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Why God chooses the greatest sinners to be objects of His greatest mercy.

His Mercy Is Magnified in Such Choices

There is a disposition in the greatest sinners, more than in moral or superstitious men, to see their need: because they have not any self-righteousness to boast of. Man’s blameless outward carriage and freedom from the common sins of the times and places wherein they live, many times proves a snare of death to them, and makes them more cold and faint towards Christ: because they possess themselves with imaginations that Christ cannot but look upon them, though they never so much as set their faces toward him. And because they are not drenched in such villainies as others are, their consciences sit quiet under this moral carriage, and gall them not by any self-reflections. Therefore when the threatenings of the law are denounced against such sins, these men wipe their mouths, and bless God with the Pharisee, that they are not sinners of such a scarlet dye, and that they do such and such duties, and so go on without seeing a necessity of the new birth. By this means the strength of sin is more compacted and condensed in them.

Self-Righteousness and Morality May Keep A Man from Christ.

Superstitious and formal men are hardly seduced to their right wits: partly because of a defect in reason from whence, those extravagances arise, and partly because of these false habits and spirit of error possessing their faculties, they are incapable of more noble impressions. Besides, they are more tenacious of the opinions they have sucked in, which have command over their souls. Such misguided zeal fortifies men against proposals of grace, and fastens them in a more obstinate inflexibleness to any converting motions. This self-righteous temper is like an external heat in the body, which produces a persistent fever, and is not easily perceived till it be incurable. And naturally it is a harder matter to part with self-righteousness than to part with gross sins; for that is more deeply rooted upon the stock of self-love, a principle which departs not from us without our very nature. It has more arguments to plead for it; it has a natural conscience, as a patron for it. Whereas a great sinner stands speechless at reproofs, an outward law-keeper has the strong reinforcement of natural conscience within his own breast. It was not the gross sins of the Jews against the light of nature, [but] the idol of their own righteousness that was the block to hinder them from submitting to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:8).

Christ came to his own, and his own received him not (John 1:11). Those who seem to their heads in heaven by some kind of resemblance to God in moral righteousness, being undefiled with the common pollutions of the world—these received him not. Thus even publicans and harlots started ahead of them, and ran before them, to catch hold of the offers of grace. “Publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before you” (Matthew 21:31). Just as travellers that have loitered away their time in an alehouse, being sensible how the darkness of the night creeps upon them, spur on, and outstrip those that were many miles on their way, and get to their stage before them. So these publicans and harlots which were at a great distance from heaven, arrived there before those who, like the young man [the rich young ruler], were not far off from it.

Great Sinners Are Most Easily Convinced of Their Need.

Great sinners are most easily convinced of the notorious wickedness of their lives. And reflecting upon themselves because of their horrid crimes against the light of nature, are more inclinable to endeavour an escape from the devil’s slavery, and are frightened and shaken by their consciences into a compliance with the doctrine of redemption. Whereas those that do by nature the things contained in the law, are so much a law to themselves, that it is difficult to persuade them of the necessity of conforming to another law, and to part with this self-law in regard to justification. As metals of the noblest substance are hardest to be polished; so men of the most noble, natural, and moral endowments are with more difficulty argued into a state of Christianity than those of more drossy modes of living. Cassianus speaks very peremptorily in this case: “often have we seen the cold and carnal warmed into a spiritual fervour; the dainty and the brutish—never.”

Man’s Sin Nature Makes Mercy Necessary

The insufficiency of nature to such a work as conversion shows that men may not fall down and idolize their own wit and power. A change from acts of sin to moral duties may be done by a natural strength and the power of natural conscience. For the very same motives which led to sin, as education, interest, profit, may, upon a change of circumstances, guide men to an outward morality; but a change to the contrary grace is supernatural.

Two things are certain in nature.

