The blood of Christ: the sin-atoning and peace-speaking blood of Christ. I do not know, my Brethren, how it may be with you in this awful matter of the blood of Christ. There may be some of you who are not without some difficulty in receiving and in holding by the fact and the doctrine of the Atonement. But for my part, my insurmountable difficulty would be if there were no absolute fact, and no sure and certain doctrine, of the Atonement. Whether or no God could at once and for ever forgive my sin without the Atonement I cannot tell. I am not one of His counsellors. But one thing I do know and can tell. When I take counsel with my own soul about my sin, I both see and know that, to all eternity, I never could forgive myself, or endure myself, but for the all-satisfying and allobliterating atonement for all my sin that has been made by the Son of God. Neither lapse of time, nor attempts at redress and reparation, nor penances, nor self-denials, nor floods of tears, nor sweats of blood, nor solemnly sworn covenants, no, nor all these things taken together, could ever take away the awful load of my sin. But when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is ‘made sin’ by my sin: when both the fault and the stain and the guilt of my sin are all taken away from me by His blood, then a peace that simply passes all my understanding, as a matter of fact and of sure experience, takes possession of my heart and my conscience. And when I again fall into fresh sin and fresh guilt, and that is with every breath I draw, and when I again receive the Atonement, that great peace again returns to me.
I quite willingly allow you that I cannot fully understand all the divine mysteries that enter into the Atonement. I frankly admit to you that I cannot wade out into all the unfathomable depths of the Atonement. Enough for me that Almighty God fully understands and fully approves of the Atonement, and that both He and His Son and His Spirit, all Three together go down to the very bottom of it. Enough for me that the Judge of all the earth has proclaimed Himself to be well pleased with His Son’s finished work, and with any and every sinner who receives and rests upon His crucified Son for his salvation. This, then, be you sure is the right way, and the only right way, to take off your guilt and mine. And till you can show me a better way,
I for my part am to take Paul’s way, and Luther’s way, and John Bunyan’s way, and William Cowper’s way, and I am to sing with him in this way:
Dear dying Lamb! Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved to sin no more.
E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.
So right, and so alone right, is this redemption-way of taking off guilt, and so absolutely convinced of this is John Bunyan that according to thePilgrim’s Progress even Christ Himself cannot take away a sinner’s guilt short of His cross and His sepulchre. Spurgeon somewhere blames Bunyan for making Christian carry his burden of guilt so far and so long. For even after Goodwill had admitted Christian into the Strait Gate, and had pointed him into the Narrow Way, he still sent that pilgrim on his upward way with his burden on his back. As thus:
‘Then I saw in my dream that Christian asked the keeper of the gate if he could not help him off with his burden that was upon his back. For as yet he had not got rid thereof, nor could he by any means get it off without help. But Goodwill told him: As to thy burden, be content to bear it until thou comest to the place of deliverance. For, there, it will fall off thy back of itself.’
Then, still with his burden on his back, Christian comes to the House of the Interpreter, and is entertained by the Interpreter in a way we will never forget:
‘Then I saw in my dream that the highway up which Christian was to go was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall is called Salvation. Up this way, then, did burdened Christian run. But not without great difficulty, because of the load that was upon his back. He ran thus till he came to a place somewhat ascending. And upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed off his shoulder, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more. Then was Christian glad, and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, He hath given me rest by His sorrow, and life by His death. He looked at the cross therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks. And then he went on singing:
Blest cross! Blest sepulchre! Blest rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me.’
That is the Gospel of our Salvation in a puritan allegory. And we have the same Gospel in apostolical doctrine in that greatest of the Epistles where it is written:
‘Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood.’
Now, we must have faith in absolutely everything connected with Christ. We must have faith in his Godhead, and in His Manhood, in His coming in our flesh, in His whole life on our earth, in His death, in His rising from the dead, and in His ascension home to heaven again, and we must have faith in all His heavenly offices both toward God and toward man. But always as we are guilty and condemned sinners, it is to faith in His blood that we are invited and commanded. We are justified, not by our faith in His being made flesh, but by our faith in His being made sin. Not by His being made our example, but by His being made our propitiation. We are justified, and we are accepted, not by anything in the Father, or in the Son, or in the Holy Ghost, but by our faith alone, and that in the blood of Christ alone. If the Apostle Paul had any insight given him into the mystery of Christ, that is it. The greatest of Christ’s apostles has nothing to preach to us compared with the sin-atoning blood of Christ. That is Paul’s one Gospel, first and last, both to himself and to us. The bare thought of any other Gospel being preached to sinners puts Paul beside himself with scorn and with contempt and with indignation.
Now, having I hope seen somewhat clearly the right way to take off guilt, let us also see the right way to keep it off. John Bunyan, like all other great authors, is his own best annotator and interpreter. And when we raise this question with him; this question as to how he kept off both his old guilt and his new guilt, this is his clear answer made both to Prudence and to ourselves:
‘When I think of what I saw and came through at the cross, that will do it. And when I look upon my broidered coat, that will do it. And when my thoughts wax warm about the place to which I am going, that will do it. Things and thoughts like these will keep off sin, and will thus keep guilt off my conscience.’
And, then, this was our own Halyburton’s way.
‘Here,’ he says, ‘in my opinion, is one of the greatest secrets of practical godliness, and one of the highest attainments in a close walk with God. That is to say, to know how to come, daily and hourly, to the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness. Never to be for long; or, indeed, ever at all, away for a moment from that fountain: that is the only sure way to keep off guilt.’
Now to these two masters I will only venture to add this, — singing and saying to yourselves, day and night, the great evangelical and experimental psalms and hymns will greatly help to keep off returning and recurring guilt. Especially the hymns in the hymn-book collected under the heads of Faith and Penitence, Love and Gratitude, Joy and Peace.
Another good and indeed indispensable lesson is to get your new guilt taken off immediately. Even before it is well on get it taken off on the spot. If it is a sinful word that you have spoken, before that sinful word has lighted on your neighbour’s ear, before it has had time to enter your neighbour’s heart, and before the recording angel has had time to get his pen into his inkhorn, be you beforehand with him. Be you back at the cross in the twinkling of an eye. Be you prostrate in soul before the mercy-seat. And so with all your other sins that so easily beset you, and that so continually load your conscience with new guilt. God is said greatly to love certain of our adverbs. And no adverb more than the adverb immediately; unless it be the kindred evangelical adverbs vicariously and believingly. Well, then, as soon as you again fall into any sin, go to God alone about it; and go vicariously, and believingly, and immediately.
And then for the absolutely greatest sinner hiding in this house of God tonight there is this tremendous but most glorious lesson. It is not only the blood of Christ, and the blood of the Lamb, it is this: ‘The Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.’ The Blood of God: the tremendous bareness, so to speak, and the tremendous boldness of the words: the astounding and overwhelming grace of the words, will surely bring them home to every specially guilty conscience and to every specially corrupt heart. Times and occasions without number, when every other scripture has threatened to fail myself, this supreme scripture has been a house of refuge and a high and heavenly tower to me. The Blood of God has a specially inward and a specially personal and a specially experimental evidence to me, and I recommend that most wonderful of all the scriptures to them that need it; I recommend it to them with all my heart.
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood avails for me:
so sings Charles Wesley.
‘Let it be counted folly, or phrenzy, or fury, or whatsoever,’ says Richard Hooker, in what is, perhaps, the greatest sermon in the English language, ‘it is our wisdom and our comfort. We care for no other knowledge in the world but this: that man hath sinned and God hath suffered: that God hath made Himself the sin of men, and that men are made the righteousness of God.’