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"But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God"
– 1 Cor. 1:23, 24.
OW from the words we offer this doctrine. "Christ crucified, held out
in the gospel dispensation, is the powerful mean whereby God, in his
wisdom, effectually saves all them that are called."
The doctrine needs no text to prove it; it is plain in the words; the context is full of it; the whole scriptures are so, as we shall see afterwards. In speaking to it,
1. Our Lord was indeed the Christ of God, the Messiah, the anointed; him had God solemnly set apart, and fully furnished to be the Saviour of sinners. He is the holy child Jesus whom thou hast anointed, says the joyful congregation in their song of praise. Compare Matt. 1:21 with Luke 1:74.
2. The Christ of God, whom he ordained to save the world, was in the world, and by the world crucified, put to death. Jews and Gentiles, rulers and people, church and state, elect and reprobate, Acts 4:37; a full representation of the world concurred to crucify the Saviour of the world. This is a common, but a very strange truth. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at the monstrous ingratitude of the world below. What a strange thing also is it, that he who was ordained, anointed to save the world, should die! the Prince of Life lose his life! the Saviour be destroyed, as it were! But this is not all: for,
3. The Christ of God was sent into the world by God, to die, to be Christ crucified. God spared him not; he delivered him up: he gave his enemies power against him, as our Lord insinuates to Pilate. He bid the sword awake against him; he put him to grief, and bruised him. Strange! the Christ of God, by the determinate counsel of God, crucified! What must the matter be? which leads me to remark,
4. The Christ of God was not crucified for any sin of his own: He "was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." He needed no atonement for his own sins, Heb. 7:26, 27. He was "cut off, but not for himself," Dan. 9:26: his enemies could find no fault with him: heaven proclaims him innocent. Accursed, therefore, are the notions that now spread among us, That there were rebellions in his lower faculties, etc., and the apologies for this are no better.
Christ was crucified, in the stead of sinners; for "he was cut off from
the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he
stricken;" that is, not merely for our good, as Socinians speak: nor
was it only or principally to leave us an example of suffering: but it
was in our stead, in our place. This, Socinians, and they who of old
and of late fall in with them, oppose: and I wish that some amongst
ourselves, with their new and useless disputes about the sense wherein
Christ bore our persons, had not contributed too much to the darkening
this glorious truth, whereon all the power of Christ's death toward our
salvation hangs. I shall tell you what the scripture says in this
Christ was made, or admitted by God, to be our surety, Heb. 7, whereas
we only were at first bound by and to the law: he was now allowed to
come in our bond, and was made under the law, Gal. 4:5, whereby he
became liable to answer all that the law required of us: and to this he
willingly agreed. Though he was in the form of God, "he made himself of
no reputation, took the form of a servant, and became obedient unto
death, even the death of the cross," Phil. 2:6-8; Psa. 40:6-8.
Our sins were charged on him; "God laid on him the iniquity of us all," Isa. 53:6 and he bare them, even our sins, v.11.
He was punished for those sins, he was cut off from the land of the
living, Isa. 53:8, not for himself, Dan. 9:26, but for the
"transgression of my people was he smitten, Isa. 53:8.
The punishment he suffered for these sins was the punishment threatened
by the law. "He was made a curse for us, to deliver us from the curse
of the law," Gal. 3:13.
His design in bearing this punishment was, that we might be delivered from the curse, as we see in the words last quoted.
His death is reckoned ours, that is, as undergone and suffered for us,
and whereof the benefit should accrue to us. "If one died for all, then
are all dead," 2 Cor. 5:14, 15. We are crucified with him, buried with
7. His death and punishment, we are instructed to plead as payment, or satisfaction, when we are accused and called to an account; and we are to plead his resurrection as our discharge, as to all that can be required of us, in order to our justification. See Rom. 8:34, 35.
This is a dispute. I shall give you some plain scripture characters of the persons.
1. They are such as were given to him of the Father. His power is to give life to as many as are given him, John 17:2, who shall all in time come to him, and none of them be lost, John 6:37,39.
2. They are in the text, those who are called, not merely externally, as those mentioned in the verse above, but internally and effectually, in opposition to them, and who are the same with the chosen, vv.26, 27, compared with the text.
3. They are such to whom Christ is in time given, and with him all things, Rom. 8:32. Here is the order. Christ,1. Is delivered for us.2. Given to us.3. All things with him.
