"Who gave himself for our sins that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."Galatians 1:4,-5.
The Apostle Paul, in his writings, is notable for the fact that he scarcely ever mentions the name of the Lord Jesus Christ without pausing to praise and bless him. There are many benedictions and hallelujahs in Paul's Epistles, which might have been omitted so far as the run of the sense is concerned, but not one of them could be omitted because his heart was so aglow with love to his Divine Master that he only needed to mention that dear name, and out burst his praises in a moment. Brethren, let us all try to keep a heart like the apostle's, so full of love to Christ that we have only to come across his track, and we shall at once fall down, and worship and adore him, or upon the wings of holy love mount up nearer to his throne.
I am quite sure that, when Paul was writing the Epistle to the Galatians, he was eager to get at his task. The Galatians had turned aside from the gospel of God's grace, and Paul was in dead earnest to bring them back to the grand truth of the doctrine of salvation and justification by faith in Christ. He was burning to get at his work of trying to win them back to the old paths; but it seemed needful and courteous to begin with a salutation. In that salutation occurred the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, so off went the apostle directly. Earnest as he was to get to the special subject on which he was about to write, he felt that he must tarry a while, and write a little to the honor of his Divine Master. So we read, "Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." Then he gets at the business he has in hand: "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ," and so on. He is red-hot upon that subject, yet he must stop a minute or two to pen some few words of praise to his glorious Lord and Savior. The old proverb says, "Prayer and provender hinder no man's journey:" and to stop a little while, to praise and bless the name of Jesus Christ, hinders no man's argument. Whatever it is that thou hast to do, if thy Master shall cross thy path, pause a while, and praise him as best thou canst. When Mary sat at Christ's feet, she was not wasting her time, she was employing it then to the highest possible profit; and when you and I get away even from the Master's work, to think of our Lord himself, and to praise him, and commune with him, we are by no means wasting our time; but we are gathering strength, and laying it out to the best possible purpose with regard to our future work and warfare.
I can see the great wisdom of the apostle in acting in such a fashion as this. He is about to write to these Galatians concerning their leaving the gospel; what is the best way to make them sorry for turning aside from the faith? Why, to set before them Jesus Christ himself, who is the very essence and glory of the gospel. I have heard of one who preached much against certain errors, but there was another servant of the Lord who never preached against those errors, but who always proclaimed the gospel right out straight; and when one asked him why he did not attack the errors, he said, "I do preach against them most effectually. If there is a crooked stick about, and you want to show how many crooks there are in it, you need not do anything except lay a straight one down by the side of it, and the crookedness of the other stick will be detected at once." So the apostle admires, extols, and adores the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus, in the best possible manner, introduces what he has to say concerning the errors of the Galatians. Oh, for a burst of sunlight from the face of Christ! Then would the shadows of to-day soon fly away. They who have never seen him may love modern novelties and falsehoods; but if they have beheld his face, and have been won by his charms, they will hold that he who is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever, is infinitely to be preferred to all the inventions of men. I could say no less than this when I noticed the position in which our text is placed.
But now let us come to the text itself; to my mind, it contains four things. First, what our Lord Jesus Christ aimed at with regard to his people: "that he might deliver us from this present evil world." Secondly, what our Lord has done to secure this end: "Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world." Thirdly, why he did it: "According to the will of God and our Father." And fourthly, what we shall say concerning it: "To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
I. First, then, WHAT DID OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST AIM AT WITH REGARD TO HIS PEOPLE?
To preserve them from going down into the pit? To rescue them from hell? To bring them to heaven? Yes, all that; but more than that. His great aim with regard to his people is to deliver them from this present evil world. We are living in this present evil world; and as Paul called it by that name, we need not alter the phrase, for we cannot help knowing that it is still an evil world, and in it are God's redeemed and chosen people, by nature part and parcel of that world, equally fallen, equally estranged from God, equally set on mischief, equally certain to go down into the pit of destruction if left to themselves. The object of Christ is to carve out a people from this great brook of stone; it is his purpose to find his own people, who were given to him or ever the earth was, and to deliver them from the bondage and the slavery in which they are found in this Egypt, of which they seem to form a part, though to the eye of Christ they are always as separate and distinct as the Israelites were when they dwelt in the land of Goshen.
What does the apostle mean by saying that the Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world?
