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VI. What His plea in behalf of sinners is.
It should be remembered that the appeal is not to justice. Since the fall of man, God has plainly suspended the execution of strict justice upon our race. To us, as a matter of fact, He has set upon a throne of mercy. Mercy, and not justice, has been the rule of His administration, since men were involved in sin.
This is simple fact. Men do sin, and they are not cut off immediately and sent to hell. The execution of justice is suspended; and God is represented as seated upon a throne of grace, or upon a mercy-seat. It is here at a mercy-seat that Christ executes the office of Advocate for sinners.
2. Christ's plea for sinners can not be that they are not guilty. They are guilty, and condemned. No question can be raised as it respects their guilt and their ill-desert; such questions are settled. It has often appeared strange to me that men overlook the fact that they are condemned already, and that no question respecting their guilt or desert of punishment can ever be raised.
3. Christ as our Advocate can not, and need not, plead a justification. A plea of justification admits the fact charged; but asserts that under the circumstances the accused had a Tight to do as he did. This plea Christ can never make. This is entirely out of place, the case having been already tried, and sentence passed.
4. He may not plead what will reflect, in any wise, upon the law. He can not plead that the law was too strict in its precept, or too severe in its penalty; for in that case he would not really plead for mercy, but for justice. He would plead in that case that no injustice might be done the criminal. For if he intimates that the law is not just, then the sinner does not deserve the punishment; hence it would be unjust to punish him, and his plea would amount to this, that the sinner be not punished, because he does not deserve it. But if this plea should be allowed to prevail, it would be a public acknowledgment on the part of God that His law was unjust. But this may never be.
5. He may not plead anything that shall reflect upon the administration of the Law-giver. Should he plead that men had been hardly treated by the Law-giver, either in their creation, or by His providential arrangements, or by suffering them to be so tempted -- or if, in any wise, he brings forward a plea that reflects upon the Law-giver, in creation, or in the administration of His government, the Law-giver can not listen to his plea, and forgive the sinner, without condemning Himself. In that case, instead of insisting that the sinner should repent, virtually the Law-giver would be called upon Himself to repent.
6. He may not plead any excuse whatever for the sinner in mitigation of his guilt, or in extenuation of his conduct. For if he does, and the Law-giver should forgive in answer to such a plea, He would confess that He had been wrong, and that the sinner did not deserve the sentence that had been pronounced against him.
He must not plead that the sinner does not deserve the damnation of hell; for, should he urge this plea, it would virtually accuse the justice of God, and would be equivalent to begging that the sinner might not be sent unjustly to hell. This would not be a proper plea for mercy, but rather an issue with justice. It would be asking that the sinner might not be sent to hell, not because of the mercy of God, but because the justice of God forbids it. This will never be.
7. He can not plead as our Advocate that He has paid our debt, in such a sense that He can demand our discharge on the ground of justice. He has not paid our debt in such a sense that we do not still owe it. He has not atoned for our sins in such a sense that we might not still be justly punished for them. Indeed, such a thing is impossible and absurd. One being can not suffer for another in such a sense as to remove the guilt of that other. He may suffer for another's guilt in such a sense that it will be safe to forgive the sinner, for whom the suffering has been endured; but the suffering of the substitute can never, in the least degree, diminish the intrinsic guilt of the criminal. Our Advocate may urge that He has borne such suffering for us to honor the law that we had dishonored, that now it is safe to extend mercy to us; but He never can demand our discharge on the ground that we do not deserve to be punished. The fact of our intrinsic guilt remains, and must forever remain; and our forgiveness is just as much an act of sovereign mercy, as if Christ had never died for us.
This offering is not to be regarded as the ground upon which justice demands our forgiveness. The appeal of our Advocate is not to this offering as payment in such a sense that now in justice He can demand that we shall be set free. No. As I said before, it is simply the fulfilling of a condition, upon which it is safe for the mercy of God to arrest and set aside the execution of the law, in the case of the repentant sinner.
Some theologians appear to me to have been unable to see this distinction. They insist upon it that the atonement of Christ is the ground of our forgiveness. They seem to assume that He literally bore the penalty for us in such a sense that Christ now no longer appeals to mercy, but demands justice for us. To be consistent they must maintain that Christ does not plead at a mercy-seat for us, but having paid our debt, appears before a throne of justice, and demands our discharge.
I cannot accept this view. I insist that His offering could not touch the question of our intrinsic desert of damnation. His appeal is to the infinite mercy of God, to His loving disposition to pardon; and He points to His atonement, not as demanding our release, but as fulfilling a condition upon which our release is honorable to God. His obedience to the law and the shedding of His blood He may plead as a substitute for the execution of the law upon us -- in short, He may plead the whole of His work as God-man and Mediator. Thus He may give us the full benefit of what He has done to sustain the authority of law and to vindicate the character of the Law-giver, as fulfilling conditions that have rendered it possible for God to be just and still justify the repentant sinner.
9. But the plea is directed to the merciful disposition of God. He may point to the promise made to him in Isaiah, chap. 52d, from v. 13 to the end, and chap. 53, vs. 1, 2: "Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
"As many were astonished at thee; (his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:)
"So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
"Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?
10. He may plead also that He becomes our surety, that He undertakes for us, that He is our wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; and point to His official relations. His infinite fullness, willingness, and ability to restore us to obedience) and to fit us for the service, the employments, and enjoyments of heaven. It is said that He is made the surety of a better covenant than the legal one; and a covenant founded upon better promises.
11. He may urge as a reason for our pardon the great pleasure it will afford to God, to set aside the execution of the law. "Mercy rejoiceth against judgment." Judgment is His strange work; but He delighteth in mercy.
