"I, the Lord, have called Thee in righteousness, and will hold Thine hand, and will keep Thee, and give Thee for a covenant of the people." (Isaiah 42:6)
Let me read to you, brethren, the opening words of this remarkable prophecy--"Behold, my servant whom I uphold; mine elect in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my Spirit upon Him: He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench: He shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till He have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for His law." I trust I need scarcely say to you that all this has reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. We have inspired authority for making the application of this passage to Him. In the 12th chapter of Saint Matthew's Gospel, it is said, that all that had taken place as to the ministrations of the Lord Jesus, was "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the Prophet, saying, Behold my servant whom I have chosen; my Beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased." The verse which I have read as our text is a continuation of the prophecy; therefore, the words which are to come under our consideration at this time have reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps, at the first glance some of us may be a little startled, by reading such words as these applied to Him, I, Jehovah, have called Thee (the Messiah, the Christ) in righteousness, and will hold Thine hand, and will keep Thee, and give Thee for a covenant of the people." I have specially selected this passage, brethren, for our present consideration, because our minds are, at this season of the year, directed to the person chiefly, and also to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ; and I have thought that this passage might bring under our notice some of those great and glorious truths of the Gospel, which I believe are very little understood by many of us, and which I am sure are too much overlooked by most of us.
I would desire, brethren, in the first place, to call your attention to the special purpose of Jehovah in the appointment of the Messiah to this great work of redemption, "I, Jehovah, have called Thee;" and you will also mark the principle and the basis upon which this work of redemption rests, "I, Jehovah, have called Thee in righteousness."
In the second place, we shall consider the Divine support and strength which was supplied unto Messiah for the carrying Him through His work, "I will hold Thine hand, and will keep Thee."
In the third place, the security that is afforded to those who are called "the people," evidently meaning the Church of the Lord, inasmuch as Jehovah says, "I will give Thee for a covenant of the people."
I do not expect to be able to take up all these subjects today, but I shall, as the Lord enables me, and as time permits, call your attention to these most important truths concerning the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
In the first place, you mark the special appointment of Messiah to this work of redemption--"I, Jehovah, have called Thee." It presents to us that great doctrine of which perhaps many of us have never so much as thought, that there are covenant transactions as to this great matter of salvation, between the Persons of the ever-blessed Trinity; otherwise, how can you or I understand such an expression as this, "My servant whom I uphold?" Or how can we understand such a word as we have in the 2nd chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians, where the Apostle says, speaking of Jesus, that He "being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God?" You observe, he sets forth the Divinity of Christ as one with the Father from all eternity, and then he tells us, that He who thus "thought it not robbery to be equal with God, made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant." (These are the very words of the Prophet Isaiah.) He adds, "And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Such was His service. Now, we hold this to be a mysterious declaration of the Word of God--mysterious in its essence, but as plainly revealed as that the heaven and the earth were made by Him.
You will observe that the appointment of the Son of God to this great work of the redemption of His people, was an eternal covenant transaction. "I have called Thee," says Jehovah. Let me remind you of some very remarkable passages in the New Testament which bear upon this great subject; I cannot, at this time, read to you any lengthened quotations, but I would ask you, when you return to your homes, to study the 4th, 5th, and 6th chapters of St. John's Gospel. It is in this way that the Scriptures will become profitable to you, and that you will become cognizant of the truths which they contain. You will find such an expression as this in the 4th of John, when our Lord's disciples were asking Him some questions as to the food for the body, "I have meat (He says) to eat that ye know not of." "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work." This is the language of a servant. You will find this same declaration echoed in the 6th chapter. In the 38th verse, He says, "I came down from heaven not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me, and (He adds) this is the Father's will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day." This is the language of service, and it is also the language of Him upon whom the service devolved.
But we proceed to speak of the principle and the basis upon which all this rests. The Lord says, "I have called Thee in righteousness." Now, dear brethren, we do not wish to speak hard things, but we must say, we do very much fear, that if this great doctrine of the righteousness of God in reference to the work of Christ, were to be the subject of discussion and of inquiry amongst ourselves, we should receive very indistinct and very indefinite answers. I have often told you that I believe a great many of those matters which are deemed to be very obscure, would become as plain and as simple as other portions of Scripture, if, instead of asking in the spirit of a philosopher or of a caviler, "How can these things be?" we would only say with childlike simplicity, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth."
