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To feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
ACT9, xx. 28.
Paul, in his return from Asia to Judea, came to Miletus, and sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church, to whom he related how he had preached and conducted, while he resided among them. And before he takes his leave of them, he gives them the solemn exhortation in the text : “ Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” He added this last clause to enforce the obligation of the elders to be faithful in feeding those whom Christ, as God, had purchased with his atoning blood, or for whom he had made complete atonement for sin, by his sufferings and death on the cross.
What I propose in the present discourse is, to consider,
I. What the scripture says concerning Christ's purchasing salvation for us.
II. What he actually did to purchase salvation for us.
I. Let us consider what the scripture says in respect to Christ's purchasing salvation for us. The inspired writers often speak upon this subject in language very similar to the phraseology in the text. Christ said to his disciples, “ The Son of
, man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Paul said to Timothy, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all." Paul said to
the Corinthians, “ Ye are bought with a price.” Christ is represented as redeeming men, and they are said to be redeemed by him. Paul said to the Galatians,“ Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." He said to the Ephesians, " In whom,” that is, Christ,“ we have redemption through his blood.” He called the inheritance to which believers are entitled, a “purchased possession.” And John said that he heard the voice of them who actually enjoyed this purchased possession in heaven, “and they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and no man could learn that
song, but the hundred and forty and four thousand who were redeemed from the earth.” Thus it appears from the representations of scripture, that by Christ's purchasing salvation for us, we are to understand his ransoming, redeeming, or buying us with the price of his precious blood. Let us next consider,
II. What Christ actually did, to purchase, to buy, to ransom, and to redeem mankind. Upon this point, the inspired writers give us very full and particular information. It appears that Christ became incarnate, before he did any thing, properly speaking, to purchase salvation for us. He was born perfectly holy, and continued perfectly holy and innocent from his birth to his death. This he manifested by perfect obedience to all the laws to which he was subject.
In the first place, he obeyed the moral law, which he was under as man. Accordingly we read, “ When the fulness of
. time was come, God sent forth his Son made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.” The law required Christ to love his heavenly and human father, and all his brethren of mankind. This law we know he perfectly obeyed, by loving God supremely, by loving and obey. ing his parents, by obeying all in civil authority, and by loving and seeking the good of the whole human race.
In the next place, he obeyed all the laws of his nation. Jew, he was under the Mosaic dispensation, and was bound to obey all the moral, civil and ceremonial laws, which God had given to his people Israel. And it appears from the history of his life, that he did punctually and universally obey them. He read the Bible, he prayed in secret, he prayed in private with his disciples, he kept the Sabbath, he attended public worship, and annually celebrated the Passover, from twelve years old to the night before his death.
In the last place, he perfectly obeyed the mediatorial law which his Father gave him personally. He knew his Father's design in sending him into the world, and the work which he had given him to do, in order to accomplish his great and gracious design. From his childhood, he went about his
Father's business, and obeyed his Father's will, and not his own. In obedience to the mediatorial law, when he was about thirty years of age, he submitted to the rite of baptism, by which he was inaugurated into his priestly office, and prepared for his public ministry. From that time, he went about all Judea, preaching the gospel and working miracles, until in obedience to his Father's particular command, he laid down his life on the cross.
Thus Christ was perfectly obedient, from the beginning to the end of his life, and persevered in obedience amidst the severest conflicts, trials and sufferings. He suffered extreme poverty, and had not where to lay his head. He was despised and rejected of men. He was tempted and buffeted by Satan. He was called a friend of publicans and sinners, and was said to act in concert with the devil. And from the time he had celebrated the last Passover, to the moment of his death, he suffered all the neglect, perfidy, reproach, injustice and cruelty, that the malice and power of man could inflict. He was betrayed by Judas, forsaken by his disciples, denied by Peter, abused by the chief priest, derided by the populace, mocked by Herod, and finally condemned by Pilate to be crucified between two malefactors, as an infamous blasphemer. We are now prepared to consider,