  1. Natural inclinations never change, but by some superior virtue.
  2. A loadstone will not cease to draw iron, while that attractive quality remains in it. The wolf can never love the lamb, nor the lamb the wolf. Everything must act suitably to its nature. Water cannot but moisten; fire cannot but burn. So likewise the corrupt nature of man being possessed with an invincible contrariety and enmity to God, will never suffer him to comply with God. And the inclinations of a sinner to sin, being more strengthened by the frequency of sinful acts, have as great a power over him and as natural to him as any qualities are to natural agents. And being stronger than any sympathies in the world, [this nature] cannot, by a man’s own power, or the power of any other nature equal to it, be turned into a contrary channel.

  3. Nothing can act beyond its own principle and nature.

Nothing in the world can raise itself to a higher rank of being than that which nature has placed it in. A spark cannot make itself a star, though it mount a little up to heaven; nor a plant endue itself with sense, nor a beast adorn itself with reason; nor a man make himself an angel. Thorns cannot bring forth grapes, nor thistles produce figs because such fruits are above the nature of those plants. So neither can our corrupt nature bring forth grace, which is a fruit above it. Effectus non excedit virtutem suae causae [the effect cannot exceed the power of its cause]. [Since] grace is more excellent than nature, therefore it cannot be the fruit of nature. It is Christ’s conclusion: “How can you, being evil, speak good things?” (Matthew 12:33, 34). Not so much as the buds and blossoms of words, much less the fruit of actions. They can no more change their natures, than a viper can do away with his poison.

Now though this I have said be true, yet there is nothing which man does in the world that has more effect than a self-sufficiency and an independence from any other power but his own. This attitude is as much riveted in his nature, as any other false principle whatsoever. For man does derive it from his first parents, as the prime legacy bequeathed to his nature: for it was the first thing uncovered in man at his fall—that he would be as God, independent from him. Now God, to cross this principle, allows his elect, like Lazarus, to lie in the grave till they stink, that there may be no excuse to ascribe their resurrection to their own power. If a putrefied rotten carcass should be brought to life, it could never be thought that it inspired itself with that active principle. God lets men run on so far in sin, that they do unman themselves, that he may proclaim to all the world, that we are unable to do anything of ourselves towards our recovery, without a superior principle.

Consider the following evidence:

  1. Man’s subjection under sin.

He is “sold under sin,” (Rom. 7:14), and brought “into captivity to the law of sin,” (Rom. 7:23). [He speaks of the] “Law of sin”— that sin seems to have a legal authority over him; and man is not only a slave to one sin, but many, (Titus 3:3), “serving divers lusts.” Now when a man is sold under the power of a thousand lusts, every one of which has an absolute tyranny over him, and rules him as a sovereign by a law. When a man is thus bound by a thousand laws, a thousand cords and fetters, and carried whither his lords please, against the dictates of his own conscience and force of natural light; can any man imagine that his own power can rescue him from the strength of these masters that claim such a right to him, and keep such a force upon him, and have so often baffled his own strength, when he attempted to turn against them?

2. Man’s affection toward sins.

He does not only serve them, but he serves them, and every one of them, with delight and pleasure (Titus 3:3). They were all pleasures, as well as lusts; friends as well as lords. Will any man leave his sensual delights and such sins that please and flatter his flesh? Will a man ever endeavour to run away from those lords whom he serves with affection, having as much delight in being bound a slave to these lusts, as the devil has in binding him? Therefore when you see a man cast away his pleasures, deprive himself of those comfortable things to which his soul was once knit, and walk in paths contrary to corrupt nature, you may search for the cause anywhere, rather than in nature itself. No piece of dirty, muddy clay can form itself into a neat and handsome vessel; no plain piece of timber can fit itself for the building, much less a crooked one. Nor a man that is born blind, give himself sight.

Excerpted and edited from Stephen Charnock, “The Chief of Sinners Saved.”

Copyright Jim Ehrhard, 1999. You are permitted to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author; (2) any modifications are clearly marked; (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction; and (4) you do not make more than 100 copies without permission. If you would like to post this material to your web site or make any use other than as defined above, please contact Teaching Resources International

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Ought not Christ to have suffered these

things; and to enter into his glory?