First, Christ came that he might deliver his people from this common condemnation of this present evil world. This is the City of Destruction which is to be burned with fire, and Christ's business is to fetch his people out of it. Therefore he sends his evangelists to cry to them, "Flee from the wrath to come; tarry not in the city, but escape for your lives; you are in a doomed world, which will certainly be destroyed, therefore, fly to the only shelter from the coming storm." The Lord desires that we should be so clear of this world that, when it is condemned, we may not share in the condemnation. It is Christ's purpose to bring us into a state of justification before God, through his blood and righteousness, that we may not perish in the common wreck in the day when the world shall be consumed with fire; but that we may have our ark wherein, as righteous Noah was preserved from the deluge of water, we may be saved from the fiery floods of divine wrath. The-Lord Jesus Christ came into the world that he might deliver us from that condemnation which now rests upon all the race of Adam except those who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them in the gospel.
But he came with this further purpose, to deliver us from the condition in which the world is found. In Paul's day, the world was in a horrible state. Then, the slave was chained to his master's door, like a dog, and slept at night in a hole under the stairs, and the slave's master indulged in all kinds of debauchery and sin. The cruelty of the Romans satisfied itself with gladiatorial shows where men murdered each other to make a public holiday. Christ came to gather out a people even from among these abominations, and he did gather them out, a holy people who could not, and would not live as the rest of the world lived. They did not go away into the deserts, or hide themselves in caves, living as hermits, but they went up and down in the earth, attending faithfully to the duties of daily life, yet everywhere marked as differing from other men. Their moral tone, their whole thought about the things of this world and the next, was altogether different from that of the rest of mankind, for Christ had come to draw them out of the kennel of iniquity in which others lived like beasts, to lift them up out of the bog of sin, and make them to be a pure-minded, holy, kind, generous, loving people who should be like their Master, Jesus Christ. For this purpose, the Savior died. He thought it worth his while even to die upon the cross that he might thereby make a better, purer, nobler, more unselfish, more devout people than as yet had appeared in the Roman or Jewish world; and this is what he is still doing in this present evil world, lifting up men and women out of the filthiness in which they have been wallowing, and making them love holiness, and purity, and temperance, and hate all that is evil in the sight of God.
This, then, is the great object of Christ's death, to deliver us from the world's condemnation, and to deliver us from the world's condition.
He also came to deliver us from the world's customs. There are many things which a worldling does which a Christian cannot do. I need not enlarge upon the tricks in trade which are all too common in the present day; but if you be Christ's own, I charge you, do not even think of them, but let your course be straight as an arrow's, and let your conscience be clean as the driven snow. It is not for God's people to say, "It is the custom of the trade, so we may do it." What have you to do with that? It is the custom of the trade to ruin men's souls; but the churches of God have no such custom, nor have those who follow closely after the Lord Jesus Christ. He has come on purpose that we may not conform to the sinful fashions of men, but that we may have a way of our own, or rather, that we may make Christ's way, the way of holiness, to be our way.
Hence, he has come to deliver us from the spirit of the world. The spirit of the world is, "I can swim; so, if everybody else be drowned, there will then be the more room for me." "I fight for my own hand," says the worldling, "and if, in the process, I crush the widow and the fatherless, I cannot help that, they should not get in my way." The rules of political economy do not permit of anything like mercy; they are as inflexible as the laws of nature. They are something after this fashion,"Grind down the poor; get as much as ever you can out of them for as little money as possible. Care for nobody but yourself. Mind the main chance; make money, honestly if you can, but if not, make it anyhow; only keep clear of the law, for it would be a mistake to fall into its clutches." Now, Christ has come to gather out of the world's people who will not be possessed with this detestable spirit, but who will resolve to live for others rather than for themselves. We are to consider those who are around us, and to think what influence our conduct will have upon them. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves; we are to love even our enemies; we are to do good to the unthankful and to the evil. We are in all ways, and according to the measure of our ability, to copy the example of our Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to shine and his rain to fall upon the evil as well as upon the good. O friends, see what Christ has come to do, even to separate unto himself a people like unto himself out of this present evil world!
