Sermon 727. God Incarnate, The End Of Fear
DELIVERED ON SUNDAY MORNING, DECEMBER 23, 1866, BY C. H. SPURGEON, AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"And the angel said unto them, Fear not." Luke 2:10.
No sooner did the angel of the Lord appear to the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, than they weresorely afraid. It had come to this, that man was afraid of his God, and when God sent down His loving messengers with tidingsof great joy, men were filled with as muchfright as though the angel of Death had appeared with uplifted sword. The silence of night and its dreary gloom caused nofear in the shepherds' hearts, but the joyful herald of the skies, robed in mildest glories of Divine Grace, made them afraid.
We must not condemn the shepherds on this account as though they were peculiarly timid or ignorant, for they were only actingas every other person in that age would have done under the same circumstances. Not because they were simple shepherds werethey amazed with fear, but it is probable that ifthey had been well-instructed Prophets they would have displayed the same feeling. There are many instances recorded inScripture in which the foremost men of their time trembled and felt a horror of great darkness when special manifestationsof God were vouchsafed to them. In fact,a slavish fear of God was so common that a tradition had grown out of it, which was all but universally received as nothingless than the Truth of God.
It was generally believed that every supernatural manifestation was to be regarded as a token of speedy death. "We shall surelydie because we have seen God" was not only Manoah's conclusion, but that of most men of his period. Few, indeed, were thosehappy minds who, like Manoah's wife, couldreason in a more cheerful style, "If the Lord had meant to destroy us He would not have showed us such things as these."It became the settled conviction of all men, whether wise or simple, whether good or bad, that a manifestation of God wasnot so much to be rejoiced in as to bedreaded. Even Jacob said, "How dreadful is this place! It is none other but the House of God."
Doubtless the spirit which originated this tradition was much fostered by the legal dispensation which is better fitted fortrembling servants than for rejoicing sons. It was of the bond woman and it gendered into bondage. The solemn night in whichits greatest institution was ordained was a nightof trembling. Death was there in the slaughter of the lamb. Blood was there sprinkled on a conspicuous part of the house.Fire was there to roast the lamb-all the emblems of judgment were there to strike the mind with awe. It was at the dread hourof midnight when the solemnfamily conclave was assembled. The door being shut, the guests, themselves, standing in an uneasy attitude, and awestricken,for their hearts could hear the wings of the Destroying Angel as he passed by the house.
Afterwards, when Israel came into the wilderness, and the Law was proclaimed, do we not read that the people stood afar offand that bounds were set about the mount? And if so much as a beast touched the mountain it was to be stoned or thrust throughwith a dart! It was a day of fear and tremblingwhen God spoke to them out of the fire. Not with the melting notes of harp, psaltery, or dulcimer did God's Law come toHis people's ears! No soft wings of angels brought the message, and no sunny smiles of Heaven sweetened it to the mind! No,with sound of trumpet and thunder, outof the midst of blazing lightning-with Sinai altogether on a smoke-the Law was given.
The law's voice was, "Come not near here!" The spirit of Sinai is fear and trembling. The legal ceremonies were such as ratherto inspire fear than to beget trust. The worshipper at the temple saw bloodshed from the first of the year to the end of theyear. The morning was ushered in with theblood-shedding of the lamb, and the evening shades could not gather without blood again being spilt upon the altar! Godwas in the midst of the camp, but the pillar of cloud and fire was His unapproachable pavilion.
The emblem of His glory was concealed behind the curtain of blue and scarlet and fine twined linen-behind which only one footmight pass-and that but once in the year. Men spoke of the God of Israel with bated breath and with voices hushed and solemn.They had not learned to say, "OurFather which are in Heaven." They had not received the spirit of adoption, and were not able to say Abba, Father. They smartedunder the spirit of bondage which made them sorely afraid when by any peculiar manifestation the Lord displayed His Presenceamong them. At the bottom ofall this slavish dread lay sin.