When we turn to the New Testament, which echoes what is written in the Old Testament Scriptures, we have this matter explained to us, and we find that the righteousness of God stands out as one of the brightest and most glorious features in this covenant of redemption; that Jehovah, who planned this great work, and who has carried it out in the Person of His Son, has done it in a way consistent with His holy character, and has thus laid a solid foundation upon which we are to build our hopes, so that it is the very essence of our comfort to know that He is "a just God and a Saviour." Read the 3rd of Romans, and you will find that when the Apostle Paul opens out the work of the Lord Jesus, His work of propitiation; by which I mean, the making peace for those who were alienated from God, by the atoning sacrifice of Himself; He says, "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say at this time, His righteousness, that He might be just, and the justifier of Him which believeth in Jesus." (Rom. 3:25,26) Now, if this idea fastens on the mind, that the righteousness of God is interwoven with the rich, and full, and free, and present forgiveness of our sins, see what a new element is thrown in for our peace and comfort. This it is which made the Apostle John say, in words which we read so often from our desk to our congregation--"He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins."
We proceed to the next part of our subject, which, if the other seems to be mysterious, at first presents itself to us in a still more mysterious aspect. Perhaps some may be ready to say, What a ground you are now about to tread! It is only some few minutes since the expression came from your lips, that He upon whom this work devolved was God's co-equal Son; and then, what can be the meaning of language such as this, that Jehovah will hold His hand, and will help Him to carry out His work? It is one of the most glorious subjects, brethren, that can be presented to us. And mark, presented to us, not in the dry garb of doctrine, not as the preacher's fancy, but in literal accomplishment, in bare naked fact. It is declared to us as a matter of doctrine--that is, as a matter of Scriptural teaching--that it was Jehovah's mind to carry out this great work of redemption--that Jehovah's power, as well as Jehovah's truth, was engaged to bear up Him upon whom the service devolved; and accordingly, when you bring the doctrine declared, alongside the fact recorded throughout the Gospel narratives, you see that the one precisely corresponds to the other; that the fact is the echo of the doctrine--they fit in their respective places.
Now, take the history of our blessed Lord, and let those who quarrel with us because we take leave to express the doctrines of our Church in the strong language of our Athanasian creed--let them learn that it is the language of all the Scriptures, that there is harmony in the Divine mind, as to this great work of redemption, and that though there is a distinction in the Persons in the Godhead, though the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Holy Ghost; yet is it written as with a sunbeam in this Book, that there is but one God; and, therefore, when others would push us off the platform of the great truth of the unity of the Godhead, and would tells us that they are specially and exclusively Unitarians, we say, in the right and proper sense of the word, We are Unitarians. It is a great truth of Scripture, that there is but one God; but we will take leave to tell them further, that the revelation which God has made of Himself, is in a Trinity of Persons: all else is groping in the dark--it is a feeling after the true God, if haply we may find Him.
But as we have already said, this harmony in the Divine mind is set before us in the history of our blessed Lord. Read the account of His baptism. He submitted to that ordinance, saying, "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." (Matt. 3:15) Heaven comes forth to bear its testimony to His character and to His office. His Father's voice from heaven declares, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." And then, upon Him the Spirit descended, and as the Scripture says, "Abode upon Him." And, again, when we read farther on in His history, we are told that no sooner had He submitted to that baptism, than He did throw Himself into the thick of the fight; He did come in close contact with the Leader of the hosts of darkness; "He was tempted of the Devil." We here view Him in His weakness as a man; and He who said on one occasion, when He was threatened by His adversaries, that He had but to pray to His Father, and He would presently give Him more than twelve legions of angels, did at that time condescend to receive the supplies of angelic ministration, which the poorest of His people may expect. Again, we go to the end of His history, and we read that in that dark season of agony through which He passed, when the pressure of His Church's guilt lay upon Him in all its weight, and in all the severity and intensity of curse; at that moment, "There appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him." Here you see His humanity, and you see Him supported and helped, His hand held by Jehovah.
Now look at Him in another point of view. He tells us in the 10th of John, "I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself." See what a great truth here bursts upon the mind, that His life was not rent from Him by the spear of His adversaries, or by the cruelty of His enemies, but that "He gave up the ghost." He expired voluntarily, not compulsorily--He breathed out His spirit into His Father's bosom.