Yet once more, he will do this by delivering us from all fear of this world. What a great many of you there are who dare not do anything but what society agrees should be done; and if society says, "This is the right thing to do," you call it "etiquette", and you do that particular thing. Then, all the people around you are very respectable, and you want to be counted respectable, and the consequence is that you dare not call your souls your own, and you do not act as you would wish to until you have first asked your neighbours' leave. There are multitudes of people still in the condition of abject slavery to those who are round about them; but when Christ came into the world, he gathered out of the world a people who were not afraid of anybody. After his good Spirit had renewed them, they walked about fearless of the greatest earthly potentates. There was the great Emperor of Rome, for instance, and who dared ever contradict what the Emperor of Rome said? The man who wrote our text did; and Paul before Nero is a vastly greater man than the cruel tyrant upon the throne. When they bring the saints before the judgment-seat, the Roman consul says, "Offer sacrifice to idols. You know the law; take that incense, and put it on the altar, this very moment." One of the guards says, " "Sir, this man is obstinate and rebellious; I have told him what he is to do, but he refuses." The consul says, "Dost thou, impious wretch, refuse to worship Jupiter? Put that incense on the altar, this moment, or thou shalt be torn in pieces with hot irons." The man before him replies, "I am a Christian." "Is that your answer?" "Yes, sir, my only answer; I am a Christian." "Then tear him with the pincers; let him learn what my hot irons can do." They do it, and the brave saint bears it. Perhaps a groan escapes his lips, for flesh is frail; but when he is asked again, "Will you worship Jupiter?" he replies as before, "I am a Christian." "To the lions with him, then, to the lions with him," cries the enraged persecutor, and he is taken off to the amphitheatre; but as that poor simple peasant walks across the arena, the wild beasts themselves seem cowed before him, and, though he is soon torn in pieces, everybody goes home from the amphitheatre saying, "What a strange being that man was, he seemed utterly devoid of fear!" Yes, the early Christians were without fear and without reproach, for Christ came to set them free from fear of this present evil world.
O brothers and sisters, were the martyrs as brave as this, and are we going to yield to whatever laws and rules the world lives to lay down for us? Do we mean to believe its current theology, or philosophy, and do or not do as it may dictate? For my part, "I would as lief not be as live to be in awe of such a thing as I myself." Since Christ has given me my liberty, I am his servant; and whether I am in the fashion or out of the fashion, is no concern of mine so long as I please him. Dear friends, let it be so with you, I pray you, and may the Lord daily divide you more and more from the world, so that, at home or abroad, everybody can see that you are not of the world! Love men, seek their good, and in the highest and best sense be far more loving to the world than the world is to itself; but still, fear it not. Why should you? It is "the present evil world" which "lieth in the wicked one." It is for you bravely to bear your protest against the world every day you live, for to this end did he come to this earth, "that he might deliver us from this present evil world."
II. We have seen what our Lord aimed at by his death; now, secondly, WHAT DID CHRIST DO TO THIS END,to deliver us from this present evil world?
The answer of the text is, "He gave himself." I will not say that he gave his royal crown, that diadem which did outshine the sun; I will not say that he laid aside his azure rest, and hung it on the sky as he came down to earth; I will not say that he gave up for us the thrones and royalties of heaven. You know that he did all this, and far more; nor need I remind you that, when upon earth, he gave up all that he had, even to his last garment, for they parted his raiment among them, and for his vesture did they cast lots. I need not say that he gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair, nor that he gave his hands to the nails, and his feet to the cruel iron. I need not say that he gave his body, his soul, and his spirit, but you have it all in these three words: "He gave himself."
"He gave himself for our sins." That is the wonder of Christ's death, our sins could not be put away except by his dying in our stead. There was no expiation of our sin, and consequently no deliverance from its condemnation, except by Christ's bearing in our room, and place, and stead, that wrath of God which was due to us; and he did do it. "He gave himself for our sins." I need not say more upon that point except just this. Do not, I pray you, let us permit him in any sense or measure to fail of his supreme object. "He gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world," therefore, out of gratitude to him, if for no other reason, let us not be of the world, and like the world, servants of the world, slaves of the world. What! did Christ die to deliver us from the world, and do we go back to it, and deliberately put our necks under the world's yoke, and wear the world's yoke, and become again the world's slaves? I am ashamed of myself, and of you, whenever we for a moment act as the ungodly world acts, and become as the world is, self-seeking, rebellious against God's will, living contrary to the divine law of Christ. Oh, let every drop of blood he shed on Calvary purge you from all resemblance to the world! Let the dying Savior's cries move you to hate the sin which the world loves; from Calvary, hear him cry, "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing." By the blood with which he bought you, be ye not of the world, seeing that he hath redeemed you from among men that you might be altogether his own.
How does the death of Christ deliver us from the world? It does this by removing from us the condemnation of our sin. Having borne our sins in his own body on the tree, Christ has for ever freed us from the penalty that was our due. You know that is the very essence of the gospel; and you also know that I preach this truth every time I stand here, so I need not enlarge upon it now.
Christ has also delivered us from the world by making sin hateful to us. We say to ourselves, "Did sin kill Christ? Then we cannot play with that dagger that stabbed our Lord. How can we be friendly with the world that cast him out, and hanged him on a tree? O murderous sin, how can I give thee lodgment in my heart when thou didst kill the altogether lovely One?" Men speak hard things of regicides, but what shall I say of deicides? And sin is that deicide which slew the Christ of God; yet, marvel of marvels, by that death on the cross he hath crucified us to the world, and the world unto us, and so he has delivered us from this present evil world.
