. He had formed his determination deliberately. He was expressing his firm and abiding conviction of the importance and efficacy of the doctrine of Christ crucified. And, perhaps, we cannot be more suitably or profitably employed on the present occasion than in vindicating the Apostle's judgment concerning that great event and doctrine which we this day so solemnly commemorate.
By "preaching" and "knowing" Christ crucified, St. Paul meant preaching, exhibiting, enforcing the doctrine of the Atonement. Hence, it will be our business to examine, 1st, What this doctrine is? 2d, How it is set forth by preaching Christ crucified? and 3d, Its efficacy for all the purposes of man's justification and sanctification.
The doctrine of Atonement cannot be fully understood, unless we view it with reference both to God and man. We must regard man as the victim of God's broken law. That law, being the expression of the Divine holiness, is at the same time most righteous and most severe. There is not a single requirement which could be dispensed with by God, or complained of by man. With its mighty grasp it seizes every act, every word, every thought, every purpose, every motive; nor can that grasp be loosed for a moment without endangering the moral universe. Such a law must of course be accompanied with penalties commensurate with its importance, and every transgression must be so severely visited that the broken command will be still held in honor. Accordingly, it [5/6] declared, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." The man that broke this law in any single point was there by doomed to a punishment which no words can describe and no heart conceive; a punishment measured in extent by the compass of the law that was broken--in intensity by the wrath of the lawgiver, who was offended--and in duration by the existence of the soul that had sinned; a punishment infinite, unmitigated, everlasting. To this punishment, man was obnoxious; nor could a just and holy God remit the penalty. The law was broken: There must be suffering. The heart of Divine compassion might yearn over the sons of men; but the hand of Divine Justice must strike the blow.
In this extremity, a way was devised by which God could be just, and yet the justifier of his sinful creatures. Some one must be found who should suffer in our stead: some one who might stand as man's substitute, and by enduring the penalty of the transgression in this vicarious character, so fully satisfy justice, that we might escape, and the authority of the law still be maintained. This was the work of Christ, who, being in the form of God, and thinking it not robbery to be equal with God, yet took upon him our nature, and was made in the likeness of men; and in that human nature, united to the Divine, he suffered such things as God was pleased to accept in place of our suffering eternally. Forgiveness was thus granted in a way which showed that it was attended by no diminution of holiness in God, and yet his law could not be broken with impunity, although the real [6/7] transgressor had not borne its righteous penalty. This is the doctrine of Atonement.
Now, secondly, we are to inquire how this doctrine was peculiarly set forth by preaching Christ crucified. For we might suppose that all our Lord's sufferings--in the garden, in the judgment hall, and, indeed, throughout his whole pilgrimage--were not only as an example to us, but undergone in our stead. Yet the sacred writers continually speak of his crucifixion as that which atoned for our sins. And there are various reasons why he may be regarded as making atonement for us in that particular event, rather than any other.
1. Crucifixion was a punishment. Christ, in suffering for us, took the place of a criminal. In the language of St. Paul, he was "made a curse for us;" that is, he received the curse which the law pronounces against offenders. We are told that God "made him to be sin for us who knew no sin;" that is, on our account and for our sakes, God treated him as a sinner, and visited him with such sufferings as a sinner would deserve. So it is written, "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." Had our Lord endured anything else, it would not so strikingly have exhibited his character as our substitute. Any other kind of torture might have been looked upon as ordinary martyrdom; but when Jesus hung between two thieves, the sight proclaimed that, as they died the victims of justice, so did he; the difference being this, that they died the victims of human justice--he of divine only; they died the victims of justice outraged by their own crimes--he, of justice outraged by the sins of others. By this [7/8] death, then, he was, according to the prophecy, "numbered with the transgressors." For this purpose, he was kept from the violence of the people when they sought to stone him, preserved from the priests and rulers when they might have laid hands on him secretly, and finally dragged before a judgment seat and led out to be executed between two malefactors. Since he was to suffer for us sinners, it was most proper that he should suffer a punishment such as was awarded to sin.