Here is the mystery, and we are free to acknowledge that it is such. Why, all around us is mystery. How I lift my hand is a mystery; how the blade of grass grows is a mystery; how the soul thinks, how the spirit acts within this body is a mystery; and when we come into the region of the Divine Being, we are free to acknowledge that every step we take is a mystery. But we are not to be scared from the consideration of these subjects, because men cry out, Mystery!--mystery! as if mystery meant something into which we are not to look. The mystery is revealed; it may, perhaps, never be explained to us in its fullness. How can we, finite creatures, enter into the infinite Jehovah? But in childlike simplicity, we will desire to believe all that is revealed to us in this Book. Here, then, is a divine mystery, that the Son of God, equal with His Father, did condescend to take upon Him our nature, and to be born as a child into this our world; that there was this union between the Divine and the human in one Person; that His humanity was upheld; that He was carried through all that work which devolved upon Him. This is what Scripture has called, "The great mystery of godliness; God was manifest in the flesh." (1 Tim. 3:16)
But let me say a word as to the Divine wisdom which was manifested in all this. In the 1st Corinthians, the Apostle tells us of Christ, that He is "the wisdom of God." Now, there are men who may say, You must stand upon one ground or another. Either take up your position in affirming, and in proving that Jesus Christ is God, or leave that position, if you will, and prove that He is man. Now, we will do no such thing. We will maintain that Jesus Christ is perfect God and perfect man in one Person. How beautifully is the doctrine set forth in our Athanasian creed, and in the Second Article of our Church. Now, if we had nothing but Deity to contemplate in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, see what would be the consequence: that bright attribute of justice, or of righteousness, which shines forth in Jehovah's diadem in this matter of redemption, would be beclouded, if not altogether blotted out. For mark you, if there were nothing but deity, there could be no death, no sacrifice, no atonement. You remember what the Apostle says in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "Without shedding of blood is no remission;" (Heb. 9:22) and, therefore, we bless God for such a truth as this, which is thus manifested to us, that Jehovah hath "laid help upon One that is mighty." And, on the other hand, if all were bare humanity, as some have asserted--and as (I hope I may say) only some few assert in the present day--mark what would be said as to the object of His coming in that human form. Men would have told us that he came in order that He might present to us a perfect specimen of our humanity; that in that beautiful form and fashion of a man, He might teach His purer code of morals, and set before us the bright example of His own obedience. We are almost ashamed to acknowledge that men have come down so low as to say, that that was the object of His coming into our world. If this had been all, there would have been no need of His being upheld.
And is it true, that, if this fair and beautiful model had been presented to fallen human nature, it would have had such an influence upon that which is declared to be wrong to its very core, that it would have drawn out some of those latent virtues and tendencies to good of which men tell us? See what is involved in this. The sting and venom of such a doctrine is, that it makes God chargeable with the perishing of man for sin; it is in fact tantamount to saying, that all which this Book declares concerning the wrongness, and degradation, and sinfulness of man, must be exaggerated, because all that he wanted, in order that his energies and faculties of obedience might be brought out, was to give him a sample of humanity in its fairest form. Fact belies such a theory as this. Men had humanity exhibited to them in its fairest form, in the teachings and in the doings of the Son of God, and what was the consequence? Were their hearts attracted to love Him? Nay, on the contrary, they just acted upon the same principle as he acted who was the great archetype of the whole family of the evil seed. "Wherefore slew he him?" says the Apostle John, speaking of Cain's murder of his brother Abel, "Wherefore slew he him? because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous." There is a picture of humanity--and they murdered the Lord Jesus because He spake the truth, and because He loved the truth. It was too bright a sample of humanity; it came too close to men; it placed too bright a mirror before the blackness of their hearts; they hated Him, because He told them the truth.
Here, brethren, is the great mystery of God; here is the wonderful wisdom of God; that it was not Deity alone which accomplished this work, for Deity could not have died; it was not humanity alone, for humanity could not have sustained the heavy load of sin which pressed upon the Son of God. It was the God-man, Christ Jesus, by whom this great work of redemption was effected. We want the element of infinity, which humanity has not, to be thrown into the merit of the sacrifice and death of the Lord Jesus.
This is a glorious subject! We cannot tell whether we have made it plain. God alone can make such wonderful truths to reach the hearts and consciences of men: but in one little word of recapitulation, we would say, what we have sought to impress on you is this,--that there were eternal covenant transactions between the Persons of the ever-blessed Trinity; that the Son of God, upon whom devolved the work of this great salvation, covenanted to take upon Him our nature; that He showed, in His ministrations on this earth, that He had a humanity like ours, sin only excepted; that He had Deity, which we have not; and that He was upheld in every step, a living testimony as He went through all His sufferings, even unto death, that His service was well-pleasing to heaven.