4. They are such as believe on him, receive him; to them the gospel is the power of God, Rom. 1:16.
Finally, I might tell you, they are God's people, Isa. 53:8. Christ's sheep, John 10:11. The Church of God, etc.; but I pass these.
1. Christ's death, held forth in the gospel, is the power of God, the powerful mean, whereby sinners are called or converted. What is the great thing that prevails on sinners to turn to God? Why, it is the offer of a slain Saviour, Acts 2:42. Three thousand are converted! Well, what was it that prevailed on them? Look at the chapter; it is a sermon about Christ crucified. Who converted most to God? I believe never any did convert so many as our Apostle. Well, what means used he? It was the preaching of the cross, as he tells us in this context.
2. Christ crucified is the power of God to justification. This our apostle dwells on in the first five chapters of the epistle to the Romans, and frequently elsewhere. The case is this, guilty man is called to account, accused for his sins before God. What plea shall he make; where shall there an answer be got that will effectually clear him? If judgment is given against him, he is undone.
The wisdom of men, heathens and Christians, have laboured to find pleas, and to this day new defences are still sought. Some are for pleading not guilty, denying. Others for excusing, extenuating faults, like Adam. Some for making amends, by vows to do better in time coming. Some promise to do more than is required. Some pretend to expiate their sin with their tears. Some are for penances. Some run to sacrifices of beasts. Others to barbarous human sacrifices. Others, to the sacrificing their own children. And some fearing all this not enough, would be content to go to impossibilities, Mic. 6:6. Some place much in acts of charity. Others are for monastic vows, retirement, and mortification, as they falsely call it, or, to use the modish word, doing penance. Some to trusting to their own faith. Others to their sincere obedience, such as they can give. And, in effect, here they all land. We owe pounds, and we will pay pennies. You see there are two advantages. 1. God shall not have it to say, that he freely forgave them all.2. They may say they have paid some, though not what they ought, yet what they could, and it were cruelty to exact more. Finally, some fearing all this not enough, run to a purgatory, or, in the new language, a state of purification. Look how hard man's wisdom is put to it, and yet not one of all, nor all these together, have power to justify and bring us off.
The wisdom of God by the gospel reveals the righteousness of God, Rom. 1:17. If a sinner that believes is charged, threatened with condemnation for sin, it bids him plead, Christ has died for sin, that is, has obtained a discharge, and is in heaven to make it good, Rom. 8:34. This will powerfully bring us off; no other plea will; they are weak and foolish.
Christ's death is the power of God to sanctification. This must be
cleared in an instance or two, especially as to mortification.
Christ's death is a satisfaction for sin, for the guilt of all their
sins, that are partakers of it, and hereby sin loses its claim to their
service. It is the power of God, to disable the foundation of sin's
dominion. Sin has no right that prejudges God's, but sin and Satan both
have a sort of lawful dominion over us by our own consent, according to
the rule, Rom. 6:16; but as soon as we are partakers of Christ's
sufferings and death, Phil. 3:10, and so dead with him, Rom. 6:4, 5; 2
Cor. 5:14, who died for sins, if sin pretend to reign, and say, we have
yielded ourselves servants to obey it, we may now answer, We are dead,
2 Cor. 5:14, and so are no longer bound; for the law binds a man no
longer than he lives, Rom. 7:1. Again, our consent is declared null,
our surety has suffered for it among the rest of our sins, and so it is
dead, binds no more. Finally, sin, thou art condemned as a traitor,
when we were, or our surety, was condemned for our submitting to thee,
judgment was thereby given against thee; our old man is crucified with
Christ, Rom. 6:6; no service is due to a dead master, one legally dead.
Thus we see the meaning of Rom. 6:6. "He that is dead is freed," or, as
the Greek has it, "justified from sin." He is powerfully secured
against any right that sin claimed to his service.
Christ's death, as the price of our redemption from the power of sin,
has powerfully purchased, that is, effectually, or really merited the
communication of the Holy Spirit, who actually breaks the power of sin,
by planting, actuating, supporting, strengthening, reviving the
opposite principle of grace, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ
Jesus, whereby we are freed from the law of sin, and sin is mortified,
Rom. 8:2, 3. Now, Christ's death, as a price, purchased this, Gal.
3:13, 14, and through him it is shed on us abundantly, Tit. 3:6. Christ
crucified is the power of God in a meritorious and real sense, to our
salvation from the power of sin.