But farther: Crucifixion was a most disgraceful and ignominious punishment. We have nothing to equal it in this respect. Even the gallows is more honorable in our eyes, than the cross was in the eyes of the Jews and Romans. Therefore, when Christ was to suffer in our stead, he did not stop short of the last degree of degradation in the estimation of men and we may most emphatically say that he atoned for us in that one event which placed him--the Son of God--so low, that earth did not contain a place of more shame and contempt than the one he occupied. As if to show that the evil of sin could not be over-rated, nor God's hatred of it too strongly represented, the Incarnate Deity sought out the vilest portion that human ingenuity could bestow, and stood as the sinner's substitute, where the meanest of all slaves would have looked proudly down upon him. We see how degraded his position was from this, that the soldiers for their own sport, in very ridicule of one who was made the scorn of men, clothed him in a royal robe, and crowned him with thorns, and put a reed as a mock sceptre in his hand, and then to complete the burlesque [8/9] bowed before him with laughter and jeers, abandoning themselves to childish insults as they cried, "Hail King of the Jews." Oh, Jesus! this thou didst suffer in our stead.
Brethren, he who was in the form of God made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; but this was not all, for being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death; but this was not all, for it was even the death of the cross.
But the crucifixion of our Lord has this pre-eminence in his atoning work, not only because it was shameful, but because it was painful to an extreme. It is said that those who had any mercy, caused criminals, when adjudged to this punishment, to be first put to death in some other way, and then crucified, that the letter of the law might be fulfilled, whilst the culprit was spared those refinements of torture which were deemed too great to be inflicted. Yet our blessed Lord experienced no such mitigation of his fate. As he was suffering for the sins of the world, it was right that he should suffer all that justice untempered with mercy would require. Not one jot or tittle failed. Not a pang was spared. Not a blow was withheld. Not an hour was cut off from the time of protracted anguish. And in this extremity of suffering the Redeemer made atonement for our sins.
Once more: Jesus atoned for us in his crucifixion because it ended in death, and nothing short of that could suffice. "Without the shedding of blood," says [9/10] the Apostle, "there is no remission." We are not to suppose that Christ endured an amount of suffering equal to that of the whole human race, had they been cast eternally into hell. Such an opinion is unwarranted by Scripture. We only know that he endured so much as God was willing to accept in place of that fearful amount; and it is presumptuous for us to say how much, when endured by a Divine Being, would suffice for all the purposes of an atonement. Still there seems an obvious propriety--I might almost say necessity--of the death of the Mediator. The death of the body was so plainly a consequence and a punishment of sin, and so expressive a type of that spiritual death in which the punishment mainly consisted, that no one could be said, in any sense, to endure that punishment without receiving this visible and inevitable penalty. The sacrifices which had been offered for so many ages, clearly taught that expiation came only by death. And when the Lamb of God would take away the sins of the world, he must be slain as the all sufficient sacrifice to make final and complete satisfaction for all men.
For these reasons we behold our Atonement in the crucifiction of Christ. It was in its nature a punishment, and therefore became him who suffered for sinners. In its character it was ignominious and painful to an extreme, as became him who was receiving the curse of God's broken law, and bearing the sins of the whole world. In its event it was fatal, as became him who was our sacrifice, and who, in his sufferings, was to show that God would never remit the penalty of sin, but visit the transgressor with the threatened punishment. [10/11] Therefore, the preaching of Christ crucified is the preaching of the doctrine of the Atonement.
Thirdly, let us look at the efficacy of this doctrine. St. Paul was willing, yea, determined, to know nothing else. He thought it sufficient to effect all the purposes of Gospel preaching. And we, doubtless, shall find reasons enough to vindicate his judgment.
The Apostle in his preaching addressed men only as sinners destined to an eternal existence of happiness or wo; and he desired to preach nothing beyond what would meet their wants as such. He could find in the doctrine of Christ crucified enough to supply all the need of their condition, as fallen moral agents in the presence of a Holy God; and with this he was satisfied.
