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God in Christ Reconciling the World
by Robert Murray M'Cheyne
"To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." (I Corinthians 5:19)
In these words we have an epitome, or short description, of the gospel ministry.
1. Observe the manner in which God approaches sinners in the gospel: "God was in Christ." If God had come to us without a Mediator, it would have been to destroy. In His unchangeable nature He is holy, sin-repelling, and sin-consuming. This is the glory of God, His moral image, without which He could not be Jehovah. As surely as fire devours wood by its physical nature, so surely God must destroy sinners by His glorious moral nature. Therefore it is written, "Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire, and brimstone, and an horrible tempest; this shall be the portion of their cup; for the righteous Lord loveth righteousness" (Psalm 11:6-7).
And again, "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity" (Habakkuk 1:13). And "we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, the Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. For our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 10:30-31; 12:29). If God had drawn near to us without His justice being satisfied in the blood and obedience of the Lord Jesus, His justice must have broken out upon us, and sought its satisfaction in our everlasting punishment.
Glory to God in the highest, that God did not come to us without Christ, that He did not come upon us naked, guilty, defenceless, without a shelter for our heavy laden soul. He put the Mediator between Him and us: "For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all" (I Timothy 2:5-6). "God was in Christ." Christ is the meeting place of a holy God, and hell-deserving sinners: "Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, let us draw near."
When the high priest entered within the vail, on the day of atonement, he carried with him a basin filled with the blood of a bullock, slain as an atonement for himself and his house. He dipped his finger in the blood and sprinkled it upon the mercy-seat, and before the mercy-seat seven times. He then carried in another basin filled with the blood of a goat, slain for the sins of the people. Dipping his finger into the blood he sprinkled it upon the mercy-seat, and before the mercy-seat. The mercy-seat was of pure gold, the floor was covered with gold, yet he did not fear lest he should soil it. The mercy-seat and the golden pavement were wetted with blood. His feet stood upon the blood.
That blood represented the blood of Christ. And the high priest standing on the sprinkled blood represented the only way in which a sinner can come to a holy Jehovah. God meets us in Christ. O sinner! hast thou come to God in Christ, hast thou entered into the holiest by the blood of Jesus? If not, thou art yet unpardoned, an ready to perish. Some have very weak notions of conversion. They seem to think that to weep at a sermon, to pray with a glow of feeling, to amend the life a little, is true conversion - whereas it is turning to God in Christ: "Ye turned to God from idols" (I Thessalonians 1:9). Except thou be thus converted, thou wilt never see the kingdom of God.
2. Observe the extent of the gospel remedy: "Reconciling the world unto himself." There can be no doubt that the whole world will not be saved: "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." The awful transactions of the judgment day are summed up in these solemn words: "These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal" (Matthew 25:46). One amazing portion of the human race will depart speechless, conscience-stricken, self-condemned, into a hell as everlasting as the heaven of those who are saved. O self-deceived Universalist! it is the same word which describes the eternity of heaven and the eternity of hell. There can be no doubt that God has chosen a peculiar people out of this world: "Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee" (Psalm 65:4). Six times over, in the seventeenth chapter of John, does Jesus call them "the men which thou gavest me," and He says, "I pray for them, I pray not for the world."
And yet it is equally true that "God will have all men to be save, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:4). He is "long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself." The gospel is truly and sincerely addressed to "every creature under heaven." The calls and invitations of God to wicked men are not mere words of course, far less are they deceitful and lying words; they are true as God is true.
There is not even the shadow of falsehood in them. Hear the words of a master in Israel: "There is all in God that is good, and perfect, and excellent, in our desires and wishes for the conversion and salvation of wicked men. As for instance, there is a love to holiness absolutely considered, or an agreeableness of holiness to His nature and will; or in other words, to His natural inclination. The holiness and happiness of the creature, absolutely considered, are things that He loves. These things are infinitely more agreeable to His nature than to ours. There is all in God that belongs to our desire of the holiness and happiness of unconverted men and reprobates, excepting what implies imperfection.
All that is consistent with infinite knowledge, wisdom, power, self-sufficience, infinite happiness, and immutability. Therefore there is no reason that His absolute prescience, or His wise determination and ordering of what is future, should hinder His expressing this disposition of His nature, in like manner as we are wont to express such a disposition in ourselves, viz., by calls, and invitations, and the like." [Jonathan Edwards, The Works, ed. E. Hickman, 2:528.]
O sinner! it is true that God has no pleasure in your dying, but had rather that you would turn from your wicked ways and live. God honestly, sincerely, and with all His heart, beseeches you to be reconciled through the blood of Jesus. He is willing this day to cover you with the blood and obedience of the Lord Jesus, so that He may consistently, with His just and holy nature, not impute your trespasses unto you. Why has He spared you out of hell to this day? Only because "he is not willing that you should perish." Why has He followed you with personal and family mercies, comforts, deliverances? "The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance" (Romans 2:4).
Why has He sent frowns of providence upon you, poverty, sickness, bereavements, disappointments, like wave upon wave? is not this the answer: "Whom I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous therefore, and repent" (Revelation 3:19). Why has the Spirit striven with you in the Bible, through ministers, and in secret prayer? Is it not that the holy loving Spirit desires you to turn to Christ, and is "vexed," and "grieved," and "quenched," by your "always resisting"? (Acts 7:51). Why, above all, does Christ offer Himself freely to every creature, why has He knocked at your door, and stretched out His hands to you all day long?
Ah! read here the answer, which you will remember to your everlasting agony in hell, if you turn not, "How often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" (Matthew 23:37). O sinner! the Lord Jesus Christ is like the manna. It fell round about the tents of Israel every morning, so that no Israelite could go out of his tent without either gathering it, or trampling it below his feet. So the Lord Jesus is laid down at thy feet. Thou must either take Him as thy Surety, thy Savior, thy Lord, or trample Him below thy feet.