The religion of nature is a babel of confusion, an heap of contradiction, and a tissue of lies. And yet this is all a man can boast of till Jesus Christ take a dealing with him, and turn unto him a pure language, to seek the Lord, with his whole heart. Then he obtains that which in every point of view stands contrasted with and opposed to, his old religion; as orderly as the other is confused, as symmetrical as the other is discordant, as full of truth, as the other is of lies. We have a specimen of this in the Apostle Paul, whose natural religion is brought before us in Scripture at considerable length, and under a great variety of aspects, but whose spiritual religion contrasted with it, is also very largely developed and richly illustrated. It is this man that speaks in our text, (Gal. 2:20).
1.) That which Paul Underwent. "I am crucified with Christ."
Firstly, That in which Christ's crucifixion originated. In ancient covenant transactions, very weighty, very rich, and very glorious. This fountain has been in being opened through the revolutions of time from all eternity, and as it rolls on, instead of losing anything, it has become brighter and larger, and more glorious.
Secondly, The crucifixion of Christ. This includeth the whole work He performed in His state of humiliation, which He performed in the room of sinners, and in the character of the substitute of those in whose room He stood and in a state of subjection to the law, to which He voluntarily condescended. A work consisting in obedience to the precept of the law, and the endurance of the penalty of the law, terminating in the shame and pain and death of the cross, whereby He "made an end of sin, and made reconciliation for iniquity, and brought in an everlasting righteousness."
Thirdly, Paul's connection with the crucifixion of Christ, and his interest in it.
(1) He knew himself to be a sinner. This is what all who have ever been like him or will be like him, among the children of men also know. He did not always know it. He was once entirely ignorant of it, and would have remained entirely ignorant, so far at least, as knowledge unto salvation is concerned, unless the Lord had met him in the way, and taken an effectual dealing with his soul, communicating unto him by His Spirit quickening light, or illuminating light, bringing him to the glass of the law, letting him see himself there, by which is the knowledge of sin. Teaching him the infinite evil nature of sin, letting him see in it, what he had seen in nothing else, its inherent, essential, infinite depravity, and letting him see this in connection with, and in contrast to, the beauty of Him against whom sin is committed, the intrinsic, the eternal, the infinite beauty of the Godhead. "Against thee, thee only have I sinned."
Paul traced this infinitely evil nature of sin in its root, in his native corruption. You do not know sin, unless you see its native corruption, and you do not see its native corruption, unless you see its infinite baseness. May your eyes be opened to a discovery of it. It will tax the utmost power of the new-born soul as to the old Adam, his back will be broken with such a burden. Paul traced this evil in all the actual transgressions that have flowed from this bitter fountain. You do not know actual transgression unless you connect it with the actual root, and you do not know the root, unless you see in that, infinite depravity. He traced this evil in all aggravations that attend these actual transgressions, and especially in the crowning aggravation of crucifying the Lord of glory. That promise was fulfilled to him, "He will reprove the world of sin because they believe not on Me," (John 16:9).
(2) He felt himself under a sentence of condemnation. It was to conduct him to this that the Lord met him by the way, and dealt with him as described. It was to conduct him to this, that He introduced unto his soul, the light of life; He brought him to the mirror of the law, and made him stand engaged with it, however light and wandering his thoughts, and caused him now to find leisure, however weighty affairs might be in his hand, to consider his ways. He unfolded to him his sin, under the various features at which we have glanced. "The law worketh wrath," the language in which it speaks to transgressors is, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." The Apostle accordingly saw, that against him, for his sin, there had gone forth a sentence of condemnation. He read it most distinctly in the revelation of the mind of God in the Holy Scripture, and he was circumcised into a tender heart to feel it, to feel its presence, its reality, its weight, so far as He who had him in His hand, judged it was meet that He should feel it.
(3) He feared the wrath that was impending over him. It is to this that the sentence looks. It is in it the sentence is carried into execution. He who is under a sentence of condemnation for sin, stands exposed to the wrath of God. And if it pleases Him who hath appointed this wrath to him, He may begin to pour it out upon him, at any period of a person's life for his sins. Little do men know what sin is! Little do they know what is involved in a sentence of condemnation! Little do they lay to heart the terribleness of God's wrath! "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God!" Paul trembled at the word of the Lord; he had a trembling heart given him by grace, and he had fears of wrath awakened in his soul. He feared to think of his exposure to it. He feared that wrath might come upon him. He feared to think what he would endure if it did overtake him. He feared to think that if it did overtake him, he would never escape from it. "His heart meditated terrors." Have you a heart exercised in this way? Have you any sympathy with Paul in your own experience? Will you claim kindred with him? How will you ever be able to get the length of saying you are crucified with Christ, if you are strangers to this experience?
