« Prev Chapter X. The Double Reconciliation. Next »

131

CHAPTER X.

THE DOUBLE RECONCILIATION.

“For He is our peace, who made both one, and brake down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that He might create in Himself of the twain one new man, so making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and He came and preached good tidings of peace to you that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh: for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father.”—Eph. ii. 14–18.

Peace, peace—to the far off, and to the near! Such was God’s promise to His scattered people in the times of the exile (Isai. lvii. 19). St Paul sees that peace of God extending over a yet wider field, and terminating a longer and sadder banishment than the prophet had foreseen. Christ is “our peace”—not for the divided members of Israel alone, but for all the tribes of men. He brings about a universal pacification.

There were two distinct, but kindred enmities to be overcome by Christ, in preaching to the world His good tidings of peace (ver. 17). There was the hostility of Jew and Gentile, which was removed in its cause and principle when Christ “in His flesh” (by His incarnate life and death) “abolished the law of commandments in decrees”—i.e., the law of Moses as it constituted a body of external precepts determining the 132 way of righteousness and life. This abolition of the law by the evangelical principle “dissolved the middle wall of partition.” The occasion of quarrel between Israel and the world was destroyed; the barrier disappeared that had for so long fenced off the privileged ground of the sons of Abraham (vv. 14, 15). But behind this human enmity, underneath the feud and rancour existing between the Jews and the nations, there lay the deeper quarrel of mankind with God. Both enmities centred in the law; both were slain by one stroke, in the reconciliation of the cross (ver. 16).

The Jewish and Gentile peoples formed two distinct types of humanity. Politically, the Jews were insignificant and had scarcely counted amongst the great powers of the world. Their religion alone gave them influence and importance. Bearing his inspired Scriptures and his Messianic hope, the wandering Israelite confronted the vast masses of heathenism and the splendid and fascinating classical civilization with the proudest sense of his superiority. To his God he knew well that one day every knee would bow and every tongue confess. The circumstances of the time deepened his isolation and aggravated to internecine hate his spite against his fellow-men, the adversus omnes alios hostile odium stigmatized by the incisive pen of Tacitus. Within three years of the writing of this letter the Jewish war against Rome broke out, when the enmity culminated in the most appalling and fateful overthrow recorded in the pages of history. Now, it is this enmity at its height—the most inveterate and desperate one can conceive—that the apostle proposes to reconcile; nay, that he sees already slain by the sacrifice of the cross, and within the brotherhood of the Christian Church. It was slain in the heart 133 of Saul of Tarsus, the proudest that beat in Jewish breast.

In his earlier writings the apostle has been concerned chiefly to guard the position and rights of the two parties within the Church. He has abundantly maintained, especially in the epistle to the Galatians, the claims of Gentile believers in Christ against Judaic assumptions and impositions. He has defended the just prerogative of the Jew and his hereditary sentiments from the contempt to which they were sometimes exposed on the part of the Gentile majority.8989   See to this effect such passages as Rom. i. 16 (to the Jew first), ix. 4, 5; and especially xi. 13–32. But now that this has been done, and that Gentile liberties and Jewish dignity have been vindicated and safeguarded on both sides, St Paul advances a step further: he seeks to amalgamate the Jewish and Gentile section of the Church, and to “make of the twain one new man, so making peace.” This, he declares, was the end of Christ’s mission; this a chief purpose of His atoning death. Only by such union, only through the burying of the old enmity slain on the cross, could His Church be built up to its completeness. St Paul would have Gentile and Jewish believers everywhere forget their differences, efface their party lines, and merge their independence in the oneness of the all-embracing and all-perfecting Church of Jesus Christ, God’s habitation in the Spirit. Instead of saying that a catholic ideal like this belongs to a later and post-apostolic age, we maintain, on the contrary, that a catholic mind like St Paul’s, under the conditions of his time, could not fail to arrive at this conception.