III. In what sense Christ purchased salvation for us, by what he did and suffered.
Divines have preached and written a great deal, concerning Christ's purchasing salvation for us, by what he did and suffered. Some have maintained that he purchased salvation for all mankind. Some have supposed that he purchased salvation for the church, or the elect only. Some have taught that he purchased salvation in a literal sense; but others have supposed that he did not purchase or buy salvation for any. President Edwards, in his History of Redemption, occupies fifty pages in illustrating what he calls the purchase of redemption. And among other things, he says, “ Christ purchased our redemption both by his satisfaction, and his merit. The price Christ lays down, pays our debt, and so satisfies; by its intrinsic value, and by the agreement between the Father and the Son, it procures our title to happiness, and so merits. The satisfaction of Christ is to free us from misery, and the merit of Christ is to purchase happiness for us;" that is, as he expressly and repeatedly declares, for the elect only. This diversity of opinion upon the same subject, makes it a matter of importance to inquire critically and impartially, in what sense Christ did not, and in what sense he did purchase salvation for us. The strict literal meaning of the word purchase, is as well understood as any English word in common use; but the main question before us is to ascertain in what sense the word purchase in the text is to be understood, whether literally or figuratively. Here I would observe,
1. That Christ did not purchase salvation for us in a literal sense. He did not pay our debt of punishment, nor our debt of obedience. Though he suffered in our stead, yet he did not suffer the punishment which we deserve, and which the law threatens to us. He never transgressed the law, and so the law could not threaten any punishment to him. His sufferings were no punishment, and much less our punishment. His sufferings were by no means equal, in degree or duration, to the eternal sufferings that we deserve, and which God has threatened to inflict upon us.
So that he did in no sense bear the penalty of the law, which we have broken and justly deserve. supposing he had suffered the very same things, in degree and duration, that the law threatens to us, yet his sufferings could not pay the debt of punishment which we owe to divine justice. For his sufferings cannot take away our desert of sufferings; and if they cannot take away our desert of suffering, they cannot dissolve our obligation to suffer, nor pay our debt of suffering. We deserve to suffer as much as if Christ had not suffered at all. This we all know is agreeable to truth. Notwithstanding all the scripture says concerning Christ's suffering in our stead, and purchasing salvation for us, we still feel that we deserve to suffer the penalty of the law, which we have broken in our own persons, whether we shall suffer it or not. The debt of suffering is not like a pecuniary debt, which one man may pay for another, and dissolve his obligation to pay it. The price or ransom which Christ paid for our redemption has not diminished our ill desert, nor dissolved our obligation to suffer the due reward of our sins. We are not bound by commutative justice, which respects nothing but property, but we are bound by distributive justice, which consists in rewarding virtue, and punishing sin. Distributive justice towards a transgressor cannot be satisfied by a mulct or fine, but only by personal punishment. Nothing, iherefore, that Christ did or suffered here on earth can satisfy God's distributive justice, or pay the debt of suffering which we owe to him. Christ did not literally purchase, or buy, or ransom, or redeem, mankind from the punishment which they deserved, and which God had in his law threatened to inflict upon them. None of these expressions are to be understood in any other than a figurative sense, in respect to Christ's atonement. His sufferings and death did not literally pay the debt of punishment which we owe to divine justice. Nor did his obedience pay the debt of obedience which we are bound to pay to the divine law. Though Christ was obedient to all the divine commands, through the whole course of his life, and even in his death, yet he obeyed only for himself, and not in the room of mankind, in order to free them from their obligation to obey God personally and perfectly. There was indeed no occasion for his obeying in our room, in order to merit salvation for us. Though God cannot forgive sin without an atonement, yet he can reward sincere obedience without an atonement. After God has pardoned penitent believers, through the atonement of Christ, he can accept and reward them for their cordial obedience, without any atonement. Besides, it was absolutely impossible that Christ should literally merit any thing from the hands of his Father. For in order to merit salvation or eternal life for sinners, he must bring his Father under obligation, in point of justice, to bestow eternal life upon them. But it is impossible for one divine person to bring another divine person under obligation, while both are absolutely independent. One created being can lay another created being under obligation, because one created being may be dependent upon another; but since God the Father is absolutely independent, it is utterly impossible that God the Son should bring him under obligation, in point of justice. It is, therefore, contrary to sound reason to suppose that Christ ever merited any thing at the hands of God, either by his sufferings, or obedience. Hence we are not to understand, by Christ's purchasing salvation for us, that he literally paid either the debt of suffering, or the debt of obedience, which we owed to God. For his death could not merit our deliverance from future punishment, nor his obedience merit eternal life for us. But,
2. By Christ's purchasing salvation for us, or buying, ransoming and redeeming us, we are to understand that he made a proper atonement for sin, which rendered it consistent for God to offer salvation to all mankind, and to bestow it upon all penitent, believing, returning sinners. This he did, not by his obedience or righteousness, but by his blood, or his sufferings and death on the cross. He was personally bound to obey the moral, ceremonial and mediatorial law, to make it appear to the world that he was the true Messiah, who was promised to our first parents immediately after their apostacy. His obedience made no part of his atonement; it was only a prerequisite to qualify him to make it by his death. Many make a distinction between his active and passive obedience; but there is no foundation for this distinction in scripture. His passive obedience had no more tendency to make atonement, ihan his active obedience. All his obedience was precisely of VOL. v.