I must leave the other part of the subject for our consideration at some future time, if the Lord permit; but before we close our address, let me add one word. I suppose that there is not one amongst us who does not deem it to be a righteous thing that God should execute to the very uttermost the penalty which sin has laid upon man. O, what an acknowledgment is that which is made in our Church continually, "There is no health in us," no safety, no salvation, as the word literally means.
The subject which we have brought before you this day is one which, perhaps, all of us do not understand--that it is a righteous thing with God to pardon sin--and we suppose that there are fewer still who have been enabled to apprehend that great truth, and to plead before the throne of grace, that "God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." Now, you will never understand that truth, but as you receive the testimony of the Gospel concerning Christ. When you are enabled to see that the Son of God did take upon Him our humanity, did die, the just for the unjust, then you will understand how God can be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
Brethren, look at the world around us, and tell me if it is not playing with edged tools, when men speak so flippantly as they do of sermons and of ordinances, whilst, perhaps, there is no apprehension of this great truth of the Gospel, that God has pardoned our sins, covered our iniquities, blotted out our transgressions. How often do men speak of ordinances as if these ordinances were merely matters for drawing-room conversation. They speak of the Gospel as if they knew it, whereas it brings before the sinner the two most startling truths which can be announced to him, that God will "in nowise clear the guilty;" (Num. 14:18) and then, in order that that truth may be lighted up, and that it may shed some comfort into the heart of the sinner, he has to learn that the guilty was Christ, that the sinner is delivered by redemption through His blood; that the penalty has been laid upon the head of the substituted victim.
And then, brethren, if it be a truth which we have been pressing upon you this day, that for the carrying out of this great work, it was Jehovah's purpose to uphold His beloved Son, and to carry Him through all those trying scenes into which He went, what are we to think of the mass of men around us? What are we to think of ourselves, when we once lived as if there were no cognizance of our affairs by the Divine Being--as if we were independent of Divine support, Divine supplies? O, what a picture does the world present! We are all Christians, forsooth! all Christians! Ye do, if it has gone no farther--ye do, as with your goods and chattels; ye put a label upon the exterior, that others may read it, be it true or false.
You may depend upon it, brethren, that where the blood of Christ has been apprehended as the atonement for the sinner's guilt, it sinks deeper than the surface; it goes into the very core and center of our being; it bedews the inner man with its healing, its comforting balm. If the soul has come under the drops of the cross of Christ, if we have known what it is to have the whole catalogue of our sins forgiven, the sins of darkness, the sins which we could not bear to have exposed to our fellow-men; if we have known what it is to have these sins to the largest amount for ever blotted out, "covered," as the Scripture says; you may depend upon it, that the same Spirit who teaches that truth will teach the poor sinner that he needs Divine support, Divine supplies at every step, and he will learn that little text, "Without Me ye can do nothing."
We have in this verse a summary of the provisions of the covenant of grace; it takes us into the everlasting councils of Jehovah, and tells us of the purposes which were developed in due time according to His will.
The subject was brought under the consideration of our congregation on last Lord's day, when we endeavored to open out the divine arrangement by which the Lord Jesus Christ was set up from everlasting to transact all matters in reference to the Church of God. We showed you how, in His human nature, He was upheld and carried through all the difficulties that He had to encounter in accomplishing the errand on which He came, namely, the salvation of His people.
We reserved for this occasion the last of the declarations in this most comprehensive promise, in which Jehovah says, "I will give Thee for a covenant of the people." It is a very remarkable form of expression; at the first glance we could all understand such a declaration as this, I will make a covenant with you, sinners. Before we have done we shall have occasion to show you that such a view as this, which men so easily comprehend, is the one to which they cling; and in order to establish something of law-salvation, they cleave to the error, that God enters into stipulations, and bargains, and conditions, with poor, sinful, truce-breaking sinners. He does no such thing. Again, we could, perhaps, understand such a word as this, though, when it is put in this form, men do not like it either: I will make a covenant with Thee; and this is a great truth of Scripture, that Jehovah, Father, Son, and Spirit, in eternal councils, made a covenant with the Son of God for the carrying out of this great matter. But when the expression is put as it is in our text, "I will give Thee for a covenant of the people," it is an unusual form of expression, and it is one that never would have been used by the Holy Ghost, if He had not meant that we should examine it, and enter into something of the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of such a marvelous announcement.