Christ's death, as an atonement, secures the acceptance of our service,
and so removes discouragements, and affords the most effectual
arguments to enforce holiness. Our labour is not in vain in the Lord, 1
Cor. 15:58, but acceptable through him, 1 Pet. 2:5, see 2 Cor. 5:14,
15. Thus it is morally the power of God to sanctification.
4. Christ's death, as held forth in the gospel, is the mean made use of to make us holy, and so it, instrumentally, as it were, is the power of God to sanctification, 2 Cor. 3:18. It is a principal part of that glory that changes us when we see it: we might allege many other instances of its influence in sanctification, as the patron of the destruction of the old man, Rom. 6:4-6, and the like. No wonder souls that desire to be holy join with the apostle's desire, Phil. 3:10.
4. Christ crucified, or his death, is the power of God, to our consolation, being the great pledge of God's love to us. God commended his love to us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, Rom. 5:8, and this will bear much; see the context, vv.6, 12. This is the spring of consolation.
5. Christ's death is the power of God, to assure us of all the other blessings of the covenant. It is the pledge that makes us sure that all the rest shall be given in their season; direction, strength, support, provision, protection, light, life, love; see Rom. 8:32.
6. Christ crucified is the power of God to secure our acceptance, and obtain us safe access to the holiest, Heb. 10:16. We are safe, having the Lamb slain betwixt us and hazard. He has "borne the iniquity of our holy things," and we have "access," i.e. safe access, "into the holiest by his blood."
7. Christ's death is the power of God, to the overthrow of Satan, "by death, he destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil," Heb. 2:14. This may be understood by what was said about sanctification; Christ pays the debt, and so, 1. Satan the jailor loses right to detain us in prison.2. We have a right to crave power to free us from the wrongous detainer.
8. Christ's death powerfully delivers from the sting of death, and that is, the guilt of sin. This has been cleared before, when we spoke of justification, Heb. 2:15.
9. Christ's death is the meritorious price of our inheritance; "he died that we might receive the promise of eternal inheritance," Heb. 9:15.
10. Christ's death confirms the testament, and so secures all grace and glory to us, Heb. 9:16,17.
Now, from what has been said, we may, for information learn,
1. The manifold wisdom of God, that by a mean, so unlikely and foolish in men's apprehensions, brings about so many glorious effects; this is what the angels look into, and the redeemed round the throne fix their eyes on, the Lamb that was slain. Again, we must learn,
2. That the doctrine of Christ crucified and its power, is a great, yea, the principal part, the glory of the mystery of the gospel, of the Christian religion: all models of religion that shorten its power cramp it into narrow bounds, pretend zeal for what they will, misrepresent the Christian religion, nay, miss it wholly; for all the power of our religion arises from the roots that the powerful death of Christ has in it; and therefore, the Jesuits in the Indies who conceal it, the Socinians, Quakers, modern mystics, who leave little room for the power of the death of Christ, if not as an example, or a notable act of obedience, in a difficult duty, teach not the gospel.
3. The more directly and evidently any gospel ordinance represents or sets forth Christ as crucified, or Christ in his death, the more glorious, useful, and valuable it is. How great then is the glory of this ordinance ye are now preparing for! How is he evidently set forth as crucified, in express words of revelation, and signs of his own appointment!
4. We may learn, that it is a great privilege to have those means whereby Christ is thus set forth evidently in his death; for these are the channels whereby all this saving power is conveyed to them that are called. There is no experience of this power, but by faith, "it is by faith we are saved," Eph. 2:8, and where there is no divine command for a warrant, no institution to lay stress on, no promise to grip to, but a "Who hath required this?" staring us in the face, there is no place for faith. It is cursed doctrine many are now drinking in, that every mean we may fancy useful for this or that end, e.g. mortifying sin, etc. may be used, this will bring in crucifixes, penances, and I know not what, yea, all the Pagan rites, this is a shoe for any foot: but, blessed be God, we have the means of God's own institution, that are the channels of this power, the ministration, the Spirit applying it, and "of these we are not ashamed," Rom. 1:16.
5. We may learn, that our religion is an experimental religion; it is a discovery of a saving remedy to perishing sinners, a remedy that is all power, and works many effects that may be, nay, that must be felt. Well then, if ye have no experience of the power of the death of Christ to those ends mentioned, ye are no Christians. Notions of truth make no man such, it is experience of the power of God, and sight, conviction of the wisdom of God herein, that does. The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.