We never find Adam afraid of God, nor of any manifestation of Deity while he was an obedient creature in Paradise. But nosooner had he touched the fatal fruit than he found that he was naked and hid himself! When he heard the voice of the LordGod walking in the garden in the cool of the day, Adamwas afraid and hid himself from the Presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Sin makes miserable cowardsof us all! See the man who once could hold delightful converse with his Maker now dreading to hear his Maker's voice and skulkingin the grove like a felon whoknows his guilt, and is afraid to meet the officers of justice!
Beloved, in order to remove this dread nightmare of slavish fear from the breast of humanity, where its horrible influencerepresses all the noblest aspirations of the soul, our Lord Jesus Christ came in the flesh! This is one of the works of thedevil which He was manifested to destroy. Angelscame to proclaim the good news of the advent of the Incarnate God, and the very first note of their song was a foretasteof the sweet result of His coming to all those who shall receive Him. The angel said, "Fear not," as though the times of fearwere over, and the days of hope andjoy had arrived! "Fear not." These words were not meant for those trembling shepherds, only, but were intended for you andfor me, yes, for all nations to whom the glad tidings shall come!
"Fear not." Let God no longer be the object of your slavish dread! Stand not at a distance from Him any more. The Word ismade flesh. God has descended to tabernacle among men, that there may be no hedge of fire, no yawning gulf between God andman. Into this subject I wish to go this morning asGod may help me. I am sensible of the value of the theme, and am very conscious that I cannot do it justice. I would earnestlyask God the Holy Spirit to make you drink of the golden cup of the Incarnation of Christ such draughts as I have enjoyed inmy quiet meditations. I canscarcely desire more delight for my dearest friends.
There is no antidote for fear more excellent than the subject of that midnight song, the first and best of Christmas chorales,which from its first word to its last note chimes out the sweet message, which begins with, "Fear not."-
"It is my sweetest comfort, Lord, And will forever be, To muse upon the gracious truth Of your humanity. Oh joy! There sits in our flesh, Upon a throne of light, One of a human mother born, In perfect Godhead bright! Though earth's foundations should be mo ved, Down to their lowest deep. Though all the trembling universe Into destruction sweep. Forever God, forever man, My Jesus shall endure. And fixed on Him, My hope remains Eternally secure."
Dear Friends, I shall first detain your attention with a few remarks upon the fear of which I have already spoken. Then, secondly,we shall invite your earnest attention to the remedy which the angels came to proclaim. And then, thirdly, as we may havetime, we shall endeavor to make an applicationof this remedy to various cases.
I. Turning to THE FEAR of the text, it may be well to discriminate. There is a kind of fear towards God from which we mustnot wish to be free. There is that lawful, necessary, admirable, excellent fear which is always due from the creature to theCreator, from the subject to the king, yes, andfrom the child toward the parent. That holy, filial fear of God, which makes us dread sin and constrains us to be obedientto His command is to be cultivated. "We had fathers of our flesh, and we gave them reverence, shall we not be in subjectionto the Father of spirits and live?"
This is the "fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom." To have a holy awe of our most holy, just, righteous, andtender Parent is a privilege, not a bondage! Godly fear is not the "fear which has torment." Perfect love does not cast out,but dwells in joyful harmony. The angels perfectlylove God, and yet with holy fear they veil their faces with their wings as they approach Him. And when we shall in Glorybehold the face of God, and shall be filled with all His fullness, we shall not cease humbly and reverently to adore the InfiniteMajesty. Holy fear is a work ofthe Holy Spirit, and woe unto the man who does not possess it! Let him boast as he may, his "feeding himself without fear"is a mark of his hypocrisy!