Now, brethren, let me say, that the right understanding of this passage, which tells us that Jehovah gives Christ to be a covenant of the people, is the key to the understanding of the whole plan of salvation. I do verily believe that the reason why there is so much confusion in the minds of men upon this matter, is because they do not understand such a word as this, which tells us of covenant salvation. It is the basis, you may depend upon it, not only of all sound doctrine--by which I mean doctrine that is to be read in the pages of God's revealed Word--but it is also the basis of all consistent doctrine. It is the key-stone of the arch. I mention this as a preface to what I have to say to you this day because I want to proclaim, as distinctly as I can, that I maintain to the utmost a system in the matter of the doctrines of grace. There is nothing which frightens men who are not established in the doctrines of grace--there is nothing, I say, which frightens them away from the truth more than this, which is dinned into our ears on every side, that such and such men are making systems. Well, brethren, whatever may be said of others, I hope that it may be said of me, not that I make a system, but that I adhere to a system which is beautifully harmonious and consistent; every part of it arranged by the Lord Himself, and set before us in His Word.
When it is said that Jehovah gives Christ to be a covenant of the people, it seems to me to be tolerably obvious to a spiritually instructed mind, that it means that the dealings of God, in reference to His Church, have been carried out, and are being carried out, through the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ; that all matters, in reference to the Church, have been settled with Him; that upon Him devolves all the responsibility of bringing His people through everything which, in God's providence, they may be called to pass through, and of bringing them safely home, until that day when the top-stone shall be put upon the building, with shoutings of grace and glory to Him who planned the work, who carried it out, and who accomplished it from first to last. These are great and important truths, brethren; and, therefore, I purpose entering more fully into them. I would look at the subject in this way:--
First--I would speak of the Giver;
Secondly--I would speak of the gift.
I would examine this form of expression: "I will give Thee for a covenant of the people;" and then, under the head of the gift, I would endeavor to bring before your minds the Person of Him upon whom so much of accountability is laid.
First of all, we are struck with the absolute and unconditional form of this gift: "I will give." You will observe that this promise is totally irrespective of what we call circumstances. It seems to have nothing to do with the depth of ruin into which man has fallen, nor has it anything to do with the proud, rebellious spirit that is antagonistic to any movement of mercy on the part of God. We shall now show you how the missing of this view of things involves men in confusion and error. I do believe that in most of the religious systems that pass current in the world, but which are unsound and unscriptural, this element is altogether overlooked, that God has His own glory in view, in everything that He does. Many of those false systems which are abroad in the world would make this matter of salvation to be a kind of after-thought in the mind of God, to remedy the evil which Satan and man had brought about between them.
O, brethren, if ever you would nestle under the precious truths of the Gospel, as they are set forth in the Word of God, you must see the whole as a magnificent plan of the Lord's own arrangement, for the bringing out of His own glory.
I have said that all those systems which lose sight of these covenant transactions, would make this matter of salvation an after-thought of God, or they would leave the whole thing contingent upon the will of sinful men. Why, if God had sent twelve legions of angels into this world, and if rivers of tears could have run down their cheeks, as they would beseech of men to turn to the Lord, their supplication would have been fruitless. Man's will is steeled against the Lord and His truth: therefore, away with that falsehood and that error which would teach that God is standing as the suppliant before proud man, and that He is waiting till man condescends to lend an ear to Him. These things savor much, methinks of blasphemy.
Again, these false systems would make it appear that man can, in some way or other, co-operate with God, in this matter of salvation. See how such a view would establish the doctrine of human merit. You remember the Apostle's argument upon this point, in the 11th of Romans. He says, Let it be one thing or another, "if it is of grace, then it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace; but if it is of works, then it is no more grace, otherwise work is no more work." And therefore, in the Epistle to the Galatians, does the Apostle say: "If there had been a law given, which could have given life, verily, righteousness should have been by the law." Now, in contrast with all these errors, the Word of God sets before us the clear and defined purpose of Jehovah; and this is the only way in which I can understand such an expression as this: "I will give Thee for a covenant of the people."