Luke 24:26.

1. Let us here see the evil of sin. Nothing more fit to show the baseness of sin, and the greatness of the misery by it, than the satisfaction due for it; as the greatness of a disease is seen by the force of the medicine, and the value of the commodity by the greatness of the price it cost The sufferings of Christ express the evil of sin, far above the severest judgments upon any creature, both in regard of the greatness of the person, and the bitterness of the suffering. The dying groans of Christ show the horrible nature of sin in the eye of God; as he was greater than the world, so his sufferings declare sin to be the greatest evil in the world. How evil is that sin that must make God bleed to cure it! To see the Son of God haled to death for sin, is the greatest piece of justice that ever God executed. The earth trembled under the weight of God’s wrath when he punished Christ, and the heavens were dark as though they were shut to him, and he cries and groans, and no relief appears; nothing but sin was the procuring meritorious cause of this.

The Son of God was slain by the sin of the fallen creature; had there been any other way to expiate so great an evil, had it stood with the honor of God, who is inclined to pardon, to remit sin without a compensation by death, we cannot think he would have consented that his Son should undergo so great a suffering. Not all the powers in heaven and earth could bring us into favor again, without the death of some great sacrifice to preserve the honor of God’s veracity and justice; not the gracious interposition of Christ, without becoming mortal, and drinking in the vials of wrath, could allay divine justice; not his intercessions, without enduring the strokes due to us, could remove the misery of the fallen creature. All the holiness of Christ’s life, his innocence and good works, did not redeem us without death. It was by this he made an atonement for our sins, satisfied the revenging justice of his Father, and recovered us from a spiritual and inevitable death. How great were our crimes, that could not be wiped off by the works of a pure creature, or the holiness of Christ’s life, but required the effusion of the blood of the Son of God for the discharge of them! Christ in his dying was dealt with by God as a sinner, as one standing in our stead, otherwise he could not have been subject to death. For he had no sin of his own, and “death is the wages of sin,” Rom. 6:23. It had not consisted with the goodness and righteousness of Cod as Creator, to afflict any creature with out a cause, nor with his infinite love to his Son to bruise him for nothing. Some moral evil must therefore be the cause; for no physical evil is inflicted without some moral evil preceding. Death, being a punishment, supposeth a fault Christ, having no crime of his own, must then be a sufferer for ours: “Our sins were laid upon him,” Isa. 53:6, or transferred upon him. We see then how hateful sin is to God, and therefore it should be abominable to us. We should view sin in the sufferings of the Redeemer, and then think it amiable if we can.

Shall we then nourish sin in our hearts? This is to make much of the nails that pierced his hands, and the thorns that pricked his head, and make his dying groans the matter of our pleasure. It is to pull down a Christ that hath suffered, to suffer again; a Christ that is raised, and ascended, sitting at the right hand of God, again to the earth; to lift him upon another cross, and overwhelm him in a second grave. Our hearts should break at the consideration of the necessity of his death. We should open the heart of our sins by repentance, as the heart of Christ was opened by the spear. This does an Ought not Christ to die? teach us.

2. Let us not set up our rest in anything in ourselves, not in anything below a dying Christ; not in repentance or reformation. Repentance is a condition of pardon, not a satisfaction of justice; it sometimes moves the divine goodness to turn away judgment, but it is no compensation to divine justice. There is not that good in repentance as there is wrong in the sin repented of, and satisfaction must have something of equality, both to the injury and the person injured; the satisfaction that is enough for a private person wronged is not enough for a justly offended prince; for the greatness of the wrong mounts by the dignity of the person. None can be greater than God, and therefore no offense can be so full of evil as offenses against God; and shall a few tears be sufficient in any one’s thoughts to wipe them off? The wrong done to God by sin is of a higher degree than to be compensated by all the good works of creatures, though of the highest elevation. Is the repentance of any soul so perfect as to be able to answer the punishment the justice of God requires in the law? And what if the grace of God help us in our repentance? It cannot be concluded from thence that our pardon is formally procured by repentance, but that we are disposed by it to receive and value a pardon. It is not congruous to the wisdom and righteousness of God to bestow pardons upon obstinate rebels. Repentance is nowhere said to expiate sin; a “broken heart is called a sacrifice,” Ps. 51:17, but not a propitiatory one. David’s sin was expiated before he penned that psalm, 2 Sam. 12:13.