The fear which is to be avoided, is slavish fear-the fear which perfect love casts out, as Sarah cast out the bondwoman andher son. That trembling which keeps us at a distance from God, which makes us think of Him as a Spirit with whom we can haveno communion-as a Being who has nocare for us except to punish us-and for whom, consequently, we have no care except to escape if possible from His terriblePresence. This fear sometimes arises in men's hearts from their thoughts dwelling exclusively upon the Divine greatness. Isit possible to peer long intothe vast abyss of Infinity and not to fear? Can the mind yield itself up to the thought of the Eternal, Self-Existent, InfiniteOne without being filled, first with awe and then with dread?
What am I? An aphid creeping upon a rosebud is a more considerable creature in relation to the universe of beings than I canbe in comparison with God! What am I? A grain of dust that does not turn the scale of the most delicate balance is a greaterthing to man than a man is to Jehovah! At best weare less than nothing and vanity! But there is more to abase us than this. We have had the impertinence to be disobedientto the will of this great One! And now the goodness and greatness of His nature are as a current against which sinful humanitystruggles in vain, for theirresistible torrent must run its course and overwhelm every opponent. What does the great God seem to us, out of Christ,but a stupendous rock threatening to crush us, or a fathomless sea, hastening to swallow us up?
The contemplation of the Divine greatness may of itself fill man with horror and cast him into unutterable misery! Dwell longupon such themes, and like Job, you will tremble before Jehovah, who shakes the earth out of her place, and makes the pillarstremble. Each one of the sterner attributes ofGod will cause the same fear. Think of His power by which He rolls the stars along, and lay your hand upon your mouth! Thinkof His wisdom by which He numbers the clouds, and settles the ordinances of Heaven. Meditate upon any one of these attributes,but especially upon Hisjustice, and upon that devouring fire which burns unceasingly against sin-and it is no wonder if the soul becomes full offear!
Meanwhile let a sense of sin with its great whip of wire flagellate the conscience, and man will dread the bare idea of God.For this is the burden of the voice of Conscience to guilty man-"If you were an obedient creature, this God were still terribleto you, for the heavens are not pure inHis sight, and He charged His angels with folly. What are you that you should be just with God, or have any claims uponHim? You have offended, you have lifted the hand of your rebellion against the infinite majesty of Omnipotence-what will becomeof you? What can be yourportion but to be set up forever as a monument of His righteous wrath?"
Now such a fear as that being very easily created in the thoughtful mind, and being, indeed, as it seems to me, the naturalheritage of man as the result of sin is most doleful and injurious. For wherever there is a slavish dread of the Divine Beingit alienates man most thoroughly from his God. Weare by our evil nature enemies to God, and the imagination that God is cruel, harsh, and terrible adds fuel to the fireof our enmity. Those whom we slavishly dread we cannot love. You could not make your child show forth love to you if its littleheart was full of fear-if itdreaded to hear your footsteps and was alarmed at the sound of your voice it could not love you. You might obey some hugemonster because you were afraid of him, but to love him would be impossible.
It is one of the masterpieces of Satan to deceive man by presenting to his mind a hateful picture of God. He knows that mencannot love that which terrifies them and therefore he paints the God of Grace as a hard, unforgiving being who will not receivethe penitent and have pity upon the sorrowful.God is love! Surely if men had but Grace enough to see the beauty of that portrait of God-that miniature sketched with asingle line, "God is love!" they would willingly serve such a God. When the Holy Spirit enables the mind to perceive the Characterof God, the heart cannotrefuse to love Him.
Base, fallen, depraved as men are, when they are illuminated from on high so as to judge rightly of God, their hearts meltunder the genial beams of Divine love and they love God because He has first loved them. But there is the master- piece ofSatan, that he will not let the understandingperceive the excellence of God's Character and then the heart cannot love that which the understanding does not perceiveto be loveable. In addition to alienating the heart from God, this fear creates a prejudice against God's Gospel of Grace.There are persons in this place thismorning who believe that if they were religious they would be miserable. It is the settled conviction of half of Londonthat to trust in Jesus and to be obedient to God, which is the essence of all true religion, would be wretchedness itself.
