Ralph Erskine SERMON LX Part I


Ralph Erskine Archive

Ralph Erskine

SERMON LX.

Part I


THE GIVING LOVE OF CHRIST AND THE RECEIVING PROPERTY
OF FAITH.

[The First Sermon on the Text]


This subject was handled in four sermons, preached on sacramental occasions. The first was preached at Stirling, on the preparation-day, before the sacrament there, July 14th, 1789. The second was preached immediately before the action, July 15th. The third was delivered at Kiaclaven, July 30th, The fourth at Burntialand, August 13th, all in the foresaid year.


“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”—Galatians 2:20.


This text is like a stately tree, with so many branches. We may call it a tree of life, and a tree of love. You will find life is the heart of the tree, and love is the root of it. The life of Christ is the heart, and the love of Christ is the root of the tree. There is a wonderful fence about this tree; it seems to be fenced about, as it were, with death, the death of Christ, which we are about to com­memorate. The text begins and ends with it, as that which insures to the believer both this life and this love. How is the believer in­sured of this life of Christ? Why, says he, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.” And how is he insured and assured of this love of Christ? Why, He “loved me, and gave himself for me.”

O! if we could by faith ascend up all the branches of this tree The higher we climb, we will find it always the better and the sweeter.

The first branch of the text is, “I am crucified with Christ.” Why, may one say, the evangelists tells us but of two malefactors that were crucified with Christ and Paul was none of them; nay, by this time he was at the feet of Gamaliel, and not at the foot of the cross on Mount Calvary; and, had he been there, he would rather have helped to crucify him, than yielded to have been crucified with him; for sometime after this, we find him helping to stone the first martyr, Stephen, by consenting to his death; and helping to, crucify Christ in his members, and persecuting them; which made Christ say to him, as he was riding furiously against them to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” How then could Paul be said to be crucified with Christ? This I spoke to formerly; [What the author delivered on this, and some of the following clauses of this verse was never published.] and therefore shall now only add these two considerations,

1. That Christ, on the cross, was not a private, but a public person, representing all his people: so that, when he died and suf­fered, we died and suffered in him. As the first Adam did not sin only for himself, but for all his natural seed that should come of him by ordinary generation; so the second Adam did not die for himself at all, but for all his seed.

2. There is a real, spiritual, and in-dissolvable union between Christ and all his people that believe in him; insomuch that his being crucified is the same as if they had been crucified in their person.

The second branch of the text is, “Nevertheless I live.” It is not an annihilation of being, but a renovation and reformation of my formation of my former being. Though I be crucified and dead, yet I live a new life. I am not what I was, nor whose I was; nor where I was. I am not what I was; I am not Saul the persecutor, but Paul the believer, the professor, the preacher. I am not whose I was; I was Satan's, but now I am Christ's. I am not where I was: I am living in another world, breathing in another air: I live.

The third branch is, “Yet not I.” Not I! Who then? Why, what solemn contradictions are here? I am crucified and dead; then there is an end; for death is the end of all. Nay, but hear him again. Nevertheless I live. Why, this is a short death that is so soon restored to life: or, is he at once and the same time both dead and alive? Yes, Paul is dead, and Paul lives: I live. It is not, I was crucified and dead, but I am crucified with Christ; I am dead, and yet I am living; and yet not I; here is another contradiction, or paradox, not of myself, but by the life of another. No soul can animate this body but my own; yet neither soul nor body can live but by God. Thus doth he annihilate himself that he may magnify his master, and that Christ may be all an all: and so the

Fourth branch of the text is, “Christ liveth in me.” Christ is the root and fountain, of all spiritual life, having it so superabun­dant in himself, that he conveys it to all his members. Christ is said to live in the believer by virtue of the spiritual union, whereby he and they are one Spirit. The soul doth not more properly live in the body, than he doth quicken both soul and body. Christ is the Sun of righteousness to the soul; his absence leaves us dead; his presence revives us; and happy [is] he that can say, Christ liveth in me.

The fifth branch is, “The life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.” I live, and live in the flesh. By flesh he means not the corruption. of nature; for to that he was dead, when crucified with Christ, but the moral body. It is one thing to live in the flesh, another to live to the flesh, or after the flesh. Paul did not lead such a life as he did before; for that was to the flesh; his life now is but in the flesh. In the former state he was dead while he lived; but now, I am alive says he. What a mercy were it, if all here could say, They live, before they go hence, and cease living? It is never too soon to begin to live. But what sort of a life is it? I live, says he by the faith of the Son of God. Here is life, I live; he was very sure of it; for he had said it before, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and here again, I live. Well, here is the means of this life, I live by faith, by the faith of the Son of God. We live primarily and properly by Christ, as the body by the soul; but mediately and instrumentally by faith, as by the spirits which are the bonds of soul and body; He that hath the Son, hath life; he that hath faith hath the Son.