It is said of Victoria that when her prime minister presented a pardon, and asked her if she would sign a pardon in the case of some individual who was sentenced to death, she seized the pen, and said, "Yes! with all my heart!" Could such an appeal be made to a woman's heart, think you, without its leaping for joy to be placed in a position in which it could save the life of a fellow- being?
It is said that "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth;" and think you not that it affords God the sincerest joy to be able to forgive the wretched sinner, and save him from the doom of hell? He has no pleasure in our death.
It is a grief to Him to be obliged to execute His law on sinners; and no doubt it affords Him infinitely higher pleasure to forgive us, than it does us to be forgiven. He knows full well what are the unutterable horrors of hell and damnation. He knows the sinner can not bear it. He says, "Can thine heart endure, and can thine hands be strong in the day that I shall deal with thee? And what wilt thou do when I shall punish thee?" Our Advocate knows that to punish the sinner is that in which God has no delight -- that He will forgive and sign the pardon with all His heart.
And think you such an appeal to the heart of God, to His merciful disposition, will have no avail? It is said of Christ, our Advocate, that "for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, and despised the shame." So great was the love of our Advocate for us that He regarded it a pleasure and a joy so great to save us from hell, that He counted the shame and agony of the cross as a mere trifle He despised them.
Will it not be eternally honorable in the Son to have advocated the cause of sinners? to have undertaken at so great expense to Himself a cause so desperate? and to have carried it through at the expense of such agony and blood?
Will not the universe of creatures forever wonder and adore, as they see this Advocate surrounded with the innumerable throng of souls, for whom His advocacy has prevailed? 13. Our Advocate may plead the gratitude of the redeemed, and the profound thanks and praise of all good beings.
You see what it is to become a Christian. It is to employ Christ as your Advocate, by committing your cause entirely to Him. You can not be saved by your works, you can not be saved by your sufferings, by your prayers in any way except by the intervention of this Advocate. "He ever lives to make intercession for you."
2. He is an Advocate that loses no causes. Every cause committed to Him, and continued in His hands, is infallibly gained. His advocacy is all-prevalent. God has appointed Him as an Advocate; and wherever He appears in behalf of any sinner who has committed his cause to Him one word of His is sure to prevail. Hence you see,
3. The safety of believers. Christ is always at His post, ever ready to attend to all the concerns of those who have made Him their Advocate. He is able to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by Him; and abiding in Him you are forever safe.
4. You see the position of unbelievers. You have no advocate. God has appointed an Advocate; but you reject Him. You think to get along without. Perhaps some of you think you will be punished for your sins, and not ask forgiveness. Others of you may think you will approach in your own name; and, without any atonement, or without any advocate, you will plead your own cause. But God will not suffer it. He has appointed an Advocate to act in your behalf, and unless you approach through Him, God will not hear you.
Out of Christ, He is to you a consuming fire. When the judgement shall set, and you appear in your own name, you will surely appear unsanctified and unsaved. You will not be able to lift up your head, and you will be ashamed to look in the face of the Advocate, who will then sit both as judge, and Advocate.
5. I ask, Have you retained. Him? Have you, by your own consent, made Him your Advocate?
It is not enough that God should have appointed Him to act in this relation.
He can, not act for you in this relation unless you individually commit yourself and your case to His advocacy.
This is done, as I have said, by confiding or committing the whole question of your salvation to Him.
7 He tenders His services gratuitously to all, requiring nothing of them but confidence, gratitude, love, obedience. This the poor and the rich alike must render; this they are alike able to render.
8. Can any of you do without Him? Have you ever considered how it will be with you? But the question comes now to this -- Will you consent to give up your sins, and trust your souls to the advocacy of Christ? to give Him the fee that He asks -- your heart, your confidence, your grateful love, your obedience?
Shall He be your Advocate of shall He not? Suppose He stood before you, as I do, and in His hand the book of life with a pen dipped in the very light of heaven, and should ask, "Who of you will now consent to make Me your Advocate?" Suppose He should inquire of you, sinner, "Can I be of any service to you? Can I do anything for you, dying sinner? Can I befriend and help you in any wise? Can I speak a good word for you? Can I interpose My blood, My death, My life, My advocacy, to save you from the depths of hell? And will you consent? Shall I take down your name? Shall I write it in the book of life? Shall it today be told in heaven that you are saved? And may I report that you have committed your cause to Me. and thus give joy in heaven? Or will you reject Me, stand upon your own defense, and attempt to carry your cause through at the solemn judgement?"
Sinner, I warn you in the name of Christ not now to say me nay.
Consent now and here, and let it be written in heaven.
9. Have any of you made His advocacy sure by committing all to Him? If you have, He has attended to your cause, because He has secured your pardon; and the evidence you have in your peace of mind. Has He attended to your cause? Have you the inward sense of reconciliation, the inward witness that you believe that you are forgiven, that you are accepted, that Christ has undertaken for you, and that He has already prevailed and secured for you pardon, and given in your own soul the peace of God that passeth understanding to rule in your heart? It is a striking fact in Christian experience, that whenever we really commit our cause to Jesus, He without delay secures our pardon, and in the inward peace that follows, gives us the assurance of our acceptance, that He has interposed His blood, that His blood is accepted for us, that His advocacy has prevailed, and that we are saved.
Do not stop short of this; for if your peace is truly made with God -- if you are in fact forgiven -- the sting of remorse is gone; there is no longer any chafing or any irritation between your spirit and the Spirit of God; the sense of condemnation and remorse has given place to the spirit of Gospel liberty, peace, and love.
If so, then leave your cause, by a continual committal of it, to the advocacy of Christ; abide in Him, and let Him abide in you, and you are safe as the surroundings of Almighty arms can make you.