"Oh," says the worldly man, "I should have to give up my pleasure if I were to become a Christian." Now this is one of themost wicked slanders that was ever invented and yet it has current belief everywhere. It is the popular theology that to bean enemy to God is happiness, but to be the friendof God is misery. What an opinion men must have of God, when they believe that to love Him is to be wretched! Oh, couldthey comprehend, could they but know how good God is-instead of imagining that His service would be slavery, they would understandthat to be His friend isto occupy the highest and happiest position which created beings can occupy!
This fear in some men puts them out of all hope of ever being saved. Thinking God to be an ungenerous Being, they keep ata distance from Him. If there are some sweet attractions, now and then in a sermon, some gentle meltings of conscience, thegood desire never matures into the practical resolve.They do not say, "I will arise and go unto my Father," because they do not know Him as a Father-they only know Him as aconsuming fire. A man does not say, "I will arise and go unto a consuming fire."
No, but like Jonah, he would gladly pay his fare, regardless of the expense, and go to Tarshish to flee from the Presenceof the Lord! This it is that makes calamity of being a man at all, to most men-that they cannot get away from God, since theyimagine that if they could but escape fromHis Presence they would then wander into bliss. But being doomed to be where God is, they then conceive that for them wretchednessand misery alone remain. The soft warnings of mercy and the thundering of justice are, alike, powerless upon men so long astheir hearts are seared andrendered callous by an unholy dread of God.
This wicked dread of God frequently drives men to extremities of sin. The man says, "There is no hope for me. I have madeone fatal mistake in being God's enemy and I am irretrievably ruined. There is no hope that I shall ever be restored to happinessor peace. Then what will I do? I will cast thereins upon the neck of my passions. I will defy fate and take my chance. I will get such happiness as may be found in sin.If I cannot be reconciled to Heaven I will be a good servant of Hell." And therefore men have been known to hasten from onecrime to another with a maliciousinventiveness of rebellion against God.
They act as if they could never be satisfied nor contented till they had heaped up more and more rebellions against the majestyof God whom in their hearts they dread with a burning Satanic dread mingled with hate. If they could but comprehend that Heis still willing to receive the rebellious,that His heart yearns towards sinners! If they could but once believe that He is love and wills not the death of a sinnerbut had rather that he should turn unto Him and live, surely the course of their lives must be changed! But the god of thisworld blinds them and maligns theLord until they count it folly to submit to Him.
Dear Friends, this evil which works a thousand ills operates in ways of evil quite innumerable. It dishonors God. Oh, it isinfamous! It is villainous to make out our God, who is Light and in whom is no darkness at all, to be an object of horriblefear. It is infernal! I may say no less. It isdevilish to the highest degree to paint Him as a demon, who is Jehovah, the God of Love. Oh, the impertinence of the Princeof Darkness, and the madness of man to consent to him, that God should be depicted as being unwilling to forgive, unkind,untender, hard, cruel-whereasHe is love-supremely and above all things, LOVE!
He is just, but all the more truly loving because He is just. He is true, and therefore sure to punish sin, yet even punishingsin because it were not good to let sin go unpunished. This is base ingratitude on the part of a much-receiving creature thathe should malign his Benefactor. The evilwhich is thus done to God recoils upon man-for this fear has torment. No more tormenting misery in the world than to thinkof God as being our implacable foe! You Christians who have lost, for a while, the spirit of adoption-you who have wandereda distance from God andnothing can be more tormenting to you than the fear that the Lord has cast you away and will not again receive you.
You backsliders, nothing can hold you back from your heavenly Father like a dread of Him! If you can but really know thatHe is not to be dreaded with slavish fear, you will come to Him as your child does to you, and you will say,
"My Father, I have offended-pity me! My Father, I am vexed and grieved for my sin-forgive me, receive me again to Your arms,and help me, by Your mighty Grace, that from now on I may walk in Your Commandments and be obedient to Your will." My dearFriends, you who know anything aboutspiritual life-don't you feel that when you have sweet thoughts of God breathed into you from above and have His speciallove to you shed abroad in your hearts-don't you feel that it is then that you are most holy?
