"In whom we have our redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace." - Ephesians 1:7
G. Campbell Morgan, sermon: The sense of God as personal involves conviction of His supremacy. It has been objected that personality ought not to be predicated of God, because personality implies limitation; but that is to misinterpret personality. It is of man that personality cannot be perfectly predicated, because man is limited. Perfect personality is unlimited. God alone is perfect in personality.
The sense of the supremacy of God creates the consciousness of sin. If our doctrine of God lose the note that affirms His personality, our doctrine of sin will lose the note that brings conviction. If God be known as personal and sovereign, man is conscious of sin. We may call it by any name we please - I care nothing for the name; we may speak of it as failure, as missing the mark, as coming short; the fact remains that directly man is conscious of God, and of His supremacy in the universe, he is also conscious of the fact that he has come short of the Divine requirement. That is conviction of sin. I am not now accounting for this widespread conviction, but I affirm that it is present.
I go one step further. The sense of God as personal perpetually causes a desire to be free from sin; or, in other words, a desire for forgiveness. These three things are independent. To destroy in either order is to destroy wholly. Deny the doctrine of the personality of God, and you immediately weaken the consciousness of sin, and consequently man becomes careless about forgiveness. Let a man become careless concerning forgiveness of sin, it won't be because his conception of sin is not that of disobedience. Such weakening invariably issues from some conception of God that dethrones Him from the place of actual supremacy in the universe.
The message of the Christian evangel is to the sinner - that is, to the man who is conscious of God, and of his own failure; and who, in the deepest of his heart, would fain be free from failure. The message of the Cross is to that man. While the ultimate meaning of the Christian message goes out into that sinless life which lies beyond the present one, it begins with the forgiveness of sins. The first thing that Christ says to the soul who turns to Him is, "Thy sins are forgiven" (Luke 7:48). That is not final; it is elementary. But it is fundamental.
In this text we discover: first, this first issue of redemption, "forgiveness"; in the second place, the method of redemption, "through His blood"; and finally, the source of redemption, "the riches of His grace." The Apostle moves back from the initial experience, and indicates the channel through which it comes, until finally, in one phrase full of beauty, he reminds us of the source from which the stream flows forth.
"The forgiveness of our trespasses"; that is the first issue of redemption. "Through His blood"; that is the method of redemption. "The riches of His grace"; that is the fountain head of redemption, the spring amid the eternal hills whence the great river flows. Or to state these things in the other order. The fountain head: "the riches of His grace." The channel through which the river flows: "through His blood." The gift the river brings: "the forgiveness of our trespasses."
First, then, "the forgiveness of our trespasses." This is so universally understood as a need - observe carefully that I do not say the method is universally understood - this is so universally understood as a need, that I do not propose to dwell upon it, save to emphasize the strength of the thought as it is here stated.
Sir Oliver Lodge has declared that the intelligent man today does not think about sin. I believe the intelligent man does think about sin, because he has to face the fact of sin. He may call it by other names. He may invent scientific terminology to describe the fact of which he is conscious; but the fact is there, and the intelligent man never shuts his eyes to facts - he faces them.
Because man is universally conscious of sin, he is also conscious of the need for forgiveness. He may not explain the need as I would. He may have lost his sense of relationship to the throne of the Eternal. He may speak of forces where I speak of God. But there is no man who knows his failure who does not, in the deepest of him, wish it had not been, wish it could be undone, regret the fact of it. The passion for perfection is one of the common inheritances of the human heart. No man is really, in his deepest life, content with imperfection. Every man admires perfection. Every man wishes he could realize it in every department of life. There is no man who loves sin. He may love the things that sin suggests to him, but every man is against his own sin.