(4) Paul fell in with, and consented to God's method of saving sinners by Christ crucified. He could never have used this language unless Christ had been crucified. He would never have learned the measure of this language, if he had not heard of Christ crucified. And he would never have ventured to take up this language and make it his own, unless he had seen imputed in the crucifixion of Christ, sin, condemnation, and wrath. The lovely Son of God had to bear condemnation, the lovely Son of God was encompassed with the fire of His Father's wrath against sin. The Apostle, looking at what was thus done; contemplating Christ crucified, contemplating all that was involved in Christ crucified, and all that was appointed to flow from Christ crucified, beheld in it the method which infinite wisdom devised for the salvation of sinners. He was also favored to see in it unsearchable riches of the grace whence salvation springs, and caught somewhat of the ineffable glory that is spread from it, which rivets the attention, and sustains the admiration of the heavenly host. "Which things the angels desire to look into." And He who met him by the way and had taken a dealing with him and by His Spirit had led him to the law to see as in a mirror his sin, and led him to the Gospel to see Christ crucified and all that was needful for Paul to know as to this transaction, He renewed him into consenting with, and approving of, this method of salvation.
(5) He heartily subscribed to the mingled equity and graciousness of the procedure of Him who devised this method, and set it forward to its completion. He was awakened, as every gracious soul is, to jealousy for the divine character. All his interests in time and in eternity were now involved in the purity, rectitude, and dignity of that character. One stain upon it would have been a death-blow to Paul's hopes of happiness. Where are you? Is there any chord in your hearts that can be touched, to yield the sound of sympathy with this child of God? Where lie your interests in this world? Are they in the glory of the divine character? Where lie your interests in the solemn hour of death that will come ere long? Where do your interests lie in eternity; do they lie where Paul's lay? If not, you are none of Christ's, you are bastards, not sons of God! The devil tempts the soul when awakened, to think hardly of the Lord, and His procedure. The darkness to which the child of grace is subject, sometimes hides from him the purity and straightness of His procedure, the enmity of the carnal heart boils over against the glory of that procedure shining in the cross of Christ. So that poor creatures, tempted of the devil, enveloped in darkness, feeling the strivings of the viper within, sometimes cry out, "What aileth this heart at Christ?" We have a Christ in our day that calls forth from the natural heart nothing but complacency and delight. We look at these people, and find they are idolaters. It is an idol; they have made it like themselves; they are pleased with it, and they flatter themselves regarding their idol, till their iniquity be found hateful. And a tremendous surprise awaits them when they find themselves in the presence of the Christ of God, as an irreconcilable enemy, whom they expected to be their everlasting friend. All like Paul, are made to know, more or less, of the bitterness of the enmity of their hearts, against the brightness of the Father's glory, and hence the necessity at every step of the renewing of the Holy Ghost, in order, by faith, to introduce the soul into satisfying views of the mingled glory of the equity and mercifulness of the divine procedure in Christ crucified. There is no Christian religion where this is lacking. If you lack this, you are under a sore calamity, a heavy affliction. Will you take goodwill to men, and leave glory in the highest to them who please to take it up? "What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder," and He hath linked these two lovely ends together. He will be glorified in the highest, when His poor people are raised to blessing unspeakable. So, the Apostle, being crucified with Christ, had complacency in Him, of whom it is written, "it pleased the Lord to bruise Him." It pleased Paul that He was bruised. Paul, by faith appropriated Christ crucified as his all. This is the proper object of faith.