I may add that Christ has also delivered us from the world by the splendor of his example in giving himself to die for his enemies, and by the glory of his infinite merit, whereby he purchased back that image of God in Adam which sin had obliterated. He gave himself, the very image of God, and more than that, God himself, that he might give back to us that image of God which long ago we had lost. Thus has Christ delivered us from this present evil world; judge ye, sirs, whether he has thus delivered you.
III. Time flies, therefore I must hasten on to the third question, which is, WHY DID CHRIST DO THIS?
First, because our holiness was included in the purpose of God. The text says, "According to the will of God and our Father." Mr. Charles Simeon used to say that there were some, in his day, who thought that the very word "predestination" sounded almost like blasphemy; and I have no doubt that there are some left who cannot bear to hear of the will and the purpose of God, but to us these words sound like sweetest music. I do not believe that there ever would have been a man delivered from this present evil world if it had not been according to the will, the purpose, the predestination of God, even our Father. It needs a mighty tug to get a man away from the world. It is a miracle for a man to live in the world, and yet not to be of it; it is a continuous miracle of so vast a kind that I am sure it would never have been wrought if it had not been according to the will of God our Father. Yet so it stood in the divine decree, that there should be a people chosen from among men, a people who should be called out from among the mass of the ungodly, who should be drawn by supernatural power to follow after that which is right and good and holy, who should be washed in the blood of Jesus, and renewed by the Holy Spirit in the spirit of their minds, and henceforth should be a peculiar people, in the world but not of it, the people of God set apart unto himself, to be his now, and his hereafter for ever and ever. I delight to remember that this is the will of God, even our sanctification, our separation from the world.
Now I want to push home this truth into your very hearts. If this be indeed the purpose of God, let us see to it, my brethren, everyone of us, that we fulfill that purpose in our daily lives. Do let us come out from the world more clear and straight than we have hitherto done. I believe that there would be much more persecution than there is if there were more real Christians; but we have got to be so like the world, that therefore the world does not hate us as once it did. If we would but be more just, more upright, more true, more Christlike, more godly, we should soon hear all the dogs of hell baying with all their might against us; but what of that? It would just be the fulfillment of the divine purpose, and God would be well pleased with us. Come, then, and let us fall back upon the omnipotent strength which ever slumbers within the divine will. Lord, if it be thy will, fulfill it in me; if this be thy purpose, accomplish it in me. Oh, what brave men and women those early saints were! I do not wonder that our friend cried out just now when I depicted the martyr; but there were tens of thousands of such holy men and women in the days of persecution. Have you never heard of her whom they set in a red-hot iron chair because she would not turn away from Christ, or of that other poor feeble woman, who was tossed on the horns of bulls, but who, nevertheless, spoke up right bravely for her Master as she came to die? Yes, and there have been boys and girls, who, for Christ's sake, sooner than sin, have braved the most fearful deaths. Remember John Bunyan when he refused to give up preaching. They put him in prison, and said to him, "Mr. Bunyan, you can come out of prison whenever you will promise to cease preaching the gospel." He said, "If you let me out of prison to-day, I will preach again to-morrow, by the grace of God." "Well," said they, "then you must go back to prison:" and he answered, "I will go back and stay there if need be till the moss grows on my eyelids; but I will never deny my Master." This was the stuff of which the godly were made then; may the Lord make many of us to be like them, men and women who cannot and will not do that which is evil, but will, in the name of God, stand to the right and the true, come what may!
IV. Lastly, WHAT SHALL WE SAY CONCERNING IT ALL? Why, just this, "To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
First, God is glorified in Christ's death. Has the Father given his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us? Then there is glory enough in Jesus Christ upon the cross to last throughout eternity. Fix your eye upon that bleeding Savior; behold the glorious justice of God in laying guilt on him, and punishing it on him, and behold also the inconceivable love of God in thus putting his Only-begotten to death that we might live through him. You need not range the world around to see the glory of God in nature, though that is a delightful employment, for there is enough glory in the cross of Christ to last throughout all eternity. The apostle says, "To whom be glory for ever and ever." How long that is, I cannot tell. "For ever" is without any end, but Paul says, "For ever and ever," and there is glory enough in the cross of Christ to last for ever and ever, as long as the Eternal Jehovah himself exists.
Well then, has Jesus Christ delivered us from the world? Have we fled to him, and been pardoned? Are we accepted in the Beloved? Then, let us begin to glorify God now. Let us glorify his dear Son, let us praise him. Let every beat of our heart tell out our joyous thankfulness, and so continually yield sweet music unto God. I would that every breath were like a verse of a psalm, and our whole life an endless hallelujah to his glory.
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