Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Gospel Doctrine

"For if, when we were enemies,
we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,
much more, being reconciled,
we shall be saved by his life."

(Romans 5:10)

By J.C. Philpot*

There are two points of Divine Truth on which the Scriptures are very express and plain, and yet both of them are most stoutly resisted by the pride and self-righteousness of man's heart. These two truths are the completeness of The Fall, and the equal or more than equal completeness of the recovery.

Neither of these truths, though for different reasons, is palatable to man's self-righteous nature. As to the first, the depth of The Fall, how few are willing to admit that man is in such a state as the word of God describes him to be – "dead in trespasses and sins;" "alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in him, because of the blindness of his heart;" "serving diverse lusts and pleasures;" "living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another," "having no hope, and without God in the world."

But how plainly are all these evil fruits traced up in the Scriptures to their parent stock – The Adam Fall. How clear on this point is the language of the apostle – "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death," not only naturally but spiritually, "passed upon all men for that [or "in whom," margin] all have sinned;" "through the offence of one many be dead;" "the judgment was by one to condemnation;" "by one man's offence death reigned by one;" "by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation;" "by one man's disobedience many were made sinners."

And yet these unquestionable and express declarations of Scripture are so opposed to that natural principle which exists in all of us, that we think we are not so thoroughly helpless as not to be able to do something to please God and obtain salvation; and that we will never be exposed to all the desperate rebellion that our wicked heart is capable of manifesting.

It is true that from a kind of traditional respect for the Scriptures there is a bridle in the jaws of many which prevents them from speaking against them; but when the Truth contained in them is brought forth and enforced in other language, then it is that the enmity manifests itself.

In a similar way, the other grand and glorious Truth which is the correlative of the first, the completeness of the recovery, the perfection of the finished work of Christ, the full atonement which He has made by His blood shedding and death, is as much opposed as the depth of The Fall, because it equally stands in the way of that self-righteousness which is innate in every man's heart.

See how it cuts both ways. If I can do something toward my own salvation, then The Fall is not complete; for it has left me some power. If I can do something for my own salvation, then the recovery is not complete; for to become effectual it needs my co-operation.

But how plainly has the Holy Spirit revealed not only the depth and completeness of The Fall, but the height and completeness of the recovery. The apostle... ascribes justification to the obedience of Christ as plainly as condemnation to the disobedience of Adam, summing up the contrast he has drawn between the two covenant heads in these words of truth and power–  

"For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." (Rom. 5:17-19.)

In the words of our Text, we find Paul seeking to encourage the desponding saints of God, by laying before them what Christ has already done, and what He still lives to do. It is the summing up of the argument laid down in the preceding verses. The main point which he enforces, and whereby he sets off the wondrous love of God, is that "when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." The death of Christ and that for "the ungodly" is the key-note of his melodious theme – the grand fundamental Truth of the Gospel – on which he insists and enforces with all the strength of his pen.

From this Gospel doctrine he draws a no less Gospel conclusion, that thereby God "commends," or, as the word means, "recommends," "his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." He would thus to the utmost of his power enhance and set before our eyes the greatness of the love of God; that this love was not to "the righteous man," of whom he had spoken in the preceding verse, if indeed such a one could be found; nor for "the good," that is – the kind, benevolent man for whom some would even dare to die; but that it flowed so freely forth towards us while we were yet sinners that He sent His only begotten Son to die for us.

He would thus open a door of hope for every sensible sinner who is led by divine teaching into an experimental [experiential, ed.] acquaintance with the depth of The Fall, and encourage him to come to God as he is, in all his sin and shame, that he may receive mercy from the hand of Him whose name and nature are love.

He then goes on still further to encourage the drooping saints of God by pointing out to them the fruits of justification by the obedience and blood shedding of Christ and the way in which it makes salvation sure– "Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him." The saints of God are justified, that is, are accounted righteous, through the blood of Christ; and though it may seem at first sight unusual language, yet it perfectly harmonizes with an expression in the same chapter – "By the obedience of one shall many be made righteous" (verse 19); for the blood shedding and sacrifice of Christ were a part of this obedience.

Thus by setting before them, that they are already in a state of justification and acceptance before God; that the blood shed upon the Cross is their plea and title to eternal bliss – a plea and title that never can be set aside by the curse and condemnation of the Law, or the accusations of Satan and a guilty conscience, he encourages them to believe that they shall be fully saved, and are in fact already saved from the wrath to come.

But this glorious and most encouraging truth he sets forth more fully in the words of our text, as the general summing up of the preceding argument – "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life."....

You, who are burdened by your sins...
...You, who feel the enmity of your heart; who would be reconciled and brought near to God, who desire nothing so much as to feel the love of God shed abroad in your soul; who want to experience the pardon of your sins and have a manifestation that you have a saving interest in the Lord Jesus Christ; to you, even to you, is the word of this salvation sent.

And come you must, and come you will, with all your sins and transgressions, however black they may be, and lay them down, so to speak, at the foot of the Cross; you must and will look with believing eyes to the crucified Son of God, and look and look, until He speaks a Word of peace, pardon, and consolation to your soul, through His bleeding wounds and suffering death.

And then, when you have been thus reconciled to God by the death of Christ, and His precious blood has been sprinkled upon your conscience, making you a friend of God, you will have to live a life of faith and prayer upon Him as a risen Mediator, as a gracious and glorious Head of influence, and Intercessor at the right hand of the Father.

To Him you will have to come day by day with your sins and sorrows, your mournings and lamentations over your repeated and aggravated backslidings, your numerous, yes innumerable infirmities and short comings; and thus make Him your best, may I add, your confidential Friend; for He is "a friend that sticks closer than any earthly brother."

In this way, by confessing your sins, and by faith in His name, you will receive communications of His grace, mercy, and love into your heart, so as to save you from the love and spirit of the world, from error, from the power and strength of your own lusts, and the base inclinations of your fallen nature. These will often work at a fearful rate; but this will only make you feel more your need of the power and presence of the Lord Jesus to save you from them all.

Now it is an experience of these inward exercises and of the power and presence of the Lord in and under them, which makes real religion such a living thing in a man's bosom. A man, taught of God, will not and must not say, "All my sins were freely forgiven and blotted out by Christ's blood shedding and death upon the cross. Then and there I was reconciled to God. I have now nothing more to do with sin, nor sin with me." This is to pervert and abuse a blessed Gospel Truth!

You have still a great deal to do with sin, and sin has still a great deal to do with you; for it dwells in you, and will work, and that sometimes at an dreadful rate. And you will find, if your heart be right with God, that you will have many trials and temptations, conflicts and sorrows to bear; many battles to fight, and, I may add, victories to gain.

You are a poor, defenseless sheep, surrounded by wolves, and, as such, need all the care and defense of the good Shepherd. You are a ship in a stormy sea, where winds and waves are all contrary, and therefore need an all-wise and able pilot to take you safe into harbor. It is in this way that we learn that "we are saved by Christ's life."...

If your feet are in this blessed path there is no difficulty that you can meet with beyond the strength of the Lord Jesus Christ to overcome; no temptation can attack you, no trial await you, no enemy assault you – which He cannot defeat. Nor is there a single thing on earth or in hell which can harm you if you are only looking to the Lord Jesus Christ, and deriving supplies of grace and strength out of Him....

*Excerpted and adapted for blog posting from J.C. Philpot, "Reconciliation and Salvation," Preached at North Street Chapel, Stamford, on May 16, 1858. Read the full sermon here: This sermon is a good refutation to the modern doctrinal revisions about the meaning of "reconciliation."