Though a man could weep as many tears as there are drops of water contained in the ocean, send up as many volleys of prayers as there have been groans issuing from any creature since the foundation of the world; though he could bleed as many drops from his heart as have been poured out from the veins of sacrificed beasts, both in Judea and all other parts of the world; though he were able, and did actually bestow in charity all the metals in the mines of Peru: yet could not this absolve him from the least guilt, nor cleanse him from the least filth, nor procure the pardon of the least crime by any intrinsic value in the acts themselves; the very acts, as well as the persons, might fall under the censure of consuming justice. The death of Christ only procures us life. The blood of Christ only doth quench that just fire sin had kindled in the breast of God against us. To aim at any other way for the appeasing of God, than the death of Christ, is to make the cross of Christ of no effect. This we are to learn from an Ought not Christ to die?

3. Therefore, let us be sensible of the necessity of an interest in the Redeemer’s death. Let us not think to drink the waters of salvation out of our own cisterns, but out of Christ’s wounds. Not to draw life out of our own dead duties, but Christ’s dying groans. We have guilt, can we expiate it ourselves? We are under justice. Can we appease it by any thing we can do? There is an enmity between God and us. Can we offer him anything worthy to gain his friendship? Our natures are corrupted, can we heal them? Our services are polluted, can we cleanse them? There is as great a necessity for us to apply the death of Christ for all those, as there was for him to undergo it. The leper was not cleansed and cured by the shedding the blood of the sacrifice for him, but the sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice upon him, Lev. 14: 7. As the death of Christ was foretold as the meritorious cause, so the sprinkling of his blood was foretold as the formal cause of our happiness, Isa. 52:15. By his own blood, he entered into heaven and glory, and by nothing but his blood can we have the boldness to expect it, or the confidence to attain it, Heb. 10:19. The whole doctrine of the gospel of Christ crucified, 1 Cor. 1:23, and the whole confidence of a Christian should be Christ crucified. God would not have mercy exercised with a neglect of justice by man, though to a miserable client: Lev. 19:15, “Thou shalt not respect the person of the poor in judgment.” Shall God who is infinitely just, neglect rule himself? No man is an object of mercy till he presents a satisfaction to justice. As there is a perfection in God, which we call mercy, which exacts faith and repentance of his creature before he will bestow a pardon, so there is another perfection of vindictive justice that requires also the content of his justice.

The fallen angels, therefore, have no mercy granted to them, because none ever satisfied the justice of God for them. Let us not, therefore, coin new ways of procuring pardon, and false modes of appeasing the justice of God. What can we find besides this, able to contend against everlasting burnings? What refuge can there be besides this to shelter us from the fierceness of divine wrath? Can our tears and prayers be more prevalent than the cries and tears of Christ, who could not, by all the strength of them, divert death from himself, without our eternal loss? No way but faith in his blood. God in the gospel sends us to Christ, and Christ by the gospel brings us to God.

4. Let us value this Redeemer, and redemption by his death. Since God was resolved to see his Son plunged into an estate of disgraceful emptiness, clothed with the form of a servant, and exposed to the sufferings of a painful cross, rather than leave sin unpunished, we should never think of it without thankful returns, both to the judge and the sacrifice. What was he afflicted for, but to procure our peace? bruised for, but to heal our wounds? brought before an earthly judge to be condemned, but that we might be brought before a heavenly judge to be absolved? fell under the pains of death, but to knock off from us the shackles of hell? and became accursed in death, but that we might be blessed with eternal life? Without this our misery had been irreparable, our distance from God perpetual. What commerce could we have had with God, while we were separated from him by crimes on our part, and justice on his? The wall must be broken down, death must be suffered, that justice might be silenced, and the goodness of God be again communicative to us.

