What the Elder Wrote
The very speculative, and indeed unscriptural, view has sometimes been put forward that since Christ is God He could have saved us without going through the appalling agonies of His life and death in this world. They argue that, because ‘with God nothing is impossible’, He could have redeemed and restored us in a way less distressful and less costly to Himself.
Could He not have saved us by His perfect example, by His incomparable teachings, by His all-prevailing intercession, or by some exertion of His divine power? Is it not wrong, they say, to set limits to what God might have done?
The inescapable necessity, however, which lay behind the death of Christ we may discover in the first pages of the Bible. When the first man stood before God in the fullness of personal perfection God dealt with him as a moral and reasonable being. This, along with the precarious gift of an endless existence, was the dignity conferred upon him by his Maker. Man is, indeed, ‘fearfully and wonderfully made.’
And in the centre of the lovely garden where the first man and the first woman spent their holy and happy lives God placed a tree. It was the symbol of His loving and holy will, and it was meant to remind them always that their happiness lay in the path of a willing and loving obedience to God’s Word.
Man knew that as it was God’s prerogative to command, it was his glory and privilege to obey. Truly this command was not grievous. It was neither arbitrary nor harsh. It was full of propriety and sweet reasonableness. God, indeed, could not have prescribed easier conditions of life. And as a mother warns her child, God had warned Adam and Eve against touching the only tree, out of a great many, which He claimed as His own. This was the kind and easy rule which governed their lives. It did not involve them in any toll or deprivation.
God, of course, knew that Evil was already present in the universe; but, as we have said, He had endowed man with knowledge along with ample power to resist it, should it ever assail him. And when it did assail him, man against his knowledge, and with open eyes, fell.
At that moment he lost communion with God, This separation necessarily involved him in death. As a flower cannot thrive once it is cut off from its own congenial environment, so it was with man. From the moment he wilfully cut himself off from God, he faded hopelessly into a state of decay and death. Not only so, but the penalty pronounced against sin was at once executed: ‘The wages of sin is death.’ ‘Thou shalt surely die.’
Now when God, in warning man against yielding to evil, spoke of death He did not mean mere physical death. Nor did He mean that man in sinning would cease to exist. When God breathed His own breath into man’s nostrils He, in fact conferred upon him an immortal existence. That is how we can never cease to be.
'To be or not to be’ is not therefore something left to our determination. The death which God meant was not only physical, but spiritual and eternal. Evil angels and men exist in a state of eternal but conscious death. In the sleepless torments of that state there is an eternal awareness of ‘what might have been’ if they had obeyed and loved the One Whom they had cast aside.
And since Adam was the federal or representative head of the human race the guilt in which he became involved in his first transgression is ours too.
Besides, the poison which Satan, the old serpent, injected into his being is transmitted to us all. Because the fountain was tainted at the very source the stream flowing from it is unwholesome and unclean. All mere men, therefore, enter the world ruined by sin and under sentence of death. They are born in sin and shapen in iniquity. They receive, in other words, the wages which they earned.
The question which now confronts us is. How could God redeem a race for Himself out of a fallen humanity? What means could his personal and unchanging love devise to secure restoration for his banished? How could He erect a new, pure and living temple out of this sad ruin? How could He be just in justifying and restoring those who, in effect, had said to Him ‘Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways?’ How could the ends of His justice and the unyielding demands of His law be met except through the execution of the sentence which He had pronounced against them? For on His Word He could not go back.
And God could not now accept satisfaction, in a matter which involved His infinite glory, from any person lower than Himself.
The dishonour which sin had cast upon His glory was so great that He could accept no ransom from any one who was not in every respect like Himself. And the one who would engage him in this matter must be also a sinless man outwith the category of our fallen race.
Man had sinned, and in justice man must die. Besides all this, sin had already mastered all men and many angels. It had shown itself to be such a power as that only God in the whole range of His omnipotence, could overcome and destroy. No angel however exalted could deal with it.
