God Incarnate, the End of Fear
C. H. SPURGEON
© Copyright 2002 by Tony Capoccia. This updated file may
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Verses quoted, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY
BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION
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“The angel said to them, `Do not be afraid.'“ Luke 2:10
As soon as the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, they were terrified. It had come to this, that man was afraid of his God, and when God sent down His loving messengers with tidings of great joy, men were filled with as much fear as though the angel of death had appeared with an uplifted sword. The silence of the night and its dreary gloom caused no fear in the shepherds' hearts, but the joyful herald of the skies, robed in the glories of grace, terrified them. We must not condemn the shepherds on this account as though they were timid or uneducated, for they were only acting as every other person in that age would have done under the same circumstances.
It was not because they were simple shepherds that they were overcome with fear, but it is probable that if they had been well-instructed prophets they would have displayed the same feeling; for there are many instances recorded in Scripture, in which the leading men of their time trembled and felt the horror of great darkness when special manifestations of God were given to them. In fact, a cringing fear of God was so common, that a tradition had grown out of it, which was all but universally received as absolute truth. It was generally believed that every supernatural manifestation was to be regarded as a token of speedy death, “We are doomed to die! We have seen God!” was not only Manoah's conclusion, but that of most men of his period. Indeed there were only a few who had contented minds like Manoah's wife, who could reason in a more encouraging style, she said, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.”
It became “the settled conviction” of all men, whether wise or uneducated, whether good or bad, that a manifestation of God was not so much to be rejoiced in as to be dreaded; even as Jacob said, “How awesome [how frightening] is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Without a doubt the spirit which originated this tradition was fostered by the “legal dispensation,” which is better fitted for trembling servants than for rejoicing sons. The solemn night in which its greatest institution was ordained was a night of trembling, death was there in the slaughter of the lamb; blood was then 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 dread. It was at the dreaded hour of midnight when the solemn family conclave was assembled; the door was shut; the guests themselves standing in an uneasy attitude, and stricken with fright, for their hearts and minds 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, we read that the people stood afar off and that boundaries were established around the mountain, and even if an animal touched the mountain, then it must be stoned, or killed with a sword? It was a day of fear and trembling when God spoke to them out of the fire. God's law did not come to His people's ears with the soft notes of harps; there were no soft wings of angels bringing the message, and no sunny smiles of heaven sweetened it to the mind, but it came with sounds of loud trumpets and thunder, out of the midst of blazing lightnings, with Mount Sinai smoking, the law was given. The law's voice was, “Do not go near it!” The spirit of Sinai is fear and trembling.
The legal ceremonies were designed to inspire fear rather than to generate trust. The worshiper at the temple saw bloodshed from the first of the year to the end of the year; the morning was ushered in with the shedding of the blood of the lamb, and the evening could not pass without blood again being spilled on the altar. God was in the midst of the camp, but the pillar of cloud and fire was His unapproachable retreat. The emblem of His glory was concealed behind the curtain of blue and scarlet and fine linen, behind which only one person was allowed to pass, and that only once a year. Men spoke of the God of Israel with bated breath, and with hushed and solemn voices. They had not learned to say, “Our Father in heaven.” They had not received the spirit of adoption, and were not able to say “Abba”; they smarted under the spirit of bondage, which made them terrified when the glory of the Lord's presence was displayed among them.
At the bottom of all this cringing dread lay “sin.” We never find Adam afraid of God, nor of any manifestation of Deity while he was in Paradise as an obedient creature, but no sooner had he touched the forbidden fruit than he found out that he was naked, and hid himself when he heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, Adam was afraid and hid himself from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Sin makes miserable cowards of us all. See the man who once could hold delightful conversation with his Maker, now dreading to hear his Maker's voice and sneaking around in the garden like a felon, who knows his guilt, and is afraid to meet the officers of justice.