It was his confidence in the victory of the cross over all strife and sin that sustained St Paul through 134 these years of captivity. As he looks out from his Roman prison, under the shadow of Nero’s palace, the future is invested with a radiance of hope that makes the heart of the chained apostle exult within him. The world is lost, to all outward seeming: he knows it is saved! Jew and Gentile are about to close in mortal conflict: he proclaims peace between them, assured of their reconcilement, and knowing that in their reunion the salvation of human society is assured.

The enmity of Jew and Gentile was representative of all that divides mankind. In it were concentrated most of the causes by which society is rent asunder. Along with religion, race, habits, tastes and culture, moral tendencies, political aspirations, interests of trade, all helped to widen the breach. The cleavage ran deep into the foundations of life; the enmity was the growth of two thousand years. It was not a case of local friction, nor a quarrel arising from temporary causes. The Jew was ubiquitous, and everywhere was an alien and an irritant to Gentile society. No antipathy was so hard to subdue. The grace that conquers it, can and will conquer all enmities.

St Paul’s view embraced, in fact, a world-wide reconcilement. He contemplates, as the Hebrew prophets themselves did, the fraternization of mankind under the rule of the Christ. After this scale he laid down the foundation of the Church, “wise master-builder” that he was. It was destined to bear the weight of an edifice in which all the races of men should dwell together, and every order of human faculty should find its place. His thoughts were not confined within the Judaic antithesis. “There is no Jew and Greek,” he says in another place; yes, and “no barbarian, Scythian, 135 bondman, freeman, male or female. Ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”9090   Gal. iii. 28; Col. iii. 11. Comp. John x. 16, xi. 52. See The Epistle to the Galatians (Expositor’s Bible), Chapter XV. Birth, rank, office in the Church, culture, even sex are minor and subordinate distinctions, merged in the unity of redeemed souls in Christ. That which He “creates in Himself of the twain” is one new man—one incorporate humanity, neither Jew nor Gentile, Englishman nor Hindu, priest nor layman, male nor female; but simply man, and Christian.

At the present time we are better able to enter into these views of the apostle than at any intervening period of history. In his day almost the whole visible world, lying round the Mediterranean shores, was brought under the government and laws of Rome. This fact made the establishment of one religious polity a thing quite conceivable. The Roman empire did not, as it proved, allow Christianity to conquer it soon enough and to leaven it sufficiently to save it. That huge construction, the mightiest fabric of human polity, fell and covered the earth with its ruins. In its fall it reacted disastrously upon the Church, and has bequeathed to it the corrupt and despotic unity of Papal Rome. Now, in these last days, the whole world is opened to the Church, a world stretching far beyond the horizon of the first century. Science and Commerce, those two strong-winged angels and giant ministers of God, are swiftly binding the continents together in material ties. The peoples are beginning to realize their brotherhood, and are feeling their way in many directions towards international union; while in the Churches a new, federal catholicity is taking shape, that must displace the false catholicism of external uniformity and the disastrous absolutism inherited 136 from Rome. The spread of European empire and the marvellous expansion of our English race are carrying forward the world’s unification with enormous strides,—towards some end or other. What end is this to be? Is the kingdom of the world about to become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ? and are the nations preparing to be “reconciled in one body unto God”?

If Christendom were worthy of her Master and her name, this question would be answered with no doubtful affirmative. The Church is well able, if she were prepared, to go up and possess the whole earth for her Lord. The way is open; the means are in her hand. Nor is she ignorant, nor wholly negligent of her opportunity and of the claims that the times impose upon her. She is putting forth new strength and striving to overtake her work, notwithstanding the weight of ignorance and sloth that burdens her. Soon the reconciling cross will be planted on every shore, and the praises of the Crucified sung in every human language.

But there are dark as well as bright auguries for the future. The advance of commerce and emigration has been a curse and not a blessing to many heathen peoples. Who can read without shame and horror the story of European conquest in America? And it is a chapter not yet closed. Greed and injustice still mark the dealings of the powerful and civilized with the weaker races. England set a noble example in the abolition of negro slavery; but she has since inflicted, for purposes of gain, the opium curse on China, putting poison to the lips of its vast population. Under our Christian flags fire-arms are imported, and alcohol, amongst tribes of men less able than children to resist their evils. Is this “preaching peace to those far off”? 137 It is likely that the commercial profits made in the destruction of savage races as yet exceed all that our missionary societies have spent in saving them. One of these days Almighty God may have a stern reckoning with modern Europe about these things. “When He maketh inquisition for blood, He will remember.”