The first want of man as a sinner is to be forgiven, and the preaching of the cross alone is adapted to supply this want. If we look at the obstacle to forgiveness which is found in the character of God's law, where is it met but in that full and free and perfect Atonement which is the sole ground of justification? Who can be acquainted with the Apostle's instructions and not admire the power of Christ crucified as thus displayed? Who has not seen that inspired reasoner sweeping away every other refuge, that the cross alone might be exalted before the perishing soul? He wrote to the Romans to show the insufficiency of our own righteousness. He wrote to the Galatians to show the insufficiency of circumcision. He wrote to the Hebrews to show the insufficiency of Jewish sacrifices. In every instance the false hope is torn away that Christ might appear in all His sufficiency, as having [11/12] provided for our justification by his own perfect righteousness and expiatory suffering completed on the cross.
And when the despairing sinner is pointed to him, O how wondrously is his power made manifest. Though the guilty soul should waste away its energies in striving to render a justifying obedience of its own it would all be in vain. Though it should look to the offering of a thousand flocks and ten thousand rivers of oil, the wrath of God would not be turned away. Still the question recurs, "What must I do to be saved?" nor can that question ever be answered except as it was of old, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." In such an hour we need want no other doctrine to preach. There is a fulness of grace in the sight of Christ crucified which alone can bring comfort and peace. There is a want--a mighty want--with which no other fact is commensurate than this that the Son of God hath died. Let a man look back on a lifetime of alienation from his Maker, and nothing can appear sufficient to atone for it but the offering up of Christ. Let him look within at his heart so full of enmity, and nothing can speak peace but the blood of Jesus. Let him look up to an offended God, and nothing can restore the light of Divine favor but the one Lamb, without blemish and without spot. Let him look forward to an eternity of existence in the presence of the Most High, and no other name will seem worthy for him to plead there than the name of the Crucified. Thus we find this doctrine enough to give peace to a soul burdened with sin. It opens a treasure which can never be exhausted. It has been a fountain of life [12/13] to myriads, and it shall be to myriads more. Whatever may be the load of guilt, it is enough to say that an Almighty Savior died. Whatever the depth of despair, the towering cross is still to be lifted up, and from the lowest depth the sinner's eye will turn with hope to behold the Lamb of God.
There is another exigency in the case of the unpardoned sinner which Christ crucified alone can adequately meet. We have seen that, by this doctrine, the difficulty is removed which lies in the way of his forgiveness on account of the character of God. His own character also presents a difficulty which is no less effectually obviated. You will observe that I have spoken of the sinner as awakened--anxious--penitent, and then finding peace through the blood of Christ; but this awakened, anxious, and penitent state is far from being the one in which men are naturally found. On the contrary, they are asleep as regards their danger, indifferent to the commands of God, and insensible of their sin and corruption. Now the question arises, How shall they be aroused? God will not forgive them unless they repent. The blood of Christ is of no avail for their redemption unless they believe. But here they are, dead in trespasses and sins. What voice can reach them? Is it that of persuasion? Nay, for they are pursuing the course which they think best; they are dead to the motives you urge. Is it the threatening sound of the law? Alas! too often even that is as far from moving them as were the thunders of Sinai from alarming the hosts that had perished in the Red Sea. Still there is hope. Christ crucified will reach those hitherto impenetrable hearts, [13/14] and the men, whom nothing else could convince of sin, will melt with penitential grief when they see a dying Savior, the victim of their guilt. That sight is so amazing--so stupendous--that the poor blinded soul starts back with awe, and the mind so long insensible to every other influence is aroused to a conviction of in-born depravity, unmeasured guilt, and merited condemnation. The glories of God's eternal throne are seen blending with the dishonor of the cross, because of man's iniquity; the gaping wounds, the trickling blood, the agonized features of the dying Mediator, all combine to strike terror into the conscience of him who feels not only that his sins deserved this punishment, but that his sins deserved such a punishment as this is when borne by the only begotten of the Father. O! then it is, that true repentance fills the heart! Then sin is hated, loathed, renounced! Then the sinner can come before God acknowledging his desert of the lowest depth in the world of wo; the direst pang of the undying worm! the most fiery wave of the lake that burneth! And then, too, the soul, renouncing all other hope, is prepared for that which is in Jesus, while with a cry as humble as that of the penitent thief it utters the prayer, "Lord remember me." The sinner convinced, despairing, believing, looks to Christ, and is forgiven. God's favor is restored. A reconciliation is made by the blood of Atonement. The curse is removed. The cloud of wrath is rolled away; and the soul is at peace in justifying faith.