Now the universe could not provide such a one as this - one who, in order to satisfy God and to save man, must necessarily be God and man in one person.
This was the mystery, or ‘the problem’ which no creature in Heaven or on earth could ever solve. It was something immeasurably beyond the wisdom and the grasp of the highest angels. Satan also might have concluded that, since God had cast him and all his followers into the place of despair, mankind in a similar state of rebellion against God must also share in that eternal doom.
It was at this juncture that God brought to light the way which His marvellous wisdom and grace had planned whereby He could save man without any prejudice to His glory.
The first hint of this hidden mystery reached our fallen world after He had, in the language of judgement, questioned Adam and Eve. The serpent which had deceived the woman, was told that of the woman’s seed One should come who would bruise its head. These words predicted the coming into the world of Someone who would vanquish Satan, destroy his works, and set free the people whom God had loved.
‘The seed of the woman.’ What did this mean? This is the first ray of light upon the deep, dark chasm between us and God and which has brightened through successive ages.
As the light of Revelation began to stream into the Church through God’s Word this first dim prediction became more and more astonishing in its sheer wonder. It meant that God himself was coming to save us. God was to become man that He might die for our sins.
He was to take all our sins upon Himself and bear them away to an unknown place. God, in the Person of the Son, was to make an atonement for sin that He might reconcile us to God. This was ‘the great mystery of godliness’ which no finite mind could ever reach. It was, indeed, something infinitely beyond the apprehension of any creature. Christ, Who loved His Bride, was to give Himself for her.
Coming into this mysterious, representative and substitutionary relationship with her He must, as justice required, die for her sin. Since He took her sin He must die her death. This was a fundamental demand of God’s justice. But death had no legitimate claim upon Him. He died, therefore, voluntarily and in love. And the sweet engaging paradox implicit in what was, at the same time, a voluntary and a necessary death is one of the hall-marks of His love.
A famous Scottish minister, Mr John MacRae of Greenock and Lewis, once brought this truth of the necessity which lay behind the death of Christ before his hearers in memorable words. He spoke of the Father as asking the Son if in loving His Bride He was still willing to rescue her out of that ocean of wrath where she was sinking.
And when the Son had indicated His desire and longing to save His loved one, the Father said, ‘If it be so, You must swim towards her in a sea of blood.’ It was in other words, through sufferings unknown and through the shedding of His Own precious blood, that He was to save her from the wrath and death which she deserved.
At the beginning of the Bible we read the story of how the first man obtained his bride without enduring any sufferings for her. God, we are told, put him to sleep. And as he slept, God transformed the rib which He took out of his side into the loveliest woman who ever walked on this earth.
As God performed this miracle, the man, in deep and utter unconsciousness, might have been dreaming pleasantly of the broad rivers and the stately trees of Paradise. There was no sensation of pain. There was no disfigurement of his body and no scar was left to show where the finger of God had touched him. When the man awoke out of that sleep he saw Eve, in all her sinless loveliness, at his side. It cost him nothing that she should be his.
It was not so, however, with Christ, the second Man from Heaven.
When God took His Bride, in her very existence and life, out of His side He was fully conscious of all the spiritual and physical anguish which He had to endure for her sake. He was ‘smitten of God, and afflicted.’ Nailed to the Cross He could say: ‘They pierced my hands and feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me’ (Ps. 22). As in her stead He drank the cup of woe which He found in her hand, He refused that other drink which was meant to dull His consciousness and lessen His pain.
The following story, so rich in pathos and meaning, was once told by a preacher to his congregation. A young man had called on him that he might attend the funeral of a loved one who had died giving birth to a child. ‘When I saw her dying,’ this young man remarked, ‘I would have willingly have given myself over to death for her sake. But this I could not do.’
These words bring before us human love in its noblest form, but also in its helplessness and despair. Death is cruel. He is our enemy. He is unmoved by our tears and deaf to our cry. In his hand we expire for we have no power over him.