In this text the Apostle makes use of two words, which we must note - "trespasses," and "forgiveness." The etymology of the Greek word here translated "trespasses" suggests a falling out - a falling out of line. Trench says that the word means falling, where one ought to have stood upright, whether wilfully or not. It is the fact of falling. This word you will find, as you study the New Testament, is used sometimes of what we in these days call the smaller sins, or faults; but it is also used of the final and most awful sin of actual and absolute apostasy. It is an inclusive term. It is a word which includes all those deviations from the will of God which trouble the soul of man. Swiftly and silently think back over the line of your own life. Trespasses! There they lie, back through the years. If we could undo some of them! Peccadilloes, faults, deviations from the straight line of duty; tragedies, vulgarities are all there! The word sweeps over the whole of them. I am not discussing the mystery of original sin [see Dart's view]. The Apostle does not refer to it here, save as these are the fruit of the underlying principle, save as these are the apples of Sodom growing out of the root which in itself is poisoned.
The etymology of the Greek word translated "forgiveness" suggests freedom. The root idea is that of being "sent out," "sent forth." This particular word is variously translated in the New Testament, "deliverance," "liberty," "remission ... .. forgiveness." Let the text be read with some of these words substituted, "In Whom we have our redemption through His blood, the deliverance from our sins ... .. the liberty from our sins," "the remission of our sins." It is a word which recognizes all the bondage into which our sins have brought us, of guilt, of pollution, of power; and declares that by this redemption we are set free therefrom. Not free merely from the penalty. I did not name the penalty - not that the penalty is not included - but I named the things, which being removed, the penalty is also removed. Penalty is a consequence. Forgiveness is liberty from the guilt of sin, liberty from the pollution of sin, liberty from the power of sin. Forgiveness means far more than saying; Never mind, I will pass it over, I will make no further reference to it. God never forgives that way. He never violates the cosmic order by lightly passing over the activity of disorder which wrecks and ruins human life and human history. New Testament forgiveness I can never extend to my own child. I cannot free my child from the guilt of wrong done. I cannot cleanse my child from the pollution which has gathered upon his mind as the result of wrong done. I cannot break the power of habit in my child through forgiveness. Consequently, whenever I try to illustrate Divine forgiveness by human I fail; for the symbol cannot perfectly convey the infinite meaning. Forgiveness is to be set loose from sins, their guilt gone, their pollution ceased, their power broken. That is what the world needs. This is what the Christian message declares, and what Jesus Christ offers to men first. It is the beginning, it is not the last thing; but, blessed be God, it is the first!
Now concerning the method: "In Whom we have our redemption through His blood." It is impossible to read the New Testament without noticing the constancy of this figure. All the writers and teachers make use of it in one way or another. "Purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28), "Justified by His blood" (Rom. 5:9), "Having made peace through the blood of His Cross" (Col. 1:20), "Redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold . . . but with precious blood . . . even the blood of Christ" (1 Pet. 1:18-19), "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). These are but illustrations. Reverently we ask; What is the meaning of it?
There are those who have taken objection to it, and have attempted to express the truth in some other way. They ask for a new terminology. I never object to new terminology - indeed, I prefer new terminology for a new thing, to the old terminology robbed of its essential heart and life and meaning. I am told we need a new terminology, and that it will be safe for us to say, "redemption through His life."
Let us think of this. It is perhaps by consideration of the suggested phrase that we shall begin to see the meaning of the great and awful and appalling words, "redemption through His blood." Is it not true that blood is life? Perfectly true. Under the Mosaic economy the requirements in this respect were direct and stringent. Either in so many words, or in other words equivalent, the declaration is repeated, "The blood is the life" (Gen. 9:4, etc.). These things were written long before science had come to illuminate them. I need hardly stay to remind you that men have only known anything concerning the circulation of the blood for about two and a half centuries; yet that discovery, in all its wonderful unfolding and explanation, does but add infinite meaning to the old Mosaic word. Scientific men tell us that in blood there are certain vital facts: resistance, so that the blood, in healthy life, maintains its temperature as against heat and cold; organization, so that if you break in upon the flesh, and close it again, the organism will he renewed by the action of blood; fluidity, so that the blood contains in fluid form that which tends to solidity; and finally, hear the mystery of it! death, the final proof of life. "The blood is the life."