We now come to speak of the second part of our subject, in which this gift is to be examined. We have the Person of Jesus set before us in the words: "I will give Thee." I believe, brethren, that many of us verge very closely upon the denial of the preexistent state of the Lord Jesus, by keeping the eye so exclusively fixed upon Him in His humanity. Now, if you will bear in mind, that hundreds of years before He came into this world, the finger of prophecy pointed to Him, as the great hinge upon which the whole plan of salvation was to turn, you will learn that all that was done, in the fullness of time, was merely the development of that which Jehovah had purposed before time began. And then, when you read of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus, we want you to see in it, not merely the mysterious union of the two natures in the person of the one Christ, but we want you to see why all this was done. You must bear in mind that, in order that that Church might be saved, which was dear to Jehovah from everlasting, help has been "laid upon One that is mighty." None but God could save that people, and bring them home to eternal glory; and then, as the God-man, see the sympathy that He has with His people--see how He is identified with them.
Let me bring before you two or three passages of Scripture upon these subjects. In the first place, I would wish to prove this fact, that it was not because Jesus came, that God was reconciled to His people, but that His coming into the world was the manifestation of the love which He bore to them before there was a world at all. In the 4th chapter of 1st John, the Apostle says: "In this was manifested the love of God towards us; because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world." And then he adds: "Herein is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us." Again, in the 2nd of Hebrews, the Apostle writes thus: "Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same." Mark, they were children before Christ came at all. In the 17th verse we read: "In all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest, in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people; for in that He Himself hath suffered, being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted."
Now, brethren, as to the provision that is made by this appointment of the Lord Jesus: in the first place, the idea that is presented by His being given for a covenant of the people is this, that He is the Representative of His Church; and this doctrine of substitution runs through the whole of the New Testament. If a man gets into his mind the idea of substitution as to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, he has got the key to the whole Gospel. But though the word is one of frequent occurrence in all theological writings, yet, I do believe the doctrine is very little understood. There is a Latin word which is also frequently used--vicarious. I believe that very often these hard words are used in order to get away from the thing which the hard word implies. Vicarious means something that stands instead of another; and, therefore, when a vicarious atonement is spoken of, it means that the Lord Jesus Christ substituted Himself for His people. Now, if men could get this idea into their minds, we should hear no more of contingency or of uncertainty, as to the matter of salvation.
This was the subject which our Lord continually brought before His disciples. Read such a chapter as the 10th of John. He there tells us, that He is the Good Shepherd. He tells us what the Good Shepherd does: He says, "I lay down my life for the sheep." In order that the sheep might not die, He died. And then, again, in order to show how He put Himself as the bearer of the whole burden, remember that it is said, that "Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." Shall I refer you to the 53rd of Isaiah? The Apostle Peter quotes a passage from that chapter, which sets before us this doctrine of substitution, and the benefits of substitution--"By whose stripes ye were healed." (2 Pet. 2:24) In the 6th verse of that chapter, the Prophet says, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid," or made to meet "upon Him the iniquity of us all;" (Isa. 53:6) and then remember that Jesus is now the Representative of His people. For inasmuch as we ought not to lose sight of what He was before He came into the world; so we are not to lose sight of Him, now that He has gone out of the world. We are to remember that He has gone into "heaven itself, there to appear in the presence of God for us." Our legal friends understand what is meant by making an appearance for a man. This verse tell us of the appearance that the Lord Jesus Christ makes for His people.
Again, let me say a little as to the security which is given to the Church of God in this matter, inasmuch as the whole responsibility of the work devolves upon Him; inasmuch as He is accountable for the safety of every member of that Church. It was for this that He shed His precious blood upon the cross. And then, think of the acceptance of His people in Him. We would have you ever to bear in mind that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus was the evidence that His work was done, and that it was accepted. You know what is said in the 2nd of Hebrews: we are there told that He was to take the place of His brethren, that He was to do all these wonderful things for them; and, moreover, it is expressly declared, that it was written concerning Him in the Old Testament Scriptures, "Behold, I and the children which God hath given me."
O, I do love that word which was spoken by one, who, perhaps, could not enter into the full meaning of what she uttered. When David of old was hotly pursued by his enemies, that woman Abigail, who seemed, by a remarkable intuition, to discover something of those fences which were round about him, and which the enmity of man could not break down, said to him, "The soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with Jehovah." (1 Sam. 25:29)
Here, then, brethren, is security for the Lord's people, that they stand in Christ; that He is their Representative, and that He is accountable for them; and that He will bring them and present them before His Father, as His gift to Him before the worlds were--the purchase of His own blood. This, if we understand it at all, is the meaning of Jehovah, when He says, "I will give Thee for a covenant of the people;" and of this they have the pledge in their souls by the Spirit's testimony.