Have you not perceived that the only way in which you can grow in that which is morally and spiritually lovely, is by havingyour gracious God high in your esteem, and feeling His precious love firing your hearts? That they may be like little childrenis the very thing which God desires for Hiselect ones! It is this which His Spirit works in His chosen! It is to this that we must come if we are to be meet to bepartakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Slavish fear is so opposed to the child-like spirit that it is as thepoison of asps to it. Dread and fearbring out everything in us that is of the man rather than of the child, for it stirs us up to resist the object of our fear.
An assured confidence in the goodness of God casts out fear and brings forth everything that is child-like in us. Have youever seen a child trust some big, rough man, and melt him down by its trustfulness? It trusted where there was no ground fortrust, apparently, and made ground for itself. Thatsame child, simply and implicitly trusting in a good and generous father is a noble picture. And if I, a poor, weak, feeblechild, conscious that I am such-knowing that I am all folly and weakness-can just believe in my good, great God, through JesusChrist, and come andtrust myself with Him and leave Him to do as He likes with me, believing that He will not be unkind, and cannot be unwise-ifI can wholly repose in His love and be obedient to His will-why then I shall have reached the highest point that the creaturecan reach! The HolySpirit will then have worked His finished work in me and I shall be fit for Heaven.
Beloved, it is because fear opposes this, and prevents this, that I would say with the angel, "Fear not." II. I fear I wearyyou while I speak upon this somewhat dolorous theme, and therefore with as much brevity as the abundance of the matter maypermit, let us notice in the second place, THE CUREFOR THIS FEAR, which the angel came to proclaim. It lies in this-"Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior,which is Christ the Lord."-
"Till God in human flesh I see, My thoughts no comfort find. The holy, just and sacred Three, Are terrors to my mind. But if Immanuel's face appears, My hope, my joy begins! His name forbids my slavish fear, His Grace removes my sins."
That is the remedy-God with us-God made flesh. Let us try and show this from the angel's song. According to the text theywere not to fear, first of all, because the angel had come to bring them good news. How does it run? It says, "I bring yougood tidings of great joy." But what wasthis Gospel? Further on we are told that the Gospel was the fact that Christ was born! So, then, it is good news to menthat Christ is born, that God has come down and taken manhood into union with Himself. Verily this is glad tidings! He whomade the heavens slumbers in a manger!
What then? Why, then God is not of necessity an enemy to man because here is God actually taking manhood into alliance withDeity! There cannot be permanent, inveterate, rooted enmity between the two natures, or otherwise the Divine Nature couldnot have taken the human into hypostatical union withitself. Is there not comfort in that? You are a poor, erring, feeble man, and that which makes you afraid of the Lord isthis fear that there is an enmity between God and man-but there need not be such enmity-for your Maker has actually takenmanhood into union withHimself!
Do you not see another thought? The Eternal seems to be so far away from us. He is infinite and we are such little creatures.There appears to be a great gulf fixed between man and God, even on the ground of creatureship. But observe, He who is Godhas also become Man. We never heard that God tookthe nature of angels into union with Himself-we may therefore say that between Godhead and angelhood there must be an infinitedistance still-but here the Lord has actually taken manhood into union with Himself! There is, therefore, no longer a greatgulf fixed. On thecontrary, here is a marvelous union! Godhead has entered into marriage bonds with manhood!
O my Soul, you do not stand, now, like a poor lone orphan wailing across the deep sea after your Father who has gone far awayand cannot hear you! You do not now sob and sigh like an infant left naked and helpless, its Maker having gone too far awayto regard its needs or listen to its cries! No,your Maker has become like yourself! Is that too strong a word to use? He without whom was not anything made that was madeis that same Word who lived and walked among us and was made flesh-made flesh in such a way that He was tempted in all pointslike as we are-yetwithout sin. O Manhood, was there ever such news as this for you! Poor Manhood, you weak worm of the dust-far lower thanthe angels-lift up your head and be not afraid!
Poor Manhood, born in weakness, living in toil, covered with sweat, and dying at last to be eaten by the worms-be not abashedeven in the presence of seraphs-for next to God is man, and not even an archangel can come in between! No, not next to God,there is scarcely that to be said,for Jesus who is God is Man also! Jesus Christ, eternally God, was born and lived and died as we also do! That is the firstword of comfort to expel our fear.
The second point that takes away fear is that this Man who was also God was actually born. Observe the angel's word, "Untoyou is born." Our Lord Jesus Christ is in some senses more man than Adam. Adam was not born-Adam never had to struggle throughthe risks and weaknesses of infancy. Heknew not the littlenesses of childhood-he was full grown at once. Father Adam could not sympathize with me as a babe anda child. But how man-like is Jesus! He is cradled with us in the manger. He does not begin with us in mid-life, as Adam, butHe accompanies us in the painsand feebleness and infirmities of infancy! And He continues with us even to the grave.
Beloved, this is such sweet comfort! He that is God this day was once an Infant! So that if my cares are little and even trivialand comparatively infantile, I may go to Him, for He was once a Child. Though the great ones of the earth may sneer at thechild of poverty, and say, "You are too mean,and your trouble is too slight for pity," I remember with humble joy that the King of Heaven did hang upon a woman's breast,and was wrapped in swaddling bands-and therefore I tell Him all my griefs. How wonderful that He should have been an Infant,and yet should be God overall, blessed forever! I am no longer afraid of God! This blessed link between me and God, the holy Child Jesus, has takenall fear away!
Observe, the angel told them somewhat of His office, as well as of His birth. "Unto you is born this day a Savior." The veryobject for which He was born and came into this world was that He might deliver us from sin. What, then, was it that madeus afraid? Were we not afraid of God because we feltthat we were lost through sin? Well then, here is joy upon joy! Here is not only the Lord come among us as a Man, but madeMan in order to save man from that which separated him from God!
I feel as if I could burst out into a weeping for some here who have been spending their living riotously and gone far awayfrom God their Father by their evil ways. I know they are afraid to come back. They think that the Lord will not receive them,that there is no mercy for such sinners as theyhave been. Oh, but think of it-Jesus Christ has come to seek and to save that which was lost! He was born to save! If Hedoes not save He was born in vain, for the object of His birth was salvation! If He shall not be a Savior, then the missionof God to earth has missed itsend, for its design was that lost sinners might be saved.
Lost One, oh, lost One!-if there were news that an angel had come to save you there might be some cheer in it. But there arebetter tidings still! GOD has come! The Infinite, the Almighty, has stooped from the highest Heaven that He may pick you up,a poor undone and worthless worm! Is therenot comfort here? Does not the Incarnate Savior take away the horrible dread which hangs over men like a black pall? Notethat the angel did not forget to describe the person of this Savior-"A Savior which is Christ." There is His Manhood! As ManHe was anointed! "The Lord."There is His Godhead.
Yes, this is the solid Truth of God upon which we plant our feet. Jesus of Nazareth is God! He who was conceived in the wombof the virgin and born in Bethlehem's manger is now, and always was God over all, blessed forever! There is no Gospel if Heis not God. It is no news to me to tell me that agreat Prophet is born. There have been great Prophets before. But the world has never been redeemed from evil by mere testimonyto the truth, and never will be. Tell me that God is born, that God, Himself, has espoused our nature, and taken it into unionwith Himself! Then the bellsof my heart ring merry peals, for now may I come to God since God has come to me!
You will observe, dear Friends, that the substance of what the angel said lay in this. "Unto you." You will never get truecomfort from the incarnate Savior till you perceive your personal interest in him. Christ as Man was a representative man.There never were but two thoroughly representativemen-the first is Adam-Adam obedient and the whole race stands. Adam disobedient and the whole race falls. "In Adam all die."Now, the Man Jesus is the second great representative man. He does not represent the whole human race-He represents as manyas His Fathergave Him-He represents a chosen company.
Now, whatever Christ did, if you belong to those who are in Him He did for you. So that Christ circumcised or Christ crucified,Christ dead or Christ living, Christ buried or Christ risen, you are a partaker of all that He did and all that He is, foryou are reckoned as one with Him. See then, thejoy and comfort of the Incarnation of Christ! Does Jesus, as Man, take manhood up to Heaven? He has taken me up there! FatherAdam fell, and I fell, for I was in him. The Lord Jesus Christ rises, and I rise if I am in Him. See, Beloved, when JesusChrist was nailed to the Cross allHis elect were nailed there, and they suffered and died in Him.
When He was put into the grave the whole of His people lay slumbering there in Him, for they were in the loins of Jesus asLevi was in the loins of Abraham. And when He rose they rose and received the foretaste of their own future resurrection!Because He lives they shall live also! And now that Hehas gone up on high to claim the throne, He has claimed the throne for every soul that is in Him. Oh, this is joy, indeed!Then how can I be afraid of God, for this day, by faith, I, a poor undeserving sinner, having put my trust in Jesus, am boldto say that I sit upon the throneof God? Think not that we have said too much, for in the Person of Christ every Believer is raised up together, and madeto sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Because as Jesus is there representatively, we are each one of us therein Him.
I wish that I had power to bring out this precious doctrine of the Incarnation as I desire, but the more one muses upon it,the more happy one becomes. Let us view it as an all-important Truth of God that Jesus, the Son of God, has really come inthe flesh. It is so important a Truth that we havethree witnesses appointed to keep it before us upon earth. We have been insisting many times in this place upon the spiritualityof Christian worship. We have shown that the outward in religion, by itself, avails nothing. It is the inward spirit thatis the great thing.
I must confess that I have sometimes said in myself, I hope not rebelliously, "What is this Baptism for, and what is thisCommunion of the Lord's Supper for?" These two outward ordinances, whatever may be their excellent uses, have been the twothings around which more errors have clustered thanaround anything else! And I have heard it said, by friends inclined to follow more fully the teachings of the Quakers, "Whynot put aside the outward and visible altogether? Let it be the Spirit Baptism, and not the water. Let there be no bread andwine, but let there be fellowshipwith Christ without the outward sign."
I must confess, though I dare not go with it because I hope to be held fast by the plain testimony of Scripture, yet my hearthas somewhat gone with the temptation and I have half said, "Men always will pervert these two ordinances. Would it not beas well to have done with them?" While I have beenexercised upon the point, conscious that the ordinances must be right, and must be held, I have rested upon that text, "Thereare three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, the water, and the blood." And what do they bear witness to? They bear witnessto the mission of Jesus asthe Christ, in other words, to the real Incarnation of God.
They bear witness to the materialism of Christ. Have you ever noticed that when people have given up the two outward ordinances,they have usually betrayed a tendency to give up the literal fact that "God was made flesh"? The literal fact that Christwas really a Man has generally been doubted orthrown into the background when the two outward ordinances have been given up. I believe that these two symbolical ordinances,which are a link between the spiritual and the material, are set up on purpose to show that Christ Jesus, though most gloriouslya Spirit, was also a Manclothed in a body of real flesh and blood like our own, so that He could be touched and handled even as He said, "HandleMe and see. A spirit has not flesh and bones as you see I have."
When I think of the Holy Spirit who bears witness that Christ was really a Man, I thank Him for that witness! Then I turnto the water, and when I read that Christ was publicly baptized in the Jordan, I perceive that He could not have been a phantom.He could not have been a mere spectralappearance, for He was immersed in water. He must have been a solid substantial Man! The preservation of the ordinance ofBaptism is a witness to the reality of the Incarnate God. Then comes the blood. He could not have shed blood on Calvary ifHe had been a specter. There couldhave been no blood streaming down from His side when the spear pierced Him if He had been only a ghostly apparition. Hemust have been solid flesh and blood like ourselves-and as often as we come to His table, and we take the cup and hear itsaid-"This cup is the NewCovenant in My blood"-there is a third witness on earth to the fact that Jesus did appear in very flesh and blood amongmen!
So the Spirit, the water, and the blood are the three standing testimonies in the church of God that Christ was God, and thatHe was also really, solidly, and substantially Man. I shall delight in the ordinances all the more because of this. Thosetwo ordinances serve to make us remember thatChrist was really flesh and blood, and that religion has something to do with this flesh and blood of ours. This very bodyis to rise again from the tomb! Jesus came to deliver this poor flesh from corruption! And so, while we must ever keep thespiritual uppermost, we are preventedfrom casting away the material body as though that were of the devil. Christ purified as well the realm of matter as therealm of spirit! And in both He reigns triumphant! There is much comfort here.
III. Lastly, we can only occupy a few seconds in APPLYING THE CURE TO VARIOUS CASES. Child of God, you say, "I dare not cometo God today, I feel so weak." Fear not, for He that is born in Bethlehem said, "A bruised reed I will not break, and thesmoking flax I will not quench." "I shall never getto Heaven," says another, "I shall never see God's face with acceptance. I am so tempted." "Fear not," for you have notan High Priest which cannot be touched with a feeling of your infirmities, for He was tempted in all points like as you are.""But I am so lonely in the world,"says another, "no man cares for me." There is one Man, at any rate, who does so care-a true Man like yourself. He is yourBrother, still, and does not forget the lonely spirit.
But I hear a sinner say, "I am afraid to go to God this morning and confess that I am a sinner." Well, do not go to God butgo to Christ. Surely you would not be afraid of Him. Think of God in Christ, not out of Christ. If you could but know Jesusyou would go to Him at once! You would not beafraid to tell Him your sins, for you would know that He would say, "Go, and sin no more."
"I cannot pray," says one, "I am afraid to pray." What? Afraid to pray when it is a Man who listens to you! You might dreadthe face of God, but when you see God in human flesh, why be alarmed? Go, poor Sinner, go to Jesus. "I feel," says one, "unfitto come." You may be unfit to come to God, butyou cannot be unfit to come to Jesus! There is a fitness necessary to stand in the holy hill of the Lord, but there is nofitness needed in coming to the Lord Jesus! Come as you are-guilty, and lost, and ruined! Come just as you are and He willreceive you! "Oh," says another,"I cannot trust." I can understand your not being able to trust the great invisible God, but cannot you trust that dying,bleeding Son of Man who is also the Son of God?
"But I cannot hope," says another, "that He would even look on me." And yet He used to look on such as you are. He receivedpublicans and sinners and ate with them! And even harlots were not driven from His Presence. Oh, since God has thus takenman into union with Himself be not afraid! If I speakto one who by reason of sin has wandered so far away from God that he is even afraid to think of God's name, yet inasmuchas Jesus Christ is called "the sinner's Friend," I pray you think of Him, poor Soul, as your Friend!
And, oh, may the Spirit of God open your blind eyes to see that there is no cause for your keeping away from God except yourown mistaken thoughts of Him! May you believe that He is able and willing to save to the uttermost! May you understand Hisgood and gracious Character, His readiness to passby transgression, iniquity, and sin! And may the sweet influences of Divine Grace quicken you to come to Him this very morning!God grant that Jesus Christ, the hope of Glory, may be formed in you! And then you may well sing, "Glory to God in the highest;on earth peace, andgoodwill toward men." Amen.