The Prince of Life
by JOSEPH IRONS
Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Sunday Morning, September 1st, 1850
ONE of the most remarkable features of the apostles' character, is that of their rejecting, renouncing, and even fleeing from all human honours that might have been conferred upon them. Numberless are the instances in which the apostle Peter in particular might have assumed what Antichrist would give to him in the present day, as the foundation of the Church, the rock upon which it was built, the first bishop, the prime bishop over all the rest, and the like; but not one word is there in the precious book of God of any such assumption, but on the contrary, when even opportunities, from the proceedings in which they were engaged, and the miracles they were enabled to work, which the world would call fine opportunities for them to take advantage of, presented themselves, they always rejected them. There is one such instance in connection with my text. After our Lord had ascended to glory, and Peter had preached his memorable sermon, which the preceding chapter records, and three thousand souls had been brought to God under it, a fine opportunity was presented for him to assume something. But no, he passes it by, and when he goes up to the temple to pray, at the hour of prayer, he sees a lame man who never had walked, but who had been carried to the gate of the temple that is called Beautiful to receive alms, and Peter is, under the mighty influence of the Holy Ghost, directed to work a miracle there. Peter said to him, "Look on us;" having fastened his eyes on him with deep interest; and the man looked, expecting to receive some portion of money from them. Peter replied, what none of his pretended successors can, "Silver and gold have I none" they are almost buried alive in it "silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I unto thee; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk." I should like his pretended successors to give us some such specimen of their power and their commission. But no, if they can pretend to any miracles at all, it is the lying wonders that the devil instigates them to cheat the people with. They cannot pretend to any such miracle as this. No sooner had Peter pronounced this precious name, than "he took him by the right hand and lifted him up; and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up, stood and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God." Mind, not worshipping Peter, but "praising God." "And all the people saw him walking and praising God." Now do mark what a fine opportunity was here for Peter to assume something; for "as the lame man which was healed held Peter and John, all the people ran together unto them, greatly wondering." They would have fallen down and adored him. But instead of taking advantage of this, Peter says, "Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power and holiness we had made this man to walk?" You see, he would not be called "his holiness," like the blasphemer of modern times. He would not pretend to have any holiness or power by which this man was made to walk; but he seizes the opportunity to exalt his Master, and to glorify His name; and so will every sent servant of God. Whatever circumstances is put into the way of the child of God in His Providence, he will be sure to seize it to honour Christ's dear name by it, especially if it be one of His ambassadors, for that is the business of his life. And then Peter takes the opportunity of preaching very pointedly to them. Instead of courting their favour, instead of soliciting their smiles, instead of wishing to be exalted by them, instead of doing as Simon Magus did, giving out himself to be some great one, he begins to preach a very pointed sermon to them. "The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified His Son Jesus, whom ye delivered up, and denied Him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you." Then follows the language of my text in the midst of this pointed address "And killed the Prince of Life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses. And His name, though faith in His name, hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know."
I have thus given you the context, that you might have a clearer view of the Holy Spirit's design in the isolated sentence which I have chosen as the basis of our discourse. "And ye have killed the Prince of Life, whom God hath raised from the dead." And I feel quite unable to alter the paraphrase I have given; or rather the construction of the phrase, "ye have" done it, because I would have it brought home to all our consciences: for when Peter was charging the actual perpetrators of the deed, the men of Israel, the Jews, who cried, "Away with Him, away with Him," you and I ought to rank ourselves with them.
Unless the matter be thus brought home, that we ourselves are to be ranked among the murderers of Christ, we shall never be brought low enough to His feet, and prize sufficiently His great salvation. Having thus given you the context, I purpose dwelling a little, in the first place, on the title itself, "the Prince of Life." Every name and title that Jesus wears is significant and important, and this must be so. Then glance at His humiliation. Though He was the Prince of Life, they killed Him. And then notice, in the third place, the exaltation; "God hath raised Him from the dead." If we have time, we will say a little about the witnesses of it.
I. First of all, let us say a few words about the title here given to Christ. It is a very important one "the Prince of Life." So that there is about Jesus something princely; and His princely bounty bestows all the life that His elect family need who lie "dead in trespasses and sins." Moreover, the very fruition of life is with Him, as well as its fountain; and yet further be it remembered, that no man hath life in the strict sense of the word which I am about to mention, but he who has it imparted by Jesus, an indwelling life, Divine life communicated to dead sinners.