Beloved, in order to remove this dreaded nightmare of slavish fear from the heart of humanity, where its horrible influence represses all the noblest aspirations of the soul, our Lord Jesus Christ came in the flesh. This is one of the works of the devil which Jesus had come to destroy. Angels came to proclaim the good news of the coming of the incarnate God, and the very first note of their song was a foretaste of the sweet result of His coming to all those who will receive him. The angel said, “Do not be afraid!” as though the times of fear were over, and the days of hope and joy had arrived. “Do not be afraid!” These words were not meant for those trembling shepherds only, but were intended for you and for me, yes, to all nations to whom the glad tidings would come. “Do not be afraid!” Let God no longer be the object of your slavish dread! Do not stand at a distance from Him any more. The Word is made flesh. God has descended to live among men, that there may be no wall of restraining fire, no gulf between God and man.
I wish to dwell on this subject this morning as God would help me. I am aware of the value of the theme, and am very conscious that I cannot do it justice. I earnestly ask God the Holy Spirit to make you drink of the golden cup of the incarnation of Christ, which I have enjoyed in my quiet meditations. I desire this delight for my dearest friends. There is no better cure for fear than the subject of that midnight song, the first and best of Christmas choruses, which from its first word to its last note chimes out the sweet message, which begins with, “Do not be afraid!”
It is my sweetest comfort, Lord,
And will forever be,
To ponder on the gracious truth
Of Your humanity.
Oh joy! there dwells in our flesh,
On a throne of light
One of a human mother, born,
In perfect Godhead bright!
“Though earth's foundations should be moved,
Down to their lowest deep;
Though all the trembling universe
Into destruction sweep;
Forever God, forever man,
My Jesus will endure;
And fixed on Him, my hope remains
Dear friends, I will first call your attention to the subject of “the fear” 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, we will endeavor to make an application of this remedy to various cases.
I. First let us turn to THE FEAR of the text.
There is a kind of fear towards God from which we must not wish to be freed from.
There is that lawful, necessary, admirable, excellent fear which is always due from the creature to the Creator, from the subject to the king, yes, and from the child toward the parent. That holy, respectful fear of God, which makes us dread sin, and constrains us to be obedient to His command, is to be cultivated; “We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!” This is the “The fear of the LORD [which] is the beginning of wisdom.” To have a holy fear of our most holy, just, righteous, and tender God is a privilege, not a bondage. Godly fear is not the “fear [which] has to do with punishment;” perfect love does not cast aside fear, but dwells with it in joyful harmony. The angels perfectly love God, and yet with holy fear they veil their faces with their wings as they approach Him; and when we, in heaven, behold the face of God, and will be filled with all His fullness, we will not cease humbly and reverently to adore the Infinite Majesty. Holy fear is a work of the Holy Spirit, and woe be to the man or woman who does not possess it; let them boast as they may, his “eating with you without the slightest qualm [or fear]” is a mark of his hypocrisy.
The fear which is to be avoided is “cringing fear;” the fear which perfect love casts out, as Sarah cast out the slave woman and her son.
That trembling which keeps us at a distance from God, which makes us think of Him as a Spirit with whom we can have no communion; as a person who does not care for us except to punish us, and for whom consequently we have no care except to escape if possible from His terrible presence.
This fear sometimes arises in men's hearts from their “thoughts that dwell exclusively on the divine greatness.”
Is it possible to stare into the vast abyss of Infinity and not to be afraid? Can the mind yield itself up to the thought of the Eternal, Self-existent, Infinite One without being filled, first with awe and then with dread? What am I? An insect creeping on a rosebud is a more considerable creature in relation to the word of humans than I can be in comparison with God. What am I? A grain of dust that does not register on the most sensitive scale is a greater thing to man than a man is to the Lord God. At best we are less than nothing and vanity.
But there is more to abase us than this. We have had the audacity to be disobedient to the will of this great One; and now the goodness and greatness of His nature are like a rushing current against which sinful humanity struggles in vain, for the irresistible torrent must run its course, and overwhelm every opponent. What does the great God seem to those without Christ but a stupendous rock, threatening to crush them, or a bottomless sea, rushing to swallow them up? The contemplation of the divine greatness may in itself fill man with horror, and cast him into unspeakable misery! Dwell a long time on such themes, and like Job you will tremble before the Living God, who shakes the earth.
“Each one of the severe attributes of God” will cause the fear.
Think of His power by which He rolls the stars along, and put your hand over your mouth. Think of His wisdom by which He numbers the clouds, and settles the physical laws of the universe. Meditate on any one of these attributes, but especially on His justice, and on that devouring fire which burns continuously against sin, and it is no wonder that the soul becomes full of fear. Meanwhile let “a sense of sin” with its great whip of wire, scourge the conscience, and man will dread the thought of God. For this is the concern of the voice of man's guilty conscience, “If you were a righteous man, this God would still be frightful to you, for if even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in His eyes, if God charges his angels with error. How can a mortal be righteous before God, or have any claims on Him, for you have offended, you have lifted your hand of rebellion against the infinite majesty of omnipotence--what can become of you? What can be your end but to be set up forever as a monument of his righteous wrath?”
Now such a fear as that is easily created in the thoughtful mind, and is the natural heritage of man, since the result of sin is most wretched and harmful.
For wherever there is a cringing dread of the Divine Person, it alienates man
completely from his God. We are by our evil nature enemies to God, and the
assumption that God is cruel, harsh, and horrifying, adds fuel to the fire of
our hatred. We can't love those whom we dread. You could not make your child
show love to you if its little heart was full of fear; if it dreaded to hear
your footstep, and was alarmed at the sound of your voice, it could not love
you. You might obey some huge monster because you were afraid of him, but it
would be impossible to love him. It is one of the masterpieces of Satan to
deceive man by presenting to his mind a hateful picture of God. He knows that
man cannot love that which terrifies him, and therefore he paints the God of
grace as a hard, unforgiving person who will not receive the repentant sinner
and have pity on the sorrowful person. God is love! Surely if men only had the
grace enough to see the beauty of that portrait of God—that was sketched with a
single line, “God is love!” then they would willingly serve such a God. When the
Holy Spirit enables the mind to perceive the character of God, the heart cannot
refuse to love Him. Evil, fallen, depraved as men and women are, when they are
illuminated by the Holy Spirit then they will have the right judgment of God,
their hearts melt under the pleasant beams of divine love, and they love God
because He has first loved them. But here is the masterpiece of Satan, that he
will not let the understanding perceive the excellence of God's character, and
then the heart cannot love that which the understanding does not perceive to be
In addition to alienating the heart from God, this fear “creates a prejudice against God's gospel of grace.”
There are persons in this church this morning who believe that if they were to become a Christian that they would be miserable. It is the settled conviction of some, that to trust in Jesus and to be obedient to God, which is the essence of true Christianity, would be miserable. “Oh,” says the worldly man, “I would have to give up my pleasure if I were to become a Christian.” Now, this is one of the biggest lies ever invented, and yet millions of people believe it. It is popular theology that to be an enemy of God is happiness, but to be the friend of God is misery. What a warped opinion men must have of God, when they believe that to love Him is to be wretched! Oh, I wish that they could truly understand Him. I wish that they could know how good God is instead of imagining that to be His servant would be slavery. I pray that they could only understand that to be His friends is to occupy the highest and happiest position which created beings can occupy.
This fear in some men “causes them to believe that can never be saved.”
They think God is a selfish Person, they keep at a distance from Him, and if
they hear now and then, in a sermon, that God is Love and will save everyone
that comes to Him, the right desire for Him never matures into the practical
resolve to do something. They don’t say, “I will get up and go to my Father,”
because they don’t know Him as a Father, they only know Him as a consuming fire.