2. The State in which Paul was. "Nevertheless I live!" It is plain from this language, that Paul was in some sense really crucified, and no one is really crucified until death has done its work upon him. To be nailed to the cross is not to be crucified. But it is to hang there till death ensue. "Nevertheless I live," intimates that Paul was in some sense crucified up to the point of death. Looking at covenant transactions, there, in purpose, Christ was crucified, and Paul crucified with him. Looking at the work of Jesus Christ in his state of humiliation, from first to last, we may say, here is Christ crucified, and Paul crucified with Him. But to go on to the proper theme in the text, that spiritually or morally, Paul was crucified with Christ, when by the application of Christ crucified to his soul, in the work of grace by the Holy Ghost, he was grafted into Christ. And he that had federally been one with Christ, in the counsels of eternity, and legally one with Christ in His work, now became vitally and actually one with Him, through faith of the Spirit's operation. If Paul had not been thus crucified, he would not have lived. In the crucifixion of Christ, sin is imputed. In the work of grace in the soul, sin is imputed to men, and men accept the imputation. There is little awakening going on, because men will not accept the imputation of sin. There was imputation of sin unto Christ, and He received it. There was imputation of sin unto Paul, in the day God dealt with him, and Paul was constrained through irresistible evidence, to accept the imputation. Condemnation was laid upon Christ, and He accepted it; condemnation was laid upon Paul in the day of his new creation, and it was accepted by him. According to evidence, he could not resist it, and agreeable to the new nature, communicated to him through grace. Wrath was poured upon Christ, and He opened His heart to accept it. The Father did not more willingly open the vials of His indignation, than His dear Son willingly opened His heart to receive them. Not more willingly did the Father unsheathe the sword of justice, than the Son received it. It pleased the Lord to bruise Him. It pleased Him to be bruised. Paul saw wrath over him, and accepted the punishment of his iniquity. But whilst Paul thus identified himself with Jesus Christ, all penal suffering came down upon the Head. The Blessed Redeemer hid His poor people under His skirts, but bared His head to the storm of divine wrath. His poor people have just the same spirit; they could lay down their lives for the brethren. That man is no Christian that is a stranger to that spirit. When sin is imputed, a sentence of condemnation received, and wrath executed and endured, there is death. If Christ had not died in the sense that law and divine justice exact death, He would never have risen again, and if He had never risen, who would have risen with Him? Do you know what it is to be killed, to undergo death? The Christians of our day are of a spurious breed. They are full of life, activity, noise. They fill the whole earth with the noise of their voices just like frogs croaking. Why? Just because they were never dead, and their life does not spring from death. Notice:
Firstly, The spring of this life. Grace. The infinite goodness of Him of whom it is said, "There is none good but One, that is God." It is agreeable to His nature to be kind. Yet the flowing forth of His kindness hangs upon the sovereignty of His will, and that will is ever holy, just and good. He is a Rock, and His work is perfect. Everything may fail, expectations may be blasted, all the foundations out of course, but the Lord liveth; He liveth in glory; it is very glorious in His own eyes, and it is the comfort of a poor broken soul, bereaved of everything else, to know that He is glorious in His own eyes. Cast your anchor here. You will find anchorage for your souls in no place nearer. You must enter within the veil. It was from this grace, that Paul's life sprang. It was a life of grace.
Secondly, The medium through which this life of grace comes. "By faith." "Behold the man." There was never such a cross set up upon the earth. The earth was never called to sustain such a burden as the cross erected on Calvary. Nails were never used for such a purpose, hammers were never heard doing such work. Such a Body was never in the hands of ruthless men; it was wonderful that the majesty that was in Him, did not strike them dead. "Behold the Man," hanging on the accursed tree! The curse of God was on that tree. "Behold the Man!" Behold what meets your eyes! That countenance marred more than any man's; His hands and His feet, the tenderest part of His frame pierced with nails, as if wrath will be satisfied with nothing outside, as if wrath could not stop with His body, though it was like the driven snow for purity, and like the rose, ruddy in beauty, sending forth the sweetest fragrance; wrath must go through His body and it must be seen that it does so. So the soldier's spear pierced Him to show that wrath had gone into the heart. Oh! what a heart! Never was there such a heart! There is the channel: through that riven side the life of grace comes. Paul's life was a Christful life.
Thirdly, The nature of this life. This life is spiritual. Because its Author , God, is a Spirit; because He from whom it is derived is a quickening Spirit. But especially because it is communicated through Christ's death, and in token of His resurrection by the Spirit of life. So, as the Spirit of God is the agent in the production of this life, it is spiritual in its nature. It hath in it, that which is to be seen in the Spirit of God. "The life which I live." There was a principle of spiritual life in the Apostle. The aspects in which this principle is presented are so many and varied, that it is extremely difficult to deal with it. It is withal very secret and profound, and lies immeasurably beyond men's carnal sight.