Now, first of all, we shall just glance at the fact, that life's source and center is in Jesus; and this in a very comprehensive sense; for whether we understand the word life to mean natural life, or spiritual life, or eternal life, all centre in Jesus, He is the source of them all. Oh the vast importance of that beautiful passage, "This is the record" the whole record of Scripture, the sum and substance of the Bible "This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." (1 John 5:11) Well might the apostle add, "He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son hath not life." (1 John 5:12) This will bring us then in the very opening of our subject to this all-important point, whether we are in possession of Christ. Having Christ, we possess all things; without Him we are "dead in trespasses and sins." If I look at natural life, the breath in our nostrils belongs to Him; it is He that the full command of it in the most princely manner, and therefore when the poor widow's son of the city of Nain was carried out a corpse, it was only for Him to touch the bier, and those that bare it stood still, and life was imparted to the poor corpse, to the great joy of his mother. Lazarus may be dead in the grave with regard to natural life, so much so that his sisters and relatives apprehend that his very body must be offensive; and yet it is only for Jesus to say, "Lazarus, come forth," (John 11:43) and He proves Himself to be the source of life. And whilst He holds our life in being, let us never lose sight of our infinite obligations to Him; that the breath we draw, that every portion of strength, and vigour, and health, and faculties, are all held in being, and all called into exercise by Him. He is "the Prince of Life."
Then, if we go on from this to spiritual life, my hearer, is it not the grossest of all absurdities among rational beings, that they should be brought to admit that they did not give themselves natural life, and yet to claim the prerogative and power to impart to themselves spiritual life, as if they could regenerate themselves, or some fellow-sinner could do it for them? Surely men must be sunk below the brute creation, in point of intellect, to yield to such absurdities for a moment. Our precious Christ is the author of our natural life. "In Him we live, and move, and have our being." And He is also the Author of our spiritual life, for it is by His Almighty fiat that the "dead in trespasses and sins" hear the voice of the Son of God, and live." I want this important fact fastened upon your attention, that you may know how to balance other things by it, in the great scale of orthodoxy, that every child of Adam is as destitute of spiritual life and spiritual existence when he comes into the world, as the posts or stones in the streets are destitute of natural life. They can no more command a spiritual life than the earth they tread on can command itself into a new being, into a state of active exertion. This one fact once admitted, would cut off Pharisaic pride, lay man in the dust, and show him where alone his help can be found. "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thy held found." (Hosea 13:9) It is a solemn thought, that there should be thousands going about in the name and character of Christians, who imagine that all the Christianity that is attainable is just the improvement of a natural or metal existence. My hearer, believe me, there is not a vestige of Christianity where the life of God has not taken possession of the soul, as it regards its vital importance and saving nature, and where the Holy Ghost has not imparted life Divine, in union with the person of Jesus, to the sinner that was "dead in trespasses and sins."
So also with eternal life. Jesus is the source and the center of it all.
He is the life of all their joys, the life of their peace, the life of their glory, the life of their happiness, the life of their love. Well, then, He may well be called the Prince of Life.
Moreover, before we depart from this thought, let us just observe, that all centers in Him as regards sensible enjoyment of it. I know not how to enjoy even the common comforts of life without Christ in them. The food I eat, the raiment I wear, the air I inhale, the associations I form, the pursuits that I press after, what are they all but a miserable, monotonous scene, a wretched clog to existence, if Christ be not in them! But if Christ be enjoyed in them all, if He be eaten with every morsel of bread, if He be received with every drop of water, if He be the life of the soul, and the soul live in Him, then, indeed, my natural life has a dignity stamped on it which the world knows nothing of. I know natural men talk a great deal about enjoying themselves, perhaps in revelling or drunkenness, perhaps in vanity and pride, in the change of scene and change of air which are so fashionable now-a-days. But what of it? One hour of spiritual enjoyment, with Jesus smiling, Jesus sweetening, Jesus adored, Jesus eyed as the giver of all, is worth all that worldlings can enjoy in a long life of miserable animal existence in the world.