A man does not say, “I will get up and go into a consuming fire.” No, but, like
Jonah, he would pay his money, regardless of the expense, and go to Tarshish to
flee from the presence of the Lord. This is what makes man so miserable—the fact
that they cannot get away from God, since they think that if they could only
escape from His presence they would then wander into absolute happiness; but
being doomed to be where God is, then they conceive that for them there remains
only anguish and misery. The soft warnings of mercy and the thunderings of
justice are powerless on men so long as their hearts are seared and rendered
hardened by an unholy dread of God.
This depraved fear of God frequently drives men and women to the extremities of sin.
The man says, “There is no hope for me; I have made one fatal mistake by becoming God's enemy, and I am permanently ruined. There is no hope that I will ever be restored to happiness or peace. Then what will I do? I will unleash all my passions, I will defy fate and take my chance. I will get all the happiness that can be found in sin. If I cannot be reconciled to heaven I will become a servant of hell.” Consequently men and women have been known to rush from one crime to another with a spiteful rebellion against God, as if they could never be satisfied nor contented until they had heaped up more and more sins against the majesty of God whom in their hearts they dreaded with a burning Satanic dread mingled with hate. If they could only comprehend that He is still willing to receive the rebellious sinner, that His heart yearns to save sinners; if they could only believe that He is love and is not willing that any sinner should ever be lost forever, but would rather that the sinner would repent and submit to Him and live eternally in heaven, surely the course of their lives would be changed; but the god of this world blinds them, and slanders the Lord until the unbeliever considers it foolishness to repent and submit to Christ.
Dear friends, this evil of Satan operates in countless ways. It dishonors God.
Oh, it is notorious, it is evil to make out our God, who is light and in whom
there is no darkness at all, to be an object of horrible fear. It is hellish; it
is devilish to the highest degree to paint Him as a demon, who is the Holy God,
the God of Love. Oh, the disrespect of the prince of darkness, and the madness
of man to consent to the suggestion, that God should be depicted as being
unwilling to forgive, unkind, harsh, hard, cruel, when in fact He 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
punishing sin because it is not being righteous to let sin go unpunished. This
is vile ingratitude on the part of a creature who has received so much that he
should slander God the giver of all things.
The evil which is therefore done to God recoils upon man, for this “fear brings torment.”
Nothing is more tormenting in the world than to think of God as being our unappeasable foe. You Christians who have lost for awhile the joy of your salvation [not your salvation, just the joy of it], you who have wandered a distance away from God, nothing can be more tormenting to you than the fear that the Lord has cast you away and will not receive you again. You backsliders, nothing can hold you back from your heavenly Father like a dread of Him. If you really knew that He is not to be dreaded with a cringing fear, you will come to him as your child does to you, and you would say, “My Father, I have offended You—have pity on me! My Father, I am irritated and grieved over my sin--forgive me, receive me again into Your arms, and help me, by Your mighty grace, that from this moment on I may walk in Your commandments, and be obedient to Your will.” My dear friends, you who know anything about spiritual life, don't you feel that when you have sweet thoughts of God breathed into you from above, and have your heart filled with His special love, that it is then that you are the holiest! Haven’t you perceived that the only way in which you can grow in that which is morally and spiritually lovely, is by highly esteeming your gracious God, and feeling His precious love filling your hearts?