This was the wonder of divine love, to be pleased with the sufferings of his only Son, that he might be pleased with us upon the account of those sufferings. Our redemption in such a way, as by the death and blood of Christ, was not a bare grace. It had been so, had it been only redemption; but being a redemption by the blood of God, it deserves from the apostle no less a title than riches of grace, Eph. 1:7. And it deserves and expects no less from us than such high acknowledgments. This we may learn from Ought not Christ to die.

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The blood of Jesus Christ. By this is meant that the last act in the tragedy of his life, his blood being the ransom of our souls, the price of our redemption, and the expiation of our sin. The shedding of his blood was the highest and most excellent part of obedience, Phil. 2:8. His whole life was a continual suffering, but his death was the top and complement of his obedience, for in that he manifested the greatest love to God and the highest charity to man. The expiatory sacrifices under the law were always bloody, death was to be endured for sin, and blood is the life of the creature; the blood or death of Christ is the cause of our justification.

His Son. His sonship makes his blood valuable. It is blood, and so agreeable to the law in the penalty; it is the blood of the Son of God, and therefore always acceptable to the lawgiver in its value. Though it was the blood of humanity, yet the merit of it was derived from the divinity. It is not his blood as he was the son of the virgin, but his blood as he was the Son of God, which had its sovereign virtue. It is no wonder, therefore, that it should have the mighty efficacy to cleanse the believers in it, in all ages of the world, from such vast heaps if guilt, since it is the blood of Christ, who was God; and valuable, not so much for the greatness of the punishment whereby it was shed, as the dignity of the person from whom it flowed. One Son of God weighs more than millions of worlds of angels.

Cleanseth. Cleansing and purging are terms used in Scripture for justifying as well as sanctifying. The apostle interprets washing of both those acts: 1 Cor. 6:1, “But you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”

The blood of Christ cleanseth:

1. It hath a virtue to cleanse. It does not cleanse all, but only those who believe. . . . There is a sufficiency in it to cleanse all, and there is an efficacy in it to cleanse those that have recourse to it. As when we say a medicine purgeth such a humour, we understand it of virtue and quality of the medicine, not that it purgeth unless it be taken in, or otherwise applied to the distempered person.

2. The blood of Christ cleanseth, not hath cleansed or shall cleanse. This notes a continued act. There is a perpetual pleading of it for us, a continual flowing of it to us.

3. The blood of Christ cleanseth. The apostle joins nothing with this blood. It hath the sole and sovereign virtue. There is no need of tainted merits, unbloody sacrifices, and terrifying purgatories. The whole of cleansing is ascribed to this blood, not anything to our righteousness or works.

4. The blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin. It is an universal remedy. . . . It absolves from the guilt of sin, and shelters from the wrath of God. The distinctions of venial and mortal sins hath no footing here; no sin but is mortal without it, no sin so venial but needs it. This blood purgeth not some sort of sins, and leaves the rest to be expiated by a purgatory fire. This expression of the apostle, of all sin, is water enough to quench all the flames of purgatory that Rome hath kindled.

When the apostle, Heb. 10:14, tells, “That by one offering he has for ever perfected them that are sanctified,” he placeth this perfection in the remission of sin (vv. 17-18). He did in offering himself so transact our affairs, and settle our concerns with God, that there was no need of any other offerings to eke it out or to patch it up. As the blood of the typical sacrifices purified from ceremonial, so the blood of the anti-typical offering purifies from moral uncleanness. The Scripture places remission wholly in this blood of the Redeemer.

Excerpted and edited from “A Discourse of the Cleansing Virtue of Christ’s Blood.”

The current formatting and editing is copyrighted by Jim Ehrhard, 1999. You are permitted to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author; (2) any modifications are clearly marked; (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction; and (4) you do not make more than 100 copies without permission. If you would like to post this material to your web site or make any use other than as defined above, please contact Teaching Resources International

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