Moreover, He is "the Prince of Life" that imparts it, aye, and in a princely manner too, as we shall by-and-bye have to show; for you must know, beloved, that man's life is a forfeited thing. You will recollect the sentence which went forth before the fall, and was executed after it "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die;" or "dying thou shalt die." This assists to confirm the point that I wanted to press on your minds, that man, under the fall, is not only a dying but a dead creature, that he is destitute of spiritual life, destitute of all capacity to enjoy God. When Jehovah-Jesus, the Prince of Life, imparts life, He imparts it with princely power and glory to those that have forfeited it. Nor is this all. It was not only forfeited in our first parents, but have not you and I forfeited it again and again? And if Jehovah would accept the forfeiture, and deal with us according to our sins, you and I would have been banished to eternal death hundreds and thousands of times since we have known His name. But, glory to His name, He imparts it to us in the face of all our ingratitude and forfeiture. "I am come," said He, "that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10) And even the souls that are under depression and bowed down in dismay with the consciousness that they have forfeited all claim to life, to the crown of life, to the everlasting life which the Word of God describes and sets forth to them, it is bestowed freely as from a Prince, in a sovereign manner.
Moreover, this life that is once imparted, wants sustaining, because there are instances not a few in which the living in Jerusalem are fainting and ready to die, such, for example, as Jonah, when his gourd was blasted, when the sun beat vehemently upon him, and he fainted, and wished that he might die. But no, he was not to die; there was work for him to do, a proclamation for him to make, that "Salvation is of the Lord;" and his message must be delivered to Nineveh, according to God's own appointment, before he could die. And there are instances not a few in which the Lord's people are ready to faint on account of some burden, on account of the difficulties of the way, on account of hostility, on account of distress, heavy burdens, weighty cares, sharp conflicts within, and discouraging scenes which surround them in the wilderness. Mark what the prophet Isaiah was commissioned to say to such, "He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength;" (Isa. 40:29) and to such a degree, that even "the youth shall be weary, and young men shall utterly fall," that are dependent on their own strength; "but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;" they shall have life more abundantly; "they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint; they shall mount up with wings like the eagles'." So that our precious, glorious Prince of Life imparts life not only where it was absent, but imparts new supplies and more abundant communications when His people are fainting by the way in the wilderness.
Now pause here, I beseech you, for a moment, in order to derive a word of consolation for fainting souls. I know what it means full well; and there is nothing so likely to make a man faint as having a burden too heavy to carry. Now some of you, perhaps, think that your burdens of care, and burdens of anxiety, and burdens of affliction, and burdens of persecution and oppression, are too heavy to carry. Oh, no! Omnipotence must be your support; the Prince of Life has engaged that you shall never die; for, says He, "Because I live, ye shall live also." (John 14:19) But there is one burden which I believe to be heavier than all the rest, and I have felt it to be even heavier than the burden of guilt (and that is a heavy burden,) that oppresses the soul till Christ gives a sense of forgiving love. I mean what the minor prophets were accustomed to call "the burden of the Word of the Lord;" and many a time have I felt this to such an extent, that I have come to the resolution of the prophet, "I will speak no more in the name of the Lord." But he was obliged to speak; the Word was like a fire in his bones, and he could not keep it. But when He imparts new supplies, a look from Him, a touch from Him, the application of one drop of atoning blood from Him, will invigorate and call into exercise all His own graces in personal experience. So also if we look at the conflicts and fightings which the life He has bestowed on us is subject to. When the warrior goes into the field of battle, he does not know but what the first or the first blow may kill him; but we go into the field of battle, and have to war with the world, the flesh, and the devil, with this certainty, that as long as the Prince of Life lives no foe can kill us; He stands by all His soldiers, and makes them more than conquerors, and says, "Who is he that shall harm you?" He will not allow one of His to perish, neither be plucked out of His hands. So that while you and I have such a consciousness of unworthiness, that your life would be forfeited every hour if we were dealt with after our transgressions, and there are such fears and faintings in the mind, that we sometimes apprehend that we shall scarcely take another step in the Divine life, and our foes are so furious that the battle increases every day, so long as the Prince of Life is on His throne, all is secure for the imparting of life unto the soldiers of the cross.
Go on just to mark that the fruition of life, as well as the fountain of it, are with Him. Yes, beloved, if we come to ask what the fruition of life is, and then trace it to His Person, truly He must be endeared to us. What is the fruition of life? As far as you and I can conceive of it at present, it is the presence of Jehovah. That is the fruition of life. Not only may we say, "With thee is the fountain of life," (Ps. 36:9) but that fountain is so perpetually flowing as to create at last the fruition, and bring our souls into the full enjoyment of it. Now in just such proportion as we are favoured with the presence of Christ here, we get to the throne of the Father by Him, and are conscious of being under the anointing influence of the Holy Ghost, and that is our life. Have you not found out that the lively exercise of all the graces in the soul is dependent upon the enjoyment of the preciousness of Christ? When He is near, when He smiles, when He shows His hands and His side, O how vigorous is faith! O how strong, and abiding, and immovable is our hope! O how flaming, and rising, and aspiring is our life! O how deeply abasing the humility that keeps us at His feet! O how expanding the meekness that manifests the mind and Spirit of Christ in an ungodly world! O how fervent the zeal which seeks to glorify Him! and O how abiding, and permanent, and lasting the patience that is longing for its perfect work! And when all the graces of the Spirit are thus called into exercise, and kept, so the preciousness of Jesus is the cause, all flows from Him. It is in Him that we have life, and in Him alone. It is from His fullness that we all receive the grace for grace which supports and strengthens, and at length perfects the life of our souls.
Moreover, the peace, the solid peace, which He Himself gives, may be viewed as a part of the fruition of life. You cannot call that man's life a very happy one, if you look at it in a limited or literal sense, that is always in a state of perturbation, and agitation, and apprehension. It is peace that constitutes the blessedness of life, a holy calm, a sacred serenity. Now when we come to the point, "He is our peace," and discover for ourselves that all is done by Him which is requisite for our peace with God, and our possessing and enjoying that peace of God which passeth all understanding, then we get something like a foretaste of the fruition of life, when we shall be translated into the realms of peace and brought before His throne, to wake up in His likeness, with a glorified body like His. Oh! the scene of uninterrupted peace, the holy calm, the undisturbed composure.
Oh, to see it consummated! Perfect bliss, uninterrupted felicity, everlasting joy upon our heads; no foe, no care, no wandering thoughts, no afflictions, no strugglings, no conflicts; an everlasting meridian of the sunshine of His lovely countenance creating perfect and unsullied peace! This is our Prince of Peace, in whom all heaven finds its joy and glory, in whom all the Church on earth finds its felicity, and with whom we expect to spend an eternity of joy.
One thought more here upon the word "Prince," that we may have a right view of the title. It conveys to our minds the idea of the exercise of sovereignty; that He gives life when He will, and where He will, and as He will. Hear Him saying, by Moses, when reproving the Israelites for their idolatry, and their going after other gods, who could not help them, or be a hiding-place for them when they needed it. He said, "Know that I am God alone;" and to prove it, He asserts His sovereignty "I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal." (Deut. 32:39) Is not that very princely? What! is it Jehovah's prerogative to kill and to make alive? In a spiritual sense, He always does them in the order in which they stand. He always kills the sinner before He gives him any enjoyment of life; kills all their Pharisaic hopes, and pride, and free-will pretensions, before He makes them to enjoy the life of God in the soul. And even in a natural view, especially in the three-fold senses I have been describing, He always exercises His sovereignty. I beseech you to mark, lest this should be plucked from Him by proud free-will, as if it belonged only to the Father; in the 5th chapter of John he says, "As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself, and He quickeneth whom He will." (John 5:21) I confess I should have no heart or courage to preach to dead sinners at all, but for this. Sure I am, that there would not be a ray of hope, not only for the calling of sinners our of darkness into light, not only for the quickening of dead sinners to newness of life; no, nor even for the reviving of those that are alive, if it were not for this, that the Son quickeneth whom He will. He is a Prince; He does it in the most sovereign manner.
Not let me just remind you of the vast importance of fervent prayer to Him for this purpose; for He goes forth among assemblies from time to time with quickening grace; and if He gives grace to dead sinners "dead in trespasses and sins" yea, if He be gone so far as Lazarus, so far as to be offensive, as respects His character and conduct go, it is only for the Son of God to speak the word, and He is made to live. Oh, let us never, never despair concerning any that may be dear to us in the ties of nature, and that we see lying dead in sins; for if the Son of God speaks but the word to quicken them, they must begin to live immediately. Thus He quickened you and me.