The very thing which God desires for His elect ones is that they may become like little children. It is this which His Spirit works in His chosen ones; it is to this that we must come if we are to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints. Cringing fear is so opposed to the childlike spirit that it is just like the poison of a cobra to it. Dread and fear brings 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 childlike in us. A child easily and naturally trusts in a good and generous father, and if I, a poor, weak, feeble child, conscious that I am such, knowing that I am all foolishness and weakness, can just believe in my good, great God, through Jesus Christ and come and trust myself with Him, and leave Him to do as He likes with me, believing that He will not be unkind, and cannot be unwise; If I can wholly rest in His love and be obedient to His will, only then will I have reached the highest point that the creature can reach; the Holy Spirit will then have brought about His finished work in me, and I will be fit for heaven. Beloved, it is because fear opposes this, and prevents this, that I would say with the angel, “Do not be afraid”
II. I am afraid that I will tire you while I speak on this somewhat sorrowful theme, and therefore with as much brevity as the abundance of the matter may permit, let us note in the second place, THE CURE FOR THIS FEAR, which the angel came to proclaim. It lies in this: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He 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 appear,
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 they were not to be afraid, first of all, because “the angel had come to bring them good news.” What does it say? It says, “I bring you good news of great joy.” But what was this gospel? Further on we are told that the gospel was the fact that Christ was born. So, then, it is good news to men that Christ is born, that God has come down and taken manhood into union with Himself. Truly this is good news. He who made the heavens sleeps in a manger. What does that mean? Why it means that God is not necessarily an enemy to man, because here is God actually taking manhood into union with Deity.
There cannot be permanent, entrenched, immovable hatred between the two natures, or otherwise the divine nature could not have taken the human into hypostatical union with itself. Isn't there comfort in that? You are a destitute, wicked, feeble person, and that which makes you afraid of the Lord is this fear that there is hatred between God and man; but there need not be such animosity, for your Creator has actually taken manhood into union with Himself.
Don't you 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—He is the Creator and we are the creature. But
observe, He who is God has also become man. We never heard that God took the
nature of angels into union with Himself, we may therefore say that between the
Godhead and angels there must still be an infinite distance; but here the Lord
has actually taken manhood into union with Himself, there is therefore no longer
a great gulf fixed, on the contrary, here is a marvelous union; The Godhead has
entered into marriage bonds with manhood. O my soul, you do not stand like a
poor lonely orphan wailing across the deep sea after your Father who has gone
far away and cannot hear you; you don’t sob and sigh like an infant left naked
and helpless, its Creator having gone too far away to regard its needs or listen
to its cries. No, your Creator has become like yourself. Is that too strong a
word to use? He who created all things, and in Whom all things are held
together, is that same Word who lived for a while among us and was made flesh,
and made flesh in such a way that He was tempted in every way, just as we
are—yet was without sin. O mankind, was there ever such good news as this for
Inferior mankind, you weak worm of the dust, far lower than the angels, lift up your head, and don't be afraid! Inferior mankind, born in weakness, living a life of work and stress, covered with sweat, and then dying only to be eaten by the worms, don't you be ashamed even in the presence of Heaven's highest ranking angels, for next to God is man, and not even an archangel stands in position between God and man; no, not next to God, there is an absolute complete union between God and man, for Jesus who is God is also man; Jesus Christ, eternally God, was born, and lived and died as we also do. That is the first word of comfort to expel our fear.
The second point that takes away fear is that this Man Jesus who was also God was actually born. Observe the angel's word, “A Savior has been born to you.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ is in some senses more man than Adam. Adam was not born; Adam never had to struggle through the risks and weaknesses of infancy; he did not know what it was like to be a toddler or a little child—he was created full grown. Our earthly father Adam could not sympathize with me as a baby and a child. But how manlike is Jesus! He is cradled with us in the manger; He does not begin with us in mid-life, as Adam, but he accompanies us in the pains and feebleness and weaknesses of infancy, and He continues with us even to the grave. Beloved, this is such sweet comfort. He that is God today was once an infant: so that if my cares are little and even trivial and comparatively infantile, I may go to Him, for He once was a child. Though the great ones of the earth may sneer at the children living in poverty, and say, “You are too unimportant, and your trouble is too insignificant for pity;” I remember with humble joy, that the King of heaven nursed on a woman's breast, and was wrapped in rags, and therefore I can tell Him all my sorrows. How wonderful that He was an infant, and also was the Living God, blessed forever! I am not afraid of God anymore; this blessed link between me and God, the holy child Jesus, has taken all the fear away.