And what shall we say of ourselves at home, in our relation to this great principle of the apostle? The old “middle wall of partition,” the temple-barrier that sundered Jew and Gentile, is “broken down,”—visibly levelled by the hand of God when Jerusalem fell, as it had been virtually and in its principle destroyed by the work of Christ. But are there no other middle walls, no barriers raised within the fold of Christ? The rich man’s purse, and the poor man’s penury; aristocratic pride, democratic bitterness and jealousy; knowledge and refinement on the one hand, ignorance and rudeness on the other—how thick the veil of estrangement which these influences weave, how high the party walls which they build in our various Church communions!

It is the duty of the Church, as she values her existence, with gentle but firm hands to pull down and to keep down all such partitions. She cannot abolish the natural distinctions of life. She cannot turn the Jew into a Gentile, nor the Gentile into a Jew. She will never make the poor man rich in this world, nor the rich man altogether poor. Like her Master, she declines to be “judge or divider” of our secular inheritance. But she can see to it that these outward distinctions make no difference in her treatment of the men as men. She can combine in her fellowship all grades and orders, and teach them to understand and respect each other. She can soften the asperities and relieve many of the hardships which social differences 138 create. She can diffuse a healing and purifying influence upon the contentions of society around her.

Let us labour unweariedly for this, and let our meeting at the Lord’s table be a symbol of the unreserved communion of men of all classes and conditions in the brotherhood of the redeemed sons of God. “He is our peace”; and if He is in our hearts, we must needs be sons of peace. “Behold the secret of all true union! It is not by others coming to us, nor by our going over to them; but it is by both them and ourselves coming to Christ” that peace is made (Monod).

Thus within and without the Church the work of atonement will advance, with Christ ever for its preacher (ver. 17). He speaks through the words and the lives of His ten thousand messengers,—men of every order, in every age and country of the earth. The leaven of Christ’s peace will spread till the lump is leavened. God will accomplish His purpose of the ages, whether in our time, or in another worthier of His calling. His Church is destined to be the home of the human family, the universal liberator and instructor and reconciler of the nations. And Christ shall sit enthroned in the loyal worship of the federated peoples of the earth.


But the question remains: What is the foundation, what the warrant of this grand idealism of the apostle Paul? Many a great thinker, many an ardent reformer before and since has dreamed of some such millennium as this. And their enthusiastic plans have ended too often in conflict and destruction. What surer ground of confidence have we in Paul’s undertaking than in those of so many gifted visionaries and philosophers? The difference lies here: his expectation rests on the 139 word and character of God; his instrument of reform is the cross of Jesus Christ.

God is the centre of His own universe. Any reconciliation that is to stand, must include Him first of all. Christ reconciled Jew and Gentile “both in one body to God.” There is the meeting point, the true focus of the orbit of human life, that can alone control its movements and correct its wild aberrations. Under the shadow of His throne of justice, in the arms of His fatherly love, the kindreds of the earth will at last find reconciliation and peace. Humanitarian and secularist systems make the simple mistake of ignoring the supreme Factor in the scheme of things; they leave out the All in all.

“Be ye reconciled to God,” cries the apostle. For Almighty God has had a great quarrel with this world of ours. The hatred of men towards each other is rooted in the “carnal mind which is enmity against God.” The “law of commandments contained in ordinances,” in whose possession the Jew boasted over the lawless and profane Gentile, in reality branded both as culprits.