Dear brethren, is there amongst us who thinks he has any safe standing before God, except on the ground of such a covenant as this? I do not ask, Have you been taught otherwise?--I do not ask, Have your minds been indoctrinated with other systems? I know they have. I do not ask whether you have heard of any other standing before God. But I ask, Is there any one of you who feels that he has any safe standing before God, except on the ground of this covenant? I have no hesitation in saying, that not one of you can think that he has any safe standing except on this ground. I care nothing for that state of lethargy which the opiates of false doctrine may sometimes beget; but I say, let the man be aroused; let him be asked as a waking man, Sir, what is your confidence before God? and I feel assured, there will be indistinctness and confusedness in his answer, except he stands on the ground of the everlasting covenant of Jehovah.
Brethren, you do not see this as often as we ministers see it. We know how men are forced to shift from one sandy foundation to another. They feel that this sinks, and the other sinks, and they are ready to lay hold on any little twig, that they think may, perhaps, bear them up in the time of their necessity. And, brethren, we see the contrast to this at times. I have seen a babe in Christ, one who perhaps would have been little skilled to enter into the nice distinctions of theological controversy, but who had simply learned that there was a solid ground upon which she could rest, even the covenant work of the Lord Jesus; and that babe was planted upon a solid basis which could not be moved by circumstances, nor by bodily weakness, nor by many outward things calculated to shake to the very center.
Brethren, though I do not like to speak much upon subjects such as these, I must tell you that, within the last eight-and-forty hours, I watched, for five hours, the departing spirit of one who, I believe, in yonder gallery first learned anything of the salvation that is in Jesus. And though that babe in Christ was, perhaps, but little skilled in the niceties of theological controversy, yet there was not the slightest doubt, not a passing cloud; but there was a simple reliance upon truths which stand as firm as the throne of God itself. This is a victory, brethren. I am not speaking of it as a triumphant death; I do not like excitement, I am afraid of it; but I am speaking of a simple, childlike apprehension of some half-dozen truths of God's blessed Word. And this I say, of the babe in Christ, who has been made to drink into the milk of the doctrine, that hell and hell's angels cannot move him from such blessed and substantial truths as these.
This has been to me a cheering instance of the grace of God. Because, as I said, there was no entanglement of other things in the mind, and because it rejoiced my heart to think, that it was within these walls that God first shed light into her soul; which light, small as the flame may have been, He did not allow to flicker, until there was, as I believe, a falling asleep in Jesus. I would fain trust so. I am not one who would attempt to pronounce as to who are in Jesus, and who are not in Jesus; I only tell you of what I have seen, and what I believe God will ever give to His poor weak people, who believe His truth, and who rest upon it in simplicity. Is this, brethren, the ground upon which you are calculating that you can stand before God?
Let me just say in conclusion, that every day's observation of what is passing in the world at this time, makes me feel more and more convinced that we are standing on the brink of very eventful times. I am not speaking as an alarmist, but I just say, that you who read the newspapers--you who look at the affairs of the world at this juncture, must have discovered in what a position the man of truth stands. He is between two fires. You have, I believe, at this moment, the world more evenly balanced than perhaps it ever was before. You have on the one side, rank superstition and persecution--all the elements of the Romish system--a greater power than, I believe, many of us imagine it to be. There may be here and there some little appearance of a dent being made upon it. I scarcely see it. It appears to me to be rising with giant strength; it may be, before its final struggle. I look at facts, and I see the men who have been brought up in our own system, and who ought to know better, throwing dust, as it were, into this scale, helping forward by their skill, and by every means in their power, this fearful system of error. And then, on the other hand, you have a daring, rampant infidelity, which brooks no religion. And it appears to me that these antagonist powers are almost fairly balanced in the present day. They are both of them opposed to the truth of Christ, and therefore it is, that sound doctrine, and the being established in covenant truth, is everything. Your faith may be tried; it may have to pass through the fires; but it must stand, if it is established upon this basis. If you are resting on the rubbish of human merit, your own feelings, your own righteousness--anything but Jesus--you will faint, you will tremble, and the enemy must gain an advantage over you.