Thus we see the efficacy of the doctrine of Christ crucified, for man's justification, whether we consider the difficulty which lies in the character of God or [14/15] that which arises from the impenitence of man. But something else remains to be done. The sinner justified must also be sanctified. The soul forgiven must also be made holy. The affections so depraved must be brought back to purity, and the heart so averse from God must be made to love him supremely--unreservedly--entirely. Now this work, brethren, is not to be wrought as upon the senseless objects in the material creation. The agency of the Divine Spirit is indeed essential and efficacious; but the agency must be exercised by means of truth communicated to intelligent souls, and motives brought to bear upon the unforced human will. How can the guilty soul be restored to actual and inherent holiness? This is a question, the difficulties of which seem but to increase with our knowledge, and to multiply upon reflection. Commands will not suffice. They cannot control the heart. They cannot subdue the will. "But 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 and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh;" and, therefore, as the only means, but still the all-sufficient means, of sanctification for the human heart, we may preach Christ crucified, and with the Apostle determine to know nothing besides.
The way in which this is effected can be better understood by experience than by description. It is set forth by St. Paul in expressive figures. He represents the Christian as crucified with Christ; crucified by the cross of Christ to the world; dead with Christ to sin, and being made conformable to his death. These modes of speaking all accord with the determination [15/16] to know nothing but Christ crucified. They present him in that aspect as our sanctification; and they have a definite meaning which, when elicited, will show the complete efficacy of the doctrine we are considering.
By being crucified with Christ, then, we are to understand being brought under the control of motives which arise out of his crucifixion, and which turn us, in our affections and practice, from sin to holiness. In other words, by the crucifixion of Christ we are brought voluntarily to the love of God--the hatred of sin--the renunciation of self--and the desire of conformity to the image of Christ.
We are brought to the love of God. We stand before the cross. We see our Savior there; God's own Son; disgraced in the estimation of the lowest of men; subjected to sufferings of body and mind that all language fails to depict: and we ask why it is. The answer comes from the Divine lips: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life."--John iii., 16. Wondering, we exclaim, "Lord, was it for me? Thy gift is too great! Thy mercy is too rich!" And would you know the love which such a scene inspires? O that heaven might be opened, and that we could hear the song of the redeemed to the Lamb that was slain, "Worthy! Worthy! Worthy!" For thou was slain and hast redeemed us by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, and hath made us kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth.
Then the hatred of sin rises up in the breast. [16/17] Viewing it as the cause of all that woful scene, we feel our love of God and Christ recoiling as it were against the iniquities which brought our Redeemer to the cross, and the same heart which glows with holy and grateful affection for the Author of my salvation, burns with holy abhorrence for the cause of his anguish.
Then self is renounced. Pride dies within us when we see the condescension of the Lord of glory. The desire of our own gratification is at an end when we witness the sacrifice of Jesus for a guilty world.
And finally, the whole soul goes forth in holy desires to be like him who paid his blood as the ransom for us, and lay down in the darkness of death that we might be made the heirs of everlasting life.
Thus we are crucified with Christ. He is preached for our sanctification as well as our justification; and the doctrine is seen to be commensurate with all the wants of man as a corrupt and guilty being. Therefore, St. Paul knew nothing else, and was determined to know nothing else but this. So let it be with us. This day the cross is lifted up among us. We sit down in dust and ashes to behold our Crucified Redeemer. Let us gaze on him with self-renouncing faith, and become one with him, that we may be justified by his Blood, purified by his Spirit, and saved by his Grace.