(1) Learn who they are that are made Christians. They are the fallen children of men, sinners of this world, walking after the sight of their own eyes. Such was Saul of Tarsus; such is every one that has been brought to Christ, and made partaker of His salvation. It is for you to enquire what you are. Whether you can truly answer this description, and take your place among those who are like Paul, sinners exceedingly, of sinners the chief. You will surely not say you are better than he. You are in no ways better. "All have sinned." Surely you will not say you are better than your neighbor; there is no difference in the sight of God. May you by divine grace be brought to humble yourselves, and he that takes the lowest room will be the most honorable; he that is lowest, will be highest. Now by the power of the Spirit of God, in the light of the evidence that the Word affords, men and brethren, may you look upon yourselves as sinners, and be brought to cry like the publican of old, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" It is out of this lump of clay, He takes vessels of mercy. If you are vessels of mercy, you will be taken out of this mass: if not found there, He can never make a vessel of mercy of you. Oh! sinner, your pride and your vanity is carrying you away, and hurrying you down an irresistible stream; shall thoughts of worldly things for ever engross your minds? O that you may be brought to stand still, consider yourselves, consider your ways, and to accept the description of your iniquity; and to accept the punishment of your iniquity; and to humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.
(2) How it is that men become Christians. It is Christ's work to make Christians. The honor He hath in reward of His ignominy, in the death of the Cross, (John 17:2): "As Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him." And so, when it pleases Him, by His faithful Word and in the means in which He meets with men and deals with them, He lets them know what they are, to their confusion, and what He is, to their deliverance. Has Christ ever met you in the way? What will be the good of all the sermons you have heard, if Christ never met you in them? What the better are you, of all the meetings you have attended, and all the excitement you have gone through, if Christ did not meet with you? What is the use of all the privileges you have enjoyed, and all the ordinances you have observed, however you have been affected under them, if Christ did not meet with you? What is the good of all the prayers you have offered, though they have been music in the ears of your neighbors, and especially in your own, if Christ has not met with you? What is the good of all the light you have received upon the truth, all your enlarging and refreshing? If Christ has not met with you in that light, the light that is in you is darkness. What is the good of all your convictions, and terrors and fears, what is the good of all your resolutions, your deliverances, your experiences, if Christ has not met with you in them? Saul of Tarsus would never have been a Christian, if Christ had not met Him; and you will never be Christians, unless Christ meets you. Christ makes men Christians, by crucifying them with Him. Are you crucified? Has Christ made you Christians in this way, after this fashion? Professors nowadays, are all the more whole because of their religion. Their hearts by nature are fat, and their profession makes them, "as fat as grease." Their tempers are alienated from God, their profession just feeds their alienation.
Have you a crucified soul? "I am crucified," that is, Paul in his own proper person, as a sinner, as under the law. So if Paul be crucified, everything that belongs to Paul by nature is crucified with him. Partial crucifixion will not do. People have had crucifixions, and have got the better of them. Convictions will not do; people have had convictions, and have got the better of them, and people have got the better of many things: it needs that men be crucified, as Paul was crucified. They will not get the better of that. Their death is certain then. If you are not thoroughly dead, you will never live, but in hell. My dear friends, may you be led to make thorough work of it, and be content with nothing short of death with Christ. But Christ does not leave them on the cross. He brings the soul out of prison, and then they live. It is a resurrection life. They cannot live without Christ. They cannot live without Christ in them. Some can live in a natural way, with Christ in the Bible; in books, in tracts, in the bread and wine, in their imaginations, in their talents, and in their gifts. But Paul had Christ formed in him, the hope of glory, (John 4:14): "But the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." Take you heed what kind of life will alone suffice you. It is a spiritual life: it stands opposed to the flesh: as it is spiritual in its nature, it requires spiritual nourishment; it goes after spiritual objects; thirsts after spiritual delights; pants after spiritual attainments; and it is never satisfied till it rises to its proper place, the world of spirits. Is that the sort of Christians you are? It is only such as these should go to the Lord's table. It is Christ-made Christians alone who are qualified to celebrate this feast.
May the Lord effectually bless these truths to your souls and His shall be the glory. Amen