Remember that the flesh in man is the outward symbol of the man himself. Remember that the essential in human life is the spirit. Yet the blood most perfectly sets forth the essential. "The blood is the life." It is a purely physical declaration, yet an absolutely true one.
The Bible however, does not teach that a man is saved by that principle, but by the shedding of blood. Salvation is not through life lived, but through life poured out. It is not by the life of Jesus that we are redeemed; but by His life given up in the pain and suffering of a shameful death, of which death there is no sufficient symbol or method of expression other than that of the shedding of blood. Redemption is provided, not by the richness of His life possessed, but by the suffering of His life poured out. As the blood in the physical life is the symbol of the spiritual, so in the actual outpouring of the blood of the Man of Nazareth there was symbolized that infinite mystery of essential Love bending to suffering and pain and death, gathering into itself that which is against itself in inherent principle, and suffering, in order that through that suffering there might be accomplished something which cannot be accomplished without it. It is through the shedding of blood that there is remission.
The moment we destroy this outward symbolism of words, we inevitably begin to contradict the infinite mystery which lies behind them, and which they do symbolize. The moment we begin to say there is no virtue in the actual blood, the physical blood of long ago, we are on the verge of denying the lonely, separate suffering of God in Christ, through which, and through which alone, it is possible for forgiveness, which is at once freedom from the guilt and pollution and power of sin, to be pronounced upon men. I lay this emphasis here because, as I have said, the question is often asked; Why may we not get rid of the phrasing, "Cleansed by blood", and say, "Cleansed by life"? Because when we get rid of the phrasing we get rid of the truth. It is not by the life, but by the life laid down; not by the richness and beauty of the ideal, but by the mystery of its breaking and buffeting and suffering and death that it is possible for forgiveness to be pronounced.
Concentrating the thought for a moment upon the Man Jesus, knowing that He is but the window through which we look into the infinite and eternal mystery which lies behind, let us very carefully understand that not by the beauty of the human example can He forgive sins; not by all the rich glory of the wonderful life that holds us in its thrall and fascination can He pronounce absolution; but only as that life was bruised, a symbol of the very bruising of the Infinite, for "God was in Christ" (2 Cor. 5:19). There can be no divorce between God and Christ if we would understand the Cross.
We pass to the last of these thoughts, which takes us back to the original source - "the riches of His grace." Our freedom from sin is through "the riches of His grace." The death which makes possible our freedom from sin is through "the riches of His grace." What a revelation of God we have here! I pause for poverty of words and for lack of ability to lead you to these great heights. One can speak of the realm of conscious sin, for how have we known it! One can say something in the realm of suffering through which we have been pardoned, or may be pardoned, for we know the Cross! But when man tries to pass behind these matters and come into those far-reaching, infinite things, expressed in this word, "the riches of His grace," what can we say? We can only reach these heights by coming again through the Cross. In the Cross the nature of God is revealed in His attitude toward the sinner. It is that of grace; not something sickly and sentimental, but the great necessity of loving; Love in action - that is grace; or, if you will, Love itself, that which precedes action, the thought, the will, the purpose; and we see the heart and nature of God in this unveiling of His thought and purpose toward sinning man.
Grace in the heart of God was not created by the Passion. The Passion was created by the grace. The work of the Cross, this blood redemption; the redemption of which blood and blood-shedding are the only fit sign and symbol - this work of the Cross did not persuade God to graciousness. God's grace did compel this Passion of the Cross, and therein is a revelation of the nature of God.
Therein also is unveiled the will of God in the work He did for the sinner. When man has sinned and is guilty and polluted and paralysed, in order to his saving, Love will go to the uttermost extreme. We know all the beauty of the declarations concerning love on the human plane until we see them placed in the light of the heavenly revelation. "Love is strong as death" (Song 8:6), mightier than the grave. Love will break through every barrier. The will of God becomes revealed in the light of this great Cross.
