32547 When old passes away
"For the love of Christ constrains us."
—II Cor. 5:14
Of all the features of St. Paul's character, untiring activity was the most striking. From Paul's early history, which tells us of his personal exertions in wasting the infant Church, when he was a "blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious", it is quite obvious that this was the prominent characteristic of his natural mind. But when it pleased the Lord Jesus Christ to show forth in him all long-suffering, and to make him a pattern to them which should afterwards believe on Him, it is beautiful and most instructive to see how the natural features of this daringly bad man became not only sanctified, but invigorated and enlarged; so true it is that they that are in Christ are a new creation: "Old things pass away, and all things become new". "Troubled on every side, yet not distressed; cast down, but not destroyed"; this was a faithful picture of the life of the converted Paul. Knowing the terrors of the Lord, and the fearful situation of all who were yet in their sins, he made it the business of his life to persuade men; striving if, by any means, he might commend the truth to their consciences. "For (he says) whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God; or whether we be sober, it is for your cause" (verse 13).
Whether the world think us wise or mad, the cause of God and of human souls is the cause in which we have embarked all the energies of our being. Who, then, is not ready to inquire into the secret spring of all these supernatural labours? Who would not desire to have heard from the lips of Paul the mighty principle that impelled him through so many toils and dangers? What magic spell had taken possession of this mighty mind, or what unseen planetary influence, with unceasing power, drew him on through all discouragements, indifferent alike to the world's dread laugh, and the fear of man; careless alike of the sneer of the sceptical Athenian, of the frown of the luxurious Corinthian, and the rage of the narrow-minded Jew? What does the apostle say himself? We have his own explanation of the mystery in the words before us: "The love of Christ constraineth us".
I. CHRIST'S CONSTRAINING LOVE
That Christ's love to man is here intended, and not our love to the Saviour, is quite obvious, from the explanation which follows, where His dying for all is pointed to as the instance of His love. It was the view of that strange compassion of the Saviour, moving Him to die for His enemies, to bear double for all their sins, to taste death for every man; It was this view which gave Paul the impulse in every labour, which made all suffering light to him, and every commandment not grievous. He "ran with patience the race that was set before him". Why? Because, looking unto Jesus, he lived a man "crucified unto the world, and the world crucified unto him". By what means? By looking to the cross of Christ.
As the natural sun in the heavens exercises a mighty and unceasing attractive energy on the planets which circle round it, so did the Sun of Righteousness, which had indeed arisen on Paul with a brightness above that of noon-day, exercise on his mind a continual and an almighty energy, constraining him to live henceforth no more unto himself, but to Him that died for him and rose again. And observe, that it was no temporary, fitful energy, which it exerted over his heart and life, but an abiding and a continued attraction; for he does not say that the love of Christ did once constrain him; or that it shall yet constrain him; or that in times of excitement, in seasons of prayer, or peculiar devotion, the love of Christ was wont to constrain hem. He said simply, that the love of Christ constrains him. It is the ever-present, ever-abiding, ever-moving power, which forms the mainspring of all his working; so that, take that away, and his energies are gone, and Paul is become weak as other men.
Is there no one reading this whose heart is longing to possess just such a master-principle? Is there no one who has arrived at that most interesting of all the stages of conversion in which you are panting after a power to make you new? You have entered in at the straight gate of believing. You have seen that there is no peace to the unjustified; and therefore you have put on Christ for your righteousness; and already you feel something of the joy and peace of believing. You can look back on your past life, spent without God in the world, and without Christ in the world, and without the Spirit in the world; you can see yourself a condemned outcast, and you say: "Though I should wash my hands in snow-water, yet mine own clothes would abhor me". You can do all this, with shame and self-reproach, it is true, but yet without dismay, and without despair; for your eye has been lifted believingly to Him who was made sin for us, and you are persuaded that, as it please God to count all your iniquities to the Saviour, so He is willing, and has always been willing, to count all the Saviour's righteousness to you. Without despair, did I say? Nay, with joy and singing; for if, indeed, you believe with all your heart, then you are come to the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness without works; which David describes, saying: "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity."
This is the peace of the justified man. But is this peace a state of perfect blessedness? Is there nothing left to be desired? I appeal to those of you who know what it is to be just by believing. What is it that still clouds the brow, that represses the exulting of the spirit? Why might we not always join in the song of thanksgiving: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all he benefits: who forgiveth all thine iniquities"! If we have received double for all our sins, why should it ever be needful for us to argue as does the psalmist: "Why art thou cast down, O my soul: and why are thou disquieted within me?". My friends there is not a man among you who has really believed, who has not felt the disquieting thought of which I am now speaking. There may be some of you who have felt it so painfully, that it has obscured, as with a heavy cloud, the sweet light of gospel peace, the shining in of the reconciled countenance upon the soul. the thought is this: "I am a justified man; but, alas! I am not a sanctified man. I can look at my past life without despair; but how can I look forward to what is to come?".
There is not a more picturesque moral landscape in the universe than such a soul presents. Forgiven all trespasses that are past, the eye looks inward with a clearness and an impartiality unknown before, and there it gazes upon its long-fostered affections for sin, which, like ancient rivers, have worn a deep channel into the heart; its periodic returns of passion, hitherto irresistible and overwhelming, like the tides of the ocean; its perversities of temper and of habit, crooked and unyielding, like the gnarled branches of a stunted oak. What a scene is here; what anticipation of the future! What forebodings of a vain struggle against the tyranny of lust! Against old trains of acting, and of speaking, and of thinking! Were it not that the hope of the glory of God is one of the chartered rights of the justified man, who would be surprised if this view of terror were to drive a man back, like a dog to his vomit, or the sow that was washed to wallow again in the mire?
Now it is to the man precisely in this situation, crying out at morning and at evening, How shall I be made new? What good shall the forgiveness of my past sins do me, if I be not delivered from the love of sin? - it is to that man that we would now, with all earnestness and affection, point out the example of Paul, and the secret power which wrought in him. "The love of Christ" (says Paul) "constraineth us." We, too, are men of like passions with yourselves; that same sight which you view with dismay within you, was in like manner revealed to us in all its discouraging power. Ever and anon the same hideous view of our own hearts is opened up to us. But we have an encouragement which never fails. The love of the bleeding Saviour constrains us. The Spirit is given to them that believe; and that almighty agent has one argument that moves us continually - the love of Christ.
My present object is to show how this argument, in the hand of the Spirit, does move the believer to live unto God; how so simple a truth as the love of Christ to man, continually presented to the mind by the Holy Ghost, should enable any man to live a life of gospel holiness. If there be one man among you whose great inquiry is: How shall I be saved from sin, how shall I walk as a child of God? that is the man of all others, whose ear and heart I am anxious to engage.