II. Now let us pass on to glance at His humiliation. They "killed" Him. It seems somewhat like a hard phrase; but the apostle uses one still more strong in another of his sermons, pointed as they are when he says, "Of whom ye have been the betrayers and murderers." He calls their crime murder, and so it was. "Ye killed the Prince of Life." What! had He not power to withstand the rebels that came forth for the purpose of murdering Him? Verily He could; "For," said He, "I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again." Verily He could; "For," said He, "I could call down twelve legions of angels if I wanted them." But, to prove that He did not want them, He threw the whole band of ruffians to the ground with one word, and He could have thrown them to hell as easily. So great was His princely sovereignty. How was it, then, that they killed Him? He gave Himself up for that very purpose. For this end He was born. It was the very errand for which He left the Father's throne, the whole act of His humiliation was a voluntary one on His part. I beseech you, beloved, pause upon this point for a few moments, because the efficacy of the atonement seems to center there. If they had taken away His life without His consent, if they had taken away His life as a ruffian mob would any other person's, without His will, there would have been no efficacy in the atonement. Here lies its efficacy, that it was His own act and deed. "I lay down by life for my sheep" (John 10:15) is His own statement. I beseech you look at the expression of Isaiah concerning him; "He was led" not driven "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth." (Isa. 53:7) And when Pilate reproved Him, saying, "Knowest Thou not that I have power to kill thee, and power to let Thee go?" the calm, the meek, the holy Lamb of God replies, "Thou couldst have no power at all against me, except it were given to thee from above." (John 19:11)
Now mark, I beseech you, this voluntary giving up Himself to be killed was a gracious act in covenant settlements. He gave Himself when the Father gave Him; gave Himself voluntarily, and under solemn responsibility, before sin existed, according to the records of heaven in the predestinating enactments of the eternal Three, to be the Head and Surety, and Sponsor of His whole Church. Moreover, He gave Himself when He came into our world. He gave Himself to be persecuted and despised; He gave Himself to the labour which constituted part of the curse, that He might remove that part of the curse "In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread;" He gave Himself to poverty "The Son of Man had not where to lay His head;" He gave Himself to be "despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;" He gave Himself to work out righteousness; and then, at length, He gave Himself to be crucified. All was voluntary; all according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God; all for the express purpose of working out and bringing in an everlasting righteousness for the salvation of His Church. He gave Himself, and, consequently, we escaped. Now look, for a moment, at the fact, that although Jesus gave Himself a sacrifice and an offering for sin (as the apostle has it, "to redeem us from all iniquity"), yet He was immolated cruelly; and therefore the apostle says, "Ye have taken Him, and with wicked hands have crucified and slain Him." The secret purpose of God, and His voluntarily surrendering Himself, would not alter the wickedness of the beings who crucified Him. The cruelty accompanying His death ought never to be lost sight of; and as we intend commemorating His doing and dying at His table tonight, I beseech you look at what the Lord Jesus had to go through under wicked hands. He must not only be seized by a ruffian band, but He must be maligned as if He were the vilest of sinners. He must be declared to be a man gluttonous and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners, an enemy to Herod, and Herod was very jealous of Him. He must be maligned as He passed on in the wilderness in His ministerial career, as if He was in constant connection with the prince of darkness, and doing his work; and, after maligning Him, falsely accusing Him, and raising false witness concerning Him before Pilate's bar, His visage must be marred more than any man's. That is the express statement of Scripture. Fix your attention for a few moments on His precious countenance, torn with thorns. Mark it streaming with blood, till the features are scarcely visible. See Him scourged with cruelty, as if He were the vilest of malefactors. Yet He opened not His mouth, He murmured not. Follow Him till He is transfixed on the transverse timber, and the rugged nails driven through the tenderness parts of His hands, and of His feet. See Him mocked amidst all His sufferings, and hear the rude mob crying out, as he is suspended upon the cross, "Thou that savedst others, save Thyself, and come down;" wagging their heads, and reviling Him more cruelly than they did the other malefactors, who were said to be crucified with Him for sedition and murder, justly (as they themselves owned) justly suffering the penalty due to their transgressions. We never hear of their being mocked. In all probability, the multitude pitied them, and sighed over them; but the innocent precious Christ of God must be mocked, must be insulted, in the midst of His dying pangs. They killed Him, they murdered Him. Moreover, the finishing stroke seemed to be the fury of hell let loose in the person of a Roman soldier, who thrust the spear into His side, that thence might flow blood and water to cleanse, and to atone for His whole Church. Then mark how this precious Prince of Life, with a shout loud enough to shake creation, exclaims, "It is finished!" Though they killed Him, His life was at His own command; and neither the nails, nor the thorns, nor the spear, could have killed Him, if He had not voluntarily laid down His life on behalf of His Church. Still they were wicked hands.
Just take one more view of His humiliation. I mean that it was vicarious. Do not imagine that all these sufferings, all this sorrow, all this overwhelming anguish, all this cruelty, was promiscuous and uncertain. I think it downright wickedness, wickedness as bad as the wickedness of those hands that murdered Him, to insinuate that blood so precious, and life so valuable, and an atonement so full, could all be for nothing and in vain. I read that Jehovah made nothing in vain, that He does nothing in vain, and yet, while He made nothing in vain, and does nothing in vain, His enemies would tell us that the blood of Christ was shed in vain, and that there are multitudes to perish and be lost for whom He shed His precious blood. I would as soon close my Bible and turn Atheist tomorrow as believe it, because there would be consistency in that, however wicked, but there is no consistency in the Popish universal-redemption scheme, it is contradictory in every way. Now I want something consistent with the Word of God in all points, and therefore I must view Christ's sacrifice as vicarious. He stood in the place of His Church, He was the Daysman appointed to that very work, and when He obeyed the law it was for His Church, when He worked miracles it was for His Church, when He vanquished Satan in the wilderness it was for His Church, when obeying the law of God and magnifying it, it was for His Church as her representative. Moreover, in all that He endured in Gethsemane, and all the mockery heaped upon Him in Pilate's hall, and to His dying hour, and all the cruelty inflicted by the ruffian mob and Roman soldiers, and more, in all the weighty vengeance of Divine wrath, which lay upon His holy soul, His Church's redemption was in view, and was the object which lay near to His heart, and by those sufferings He redeemed her from all iniquity, and purified unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Now if you would know the extent of redemption, take the text I have just cited; that the people He redeems from all iniquity, He purifies unto Himself. Therefore do not say a word about your being redeemed, until purifying grace has taken possession of your hearts; until the power of the Holy Ghost has imparted sanctifying life and influence to your experience. I know very well that the ignorant advocates of the universal-redemption system go further, and I charge upon them that they are the authors and encouragers of licentiousness. What! am I to go to the thief that is plundering his neighbour's house, or his neighbour's person, and tell him that the Lord Jesus died for Him? Then, says the thief, I will go on thieving, it can do me no hurt; then, says the drunkard, I will go on in my drunkenness, it is of no consequence to me, for Christ died for me. I should tell them that they had not a shadow of evidence that Christ died for them, while living in that state; and that would be the way to check their vices at all events. My hearer, it was for His Church He suffered; it was for His Church that He was killed; it was His Church that He redeemed: and therefore the song of heaven as heard by John in the isle of Patmos is, "They were redeemed from among men." (Rev. 14:4) Not redeemed men at large without distinction, but redeemed from among men. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and singing, "To Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, to Him be glory and honour for ever and ever." (Rev. 1:5)
Mark, I beseech you, that this vicarious sacrifice secures the restoration of all that He redeemed. It ensures the bringing of them nigh. As the Father demanded the penalty to be paid, and the satisfaction to be given; and as He met the demand, and paid the debt, and gave the satisfaction, the Holy Ghost searches and seeks out all the election of grace in the fullness of time, and brings them to the feet of Jesus. They are to be restored. Now if I look at the ruin of man, as I first described it, and then at the remedy as found in Christ, and then at the restoration as effected by the Holy Ghost, I have something to cheer my heart in the view of Christ's humiliation, that He descended from the Father's glory, on purpose to humble Himself, and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, and all that His Church might live eternally with Himself. "He was made sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor. 5:21) Nor is this restoration all; every soul that He redeems shall not only be restored to communion with God, fellowship with God, capacity to enjoy God, but restored and brought home to that glory which is prepared for all that love Him.