And Christ saw His Church expiring in the relentless grasp of death. He knew that the price of her salvation was that He should die for her. Only by His death could death be slain and made to give up its prey. This was what His love constrained Him to do.
The minister mentioned was so deeply moved by the depth of affection which lay in the young man’s heart for the one in whose stead he could not die that he used the story to portray the deeper love which moved the Son of God to lay down His life for His people.
Paul’s firm assurance of this wonderful fact is embodied in his words ‘The Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.’ Every saved sinner may stand before the Cross of Calvary, and also echo his words. They remind us of the man who once expressed in broken English the ground of his hope for Eternity: ‘He no die, me die. He die, me no die.’
It is this fact of Christ coming into our world to save us by His death, and thereby to enrich and unite us to Himself that makes the gospel the Good News. ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.’
It is, indeed, good news that those who enter the world under sentence of death and deep in debt to God should have that sentence remitted and the debt removed. It was by His perfect obedience and perfect sacrifice that He discharged to God as our surety all the heavy debts we had incurred, and which we could never hope to repay.
For if we could not pay the first farthing of this incalculable sum how could we hope to pay the last? This heavy indictment He nailed to the tree, blotting out the handwriting of ordinances which was written against us. Therefore it is written: ‘who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect?’ ‘It is Christ that died.’
God’s law is at peace with us. His Justice threatens us no more with eternal imprisonment for the debt we owe. God in all His attributes smiles upon us. Before the Cross. ‘Truth and Mercy meet: Righteousness and Peace kiss each other.’ Heaven and Earth are there reconciled.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews we are told that long before Christ entered our world and long before He died He made His last will and testament. And all that He had He left to His Bride. But this testament could have no validity and its riches could not be administered till He died.
‘For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.’ It was His death that purchased for her an inheritance of eternal glory and felicity in heaven. His riches are unsearchable and beyond all calculation.
He had enough to pay for her debt, and much more to spare. All the spiritual riches of His grace and glory are willed over to her in all their fullness. It is in this act of paying her debts that the Bride sees His infinite love for her soul.
There lived once in the North of Scotland a worthy man of God, who was an elder of a Church. He was also a merchant. In his day poverty was not unknown in the land. There were those to whom he had given credit, but who found it difficult to repay him.
Now he was on his death-bed.
Knowing that his last hour on earth was near, he asked a member of his family that he might have the book which detailed all the debts that his poor but honest neighbours owed him, but, which in the stress of poverty, they could not hope to pay. As he turned over page after page he wrote ‘Paid’ across each one till he came to the end. This was truly an act of grace and kindness.
And so when Christ bowed His head on the Cross and cried ‘It is finished’, He meant that He had paid for ever to the Law and the Justice of God all that had stood out against His people. He had, in other words, written ‘Paid’ over the record of that debt which they could never hope to pay.
This truly is good news for all who know that they have nothing to pay for what they owe to God. It is good news also that, as He died to pay her debts, His life ensures that nothing of what He left her shall pass her by.
We once knew a Christian woman whose husband had died in a foreign land. He was a man of means and he intended that his wife and children should inherit a competent share of his wealth. But his riches went through so many hands and lengthy processes that a relatively small portion of his inheritance reached her.
But Christ’s Bride is not left on the lap of uncertainty and insecurity. Her riches and treasures are beyond the grasp of any dishonest hand. There are many who would deprive her of her spiritual inheritance, and because Her husband is ‘He that liveth, and was dead,’ she shall enjoy the whole.
For if it were saved by His death ‘much more we shall be saved by His life.’ He lives to put into our possession without fail what His death has procured. His inheritance and riches are therefore ‘sure’ to all who love Him. ‘I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.’
Before we could live, therefore, Christ must die. Before we could enter His Kingdom he must first enter His world.
There are also other things which must happen within the context of our personal lives and experience before we can enter into His Kingdom. But this is the theme of the next two chapters.