Observe, the angel told them something of His position, as well as His birth. “Today in the town of David a `Savior' has been born to you.” The very purpose for which He was born and came into this world was that He might deliver us from sin.
What, then, was it that made us afraid? Weren't we afraid of God because we felt that we were lost through sin? Well then, here is joy upon joy. Here not only has the Lord come among us as a man, but He was made man in order to save man from that which separated him from God. I feel as if I could burst into weeping for some here who have been racing through their lives unrestrained and are a great distance from God their Creator because of their evil ways. I know they are afraid to come to Him. They think that the Lord will not receive them, that there is no mercy for such sinners as they have been. Oh, but think of this—Jesus Christ has come to seek and to save that which was lost. He was born to save. If He does not save then He was born in vain, for the object of His birth was salvation. If He will not be a Savior, then the mission of God to earth has missed its objective, for its design was that lost sinners might be saved. Lost one, lost one, if there were news that an angel had come to save you there might be some cheer in it; but there are even better tidings. God has come; the Infinite, the Almighty, has stooped from the highest heaven that He may pick you up, a poor cursed and worthless worm. Isn't there comfort here? Doesn't the incarnate Savior take away the horrible dread which hangs over men like a gloomy darkness?
Note that the angel did not forget to describe “the person” of this Savior--
“He is Christ the Lord.” There is His manhood. As man He was anointed. “The
Lord.” There is His Godhead.
Yes, this is the solid truth upon which we plant our foot. Jesus of Nazareth is God; He who was conceived in the womb of the virgin and born in Bethlehem's manger is now, and always was, God over all, blessed forever. There is no gospel if He is not God. It is not good news to me to tell me that a great prophet is born. There have been great prophets before; but the world has never been redeemed from evil by mere testimony to the truth, and never will be. Tell me that God is born, that God Himself has taken up our nature, and taken it into union with Himself, then the bells of my heart ring with joy, for now I may come to God since God has come to me.
You will observe, dear friends, however, that the essence of what the angel said lay in this, “has been born to you.” You will never get true comfort from the incarnate Savior until you perceive your personal interest in Him.
Christ as man was a representative man. There were only two thoroughly representative men; the first is Adam: Adam was disobedient and the whole race fell. “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 many as His Father gave 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, for you are considered to be one with Him. See then, the joy and comfort of the incarnation of Christ. Does Jesus, as man, take manhood up to heaven? He has taken me up there. Our earthly father Adam fell, and I fell too, for I was in him. The Lord Jesus Christ rises, and I rise if I am in Him. See, beloved, when Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross all His elect children were nailed there too, 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 as Levi 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 will also live; and now that He has gone up to heaven 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, can be bold and say that I sit upon the very throne of God. Don’t think that we have said too much, for in the person of Christ every believer is raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Because as Jesus is there, representatively, each one of us is there in Him.
I wish that I had power to bring out this precious doctrine of the incarnation as I desire too, but the more one ponders it, the happier one becomes. Let us view it as an all-important truth, that Jesus, the Son of God, has really come in the flesh. It is such an important truth, that we have three witnesses appointed to keep it before us on earth. We have been insisting many times in this church on the spirituality of Christian worship. We have shown that the outward acts and deeds in Christianity, by itself, accomplishes nothing, it is the inward spirit that really means anything. I must confess that I have sometimes said to myself, and I hope not rebelliously, “What is Baptism for, and What is the Lord's Supper for?” These two outward ordinances, whatever may be their perfect purposes, have been the two things around which more errors have clustered than around anything else; and I have heard it said, by friends inclined to follow more fully the teachings of the Quakers, “Why not put aside the outward and visible altogether? Let it be the Spirit Baptism and not the water, let there be no bread and wine, but let there be fellowship with Christ without the outward sign. “I must confess, though I would never do it, because I am faithful to the plain testimony of Scripture, yet my heart has been somewhat tempted, and I have said to myself, “Men will always pervert these two ordinances, wouldn't it be better to just do away with them?”