III. A word or two, in the third place, relative to the exaltation "whom God hath raised from the dead." Mark, when it is recorded that God raised Him from the dead, all the Persons of the Deity are included. The Father expressly insists upon His release from the debt which He has paid. The Son says, "I know I shall submit and be obedient unto death, and be killed by wicked hands; but the third day I will rise." His own prerogative, His own power, His own assertion. "He was put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit." So that the honour and glory, as well as the power and majesty of all the Persons in Deity, are concerned in His resurrection. This expressed the satisfaction of all the Persons of Deity in the work He had performed; and hence He said, "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do." (John 17:4) If the law had not been satisfied, Christ would have been held a prisoner; He never would have been released from death; death would have held Him to this hour. If the perfections and attributes of Deity had not all been harmonized, Jesus had never triumphed; but now He has triumphed over death, hell, and the grave, spoiled principalities and powers, taken away the sting of death in behalf of His whole Church, and brought life and immortality to light, being Himself the Prince of Life. I beseech you to mark here what encouragement we poor ruined sinners have to approach the throne of Jehovah. All impediment is removed from such; there is nothing in your way but the love of sin, nothing but the hatred of God's method of saving sinners. Whenever the Holy Ghost brings the poor sinner to discover his need of a full Saviour, makes him willing to accept of Him, and creates within him a hatred of sin, there is nothing to oppose his salvation. Law and justice are satisfied, heaven is opened, a perfect righteousness is wrought out and brought in, and there is nothing remaining for the poor sinner but his acceptance of it, and even that is by the power of the Holy Ghost making him willing in the day of God's power. (Ps. 11:3)
One word more. "Him hath God raised up." Here is the recognition of the completeness of His work; and I beg of my hearers never to attempt to add anything to it. "Him hath God raised up." Remember, then, that the righteousness is complete, and all the covenant stipulations complete, and all that was engaged for is accomplished and performed, and this resurrection and exaltation of His to the right hand of the Father, is given as a pledge, and earnest, and security for the resurrection of all His saints. Hence He is emphatically called, "the firstfruits of them that slept;" (1 Cor. 15:20) and while we contemplate His deliverance from the grave, His victory over sin, death, and hell, we follow Him to His present glorious exaltation in the immediate presence of the Father, wearing a glorified body, that Jehovah, Father, Son, and Spirit, may be honoured thereby. Oh! precious anticipation, arising out of this for a child of God to wear a glorious body like His, to be glorified with Him above. To describe what a glorified body is, is beyond our capacity. We must die, and enter into the world of spirits to know what that is. Probably the nearest representation of it ever known or seen on earth was commanded to be kept a secret by the three disciples who were favoured with it on the Mount of Transfiguration, when, while He was praying, His countenance was changed, His raiment became white and glistening, and glory surrounded His whole Person, before His sufferings, before He was marred, before He was murdered, just to give Peter, James, and John a glimpse of what a glorified body would be. Moses and Elias were talking with Him, but Jesus appeared surrounded with glory supernatural. Peter refers to this in after days, in his epistle, when he says, "We were eyewitnesses of His glory when we were with Him in the mount," and it was never seen elsewhere while He was upon earth. Now He is wearing it within the vail as the forerunner and representative of His Church. And you and I, oh! blessed prospect! my soul seems to wait for it with delightful anticipation, shall wear a glorious body like His own. It may, and it must, be sown a natural body, but it is to be raised a spiritual one. I cannot tell what a spiritual one is till I get it. It is to be sown in corruption, but it is to be raised in glory, sown in weakness, but raised in power. And this is enough for us, "It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." So that, being exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high, He is now giving forth communications of life to His own Church upon earth, securing for her a life of bliss and glory in heaven; and, ere long, He will have all His ransomed Church complete and perfect with Himself in never-dying bliss.
I should have liked to have said a word or two about the witnesses, "whereof we are witnesses" just for the purpose of meeting the popular delusion of the present day about apostolical succession. We have been reading, in the chapter that opens the Acts of the Apostles, that it was necessary that another apostle should be chosen to bear witness of the resurrection; so that, among apostolic qualifications, was that of being eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Christ. Now that man is an impostor, be he who he may, that claims apostolic succession on apostolic authority, according to the general acceptation of the term, unless he has seen Christ since His resurrection, with his bodily eyes. The apostle put it in this very form when he said, "Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord?" That is the essential qualification which Paul claimed as his own. Well, then, we mean to insist, that all other succession claimed by mortals to apostolic office, is downright imposture upon the public, and an insult to Christ. I know there is a succession among the followers of the Lamb of the apostles' spirit, and the apostles' doctrine, and the apostles' experience. We will glory in such succession, but in no other. Still we will be witnesses "whereof we are witnesses." How is it, then, since we have not seen the Lord, that we can be witnesses? Why, just as Paul says, by the power of the resurrection resting upon us.
Beloved, I hope the Holy Spirit will make you all witnesses for Jesus, glorifying His precious name, and relying on Him as the Prince of Life, manifesting in creed, conscience, and conduct, the truth and power of vital godliness, as derived from Christ and possessed in Him, and thus the triune Jehovah shall be eternally honoured. Amen.