But more. Not only the nature of God and the will of God are revealed, but also the power of God. All these things are in our word "grace." Grace is that which is born amid the eternal hills; but it is also the river which proceedeth from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Notice Paul's word, "the riches of His grace," the fullness of His grace. There is a measurement for His grace. Take another of Paul's phrases, "the riches of His glory" (Rom. 9:23). What gleams of it we have had in creation, in government, in prophetic song and vision, in the hope that is in our heart of the ultimate victories! "The riches of His glory" is the measurement of "the riches of His grace."
As is His glory, so is His grace; so that this selfsame Apostle, writing to Titus, brings the two things into juxtaposition. "The grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us, to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world, looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:11-13). In that great passage the thought of Paul was fixed upon the two advents of Jesus: the appearing of grace when He came, the appearing of glory when He comes; the appearing of grace in the loneliness of His first advent, His ministry, His patience, and His dying; the appearing of glory in the splendor of His second advent, and the triumph of His administration. Can you measure this? When you can measure this you can measure that. When you can understand the meaning of the glory which at last shall triumph, in the hope of which we rejoice even in affliction and limitation, then you can understand the fullness of His grace.
A spurious, latter-day refinement, which objects to the mention of blood, is both sickly and sinful. A deeper sentiment would be conscious that the awful blood-shedding of the Son of God is the most terrible revelation of the meaning of sin, and is in itself proof of the dire necessity for such means of salvation. Do not let us forget this. I want to utter this with all the solemnity of conviction. I pity from my heart the man who tells me he objects to the phrasing concerning blood. I pity him, for he is suffering from a soft sentimental ignorance of his own heart, and ignorance of the actual deceitfulness and heinousness of sin.
They say that the Cross of Jesus is vulgar! I know it. Never was there anything so vulgar in human history as the Cross of Jesus! But where is the vulgarity? It is in the sin that mauled Him and put Him there. It is your vulgarity. It is my vulgarity. It is the vulgarity that lies and cheats, that is impure, that laughs at sin, or speaks of it as though it were something to be pitied. It is the vulgarity that has lost its sense of the high throne of God and the white purity of His heaven. It is the vulgarity of the age which drags God off His throne and makes Him merely a force in His creation, and denies righteousness and purity. That is the vulgarity that lifted the Cross! Sin is so vulgar that it can only be dealt with by that which violates the essential life of God. The Cross? Yea, verily; but the rough, brutal Roman gibbet was only the expression in time of something far more terrible. Those two pieces of timber and a dying Man! Awful, terrible; but infinitely worse was the pain of God, which was invisible save through that Cross. In His rich grace He took hold upon sin and expressed, in the suffering of His only Son, its vulgarity.
Thank God, He did more, for that very Cross of blood and shame (Heb. 12:2) is radiant with the glorious light of the infinite Grace; for, even at the cost of such suffering as makes poor half-cultured man shudder, Love, determined on man's salvation, accomplished it. Yes, disease is vulgar; but the mother and the nurse who touch it, to heal it, are not vulgar. Contact with it in order to heal it is not vulgar. I come to the Cross to bow my head in shame, and smite my breast with remorse. Vulgar Cross; but that in it which is vulgar is my sin. Shining through it is the light that comes from the throne; and flowing through it is the great river of His grace.
Now hear me in this final word. You tell me that the only atonement possible to me is by my own suffering upward to something higher. If you could persuade me that God could be satisfied with such salvation, I cannot be satisfied with it.
"Out, damned spot!" (Macbeth) That is the true cry of human nature. The stain cannot be removed without blood, and that which is infinitely more, and deeper, and profounder, and more terrible than blood, of which blood is but the symbol - the suffering of Deity.
Blessed be God, this is the evangel for me. Oh soul of mine, guilty, polluted, paralysed, we have "our redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses." There my conscience finds rest. There I begin a new life, lifting my eyes toward the ultimate ages, God's last purpose for me made possible because He is able to forgive my sins.
Sermon by G. Campbell Morgan, London, 1909
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