While I have struggled over this issue, I have always be conscious that the ordinances are right, and must be practiced faithfully, because I have rested on the text, “There are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” And what do they bear witness to? They bear witness to the mission of Jesus as the Christ, in other words to the real incarnation of God. They bear witness to the material nature 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 Christ was really a man has generally been doubted or thrown into the background when the two outward ordinances have been given up, and 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 gloriously a spirit, was also a man clothed in a body of real flesh and blood like our own; so that He could be touched and handled even as He said, “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have 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 turn to the water, and when I read that Christ was publicly baptized in Jordan, I perceive that He could not have been a phantom; He could not have been a mere supernatural appearance, for He was immersed in water, He must have been a solid substantial man. The preservation of the ordinance of baptism is a witness to the reality of the incarnate God. Then comes the blood, He could not have shed blood on Calvary if He had been only a vision. There could have been no blood streaming down from His side when the spear pierced Him if He had been only a ghostly appearance; He must have been solid flesh and blood like ourselves; and as often as we come to His table, and we take the cup and hear it said, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood,” there is a third witness on earth to the fact that Jesus did appear in very flesh and blood among men. So that the Spirit, the water, and the blood, are the three standing testimonies in the church of God, that Christ was God, and that He was also really, solidly, and substantially man. I will delight in the ordinances all the more because of this. Those two ordinances serve to make us remember that Christ was really flesh and blood, and that Christianity has something to do with this flesh and blood of ours. This very body is to rise again from the tomb; Jesus came to deliver this weak flesh from corruption; and so, while we must always keep the spiritual uppermost, we are prevented from casting away the material body as though that were from the devil. Christ purified as well the realm of matter as the realm of spirit; and in both He reigns triumphant. There is great comfort here.
III. Lastly, we can only take a few moments in APPLYING THE CURE TO VARIOUS CASES.
Child of God, You say, “I dare not come to God today, I feel so weak.” Do not fear, for He that is born in Bethlehem said, “A bruised reed I will not break, and a smoldering wick I will not snuff out.” “I will never get to heaven,” says another; “I will never see acceptance on God's face; I am so tempted.” “Do not fear, For you do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with your weaknesses, but you have one who has been tempted in every way, just as you are—yet was without sin.” “But I am so lonely in the world,” says another, “No man cares about me.” Regardless, there is one man who does care; a true man like yourself. Furthermore, He is your fellow man, 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, don’t go to God alone, but go to the member of the Trinity who is truly God and who also is a man—the God/man Christ Jesus. Surely you cannot be afraid of Him. If you only knew Jesus you would go to Him at once; you would not be afraid to tell Him your sins, for you would know that He would say, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
“I can't pray,” one says, “I feel afraid to pray.” What, afraid to pray, when it is a man who listens to you! You might dread the face of God, but when it is God in human flesh why should you be alarmed? Go, weak sinner, go to Jesus.
“I feel,” ones says, “unfit to come.” You may be unfit to come to God, but you cannot be unfit to come to Jesus. There is a fitness necessary to stand in the presence of the Holy God, but there is no fitness needed in coming to the Lord Jesus. Come as you are, guilty, and lost, and ruined. Come just as you are, and He will receive you.
“Oh,” says another, “I cannot trust.” I can understand your not being able to trust the great invisible God, but can't 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 received sinners and ate with them, and
even prostitutes were not driven from His presence. Oh, do not be afraid, since
God has taken man into union with Himself! If I speak to 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 inasmuch as Jesus Christ is called “the sinner's Friend,” I pray that
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 reason for your keeping away from God,
except your own mistaken thoughts of Him! May you believe that He is able and
willing to save to the uttermost! May you understand His good and gracious
character, His readiness to forgive offenses, wickedness, and sin! And may the
sweet influences of grace compel you to come to Him this very morning! God grant
that Jesus Christ may come to live in you, the hope of glory; and then you will
sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
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