The secret disquiet and dread lurking in man’s conscience, the pangs endured in his body of humiliation, the groaning frame of nature declare the world unhinged and out of course. Things have gone amiss, somehow, between man and his Creator. The face of the earth and the field of human history are scarred with the thunderbolts of His displeasure. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the King of the ages, is not the amiable, almighty Sentimentalist that some pious people would make Him out to be. The men of the Bible felt and realized, if we do not, the grave and tremendous import of the Lord’s controversy with all flesh. He is unceasingly at war 140 with the sins of men. “God is love”—oh yes; but then He is also “a consuming fire”! There is no anger so crushing as the anger of love, for there is none so just; no wrath to be feared like “the wrath of the Lamb.” God is not a man, weak and passionate, whom a spark of anger might set all on fire, burning out His justice and compassion. “In His wrath He remembers mercy.” Within that infinite nature there is room for an absolute loathing and resentment towards sin, in consistence with an immeasurable pity and yearning towards His sinful children. Hence the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Look at it from what side you will (and it has many sides), propound it in what terms you may (and it translates itself anew into the dialect of every age), you must not explain the cross of Christ away nor cause its offence to cease. “The atonement has always been a scandal and a folly to those who did not receive it; it has always contained something which to formal logic is false and to individualistic ethics immoral; yet in that very element which has been branded as immoral and false, has always lain the seal of its power and the secret of its truth.” The Holy One of God, the Lamb without spot and blemish, He died by His own consent a sinner’s death. That sacrifice, undergone by the Son of God and Son of man dying as man for men, in love to His race and in obedience to the Divine will and law, gave an infinite satisfaction to God in His relation to the world, and there went up to the Divine throne from the anguish of Calvary a “savour of sweet smell.” The moral glory of the act of Jesus Christ in dying for His guilty brethren outshone its horror and disgrace; and it redeemed man’s lost condition, and clothed human nature with a new character and aspect 141 in the eyes of God Himself. “Now therefore there is no more condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” The mercy of God, if we may so say, is set free to act in forgiveness and restoration, without any compromise of justice and inflexible law. No peace without this: no peace that did not satisfy God, and satisfy that law, deep as the deepest in God, that binds suffering to wrong-doing and death to sin.

Perhaps you say: This is immoral, surely, that the just should suffer for the unjust; that one commits the offence, and another bears the penalty.—Stay a moment: that is only half the truth. We are more than individuals; we are members of a race; and vicarious suffering runs through life. Our sufferings and wrong-doings bind the human family together in an inextricable web. We are communists in sin and death. It is the law and lot of our existence. And Christ, the Lord and centre of the race, has come within its scope. He bound Himself to our sinking fortunes. He became co-partner in our lost estate, and has redeemed it to God by His blood. If He was true and perfect man, if He was the creative Head and Mediator of the race, the eternal Firstborn of many brethren, He could do no other. He who alone had the right and the power,—“One died for all.” He took upon His Divine heart the sin and curse of the world, He fastened it to His shoulders with the cross; and He bore it away from Caiaphas’ hall and Pilate’s judgement-seat, away from guilty Jerusalem; He took away the sin of the world, and expiated it once for all. He quenched in His blood the fires of wrath and hate it kindled. He slew the enmity thereby.


Still, we are individuals, as you said, not lost after 142 all in the world’s solidarity. Here your personal right and will must come in. What Christ has done for you is yours, so far as you accept it. He has died your death beforehand, trusting that you would not repudiate His act, that you would not let His blood be spilt in vain. But He will never force His mediation upon you. He respects your freedom and your manhood. Do you now endorse what Jesus Christ did on your behalf? Do you renounce the sin, and accept the sacrifice? Then it is yours, from this moment, before the tribunal of God and of conscience. By the witness of His Spirit you are proclaimed a forgiven and reconciled man. Christ crucified is yours—if you will have Him, if you will identify your sinful self with the sinless Mediator, if as you see Him lifted up on the cross you will let your heart cry out, “Oh my God, He dies for me!”

Coming “in one Spirit to the Father,” the reconciled children join hands again with each other. Social barriers, caste feelings, family feuds, personal quarrels, national antipathies, alike go down before the virtue of the blood of Jesus.

“Neither passion nor pride

His cross can abide,

But melt in the fountain that streams from His side!”

“Beloved,” you will say to the man that hates or has wronged you most,—“Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” In these simple words of the apostle John lies the secret of universal peace, the hope of the fraternization of mankind. Nations will have to say this one day, as well as men.


« Prev Chapter X. The Double Reconciliation. Next »





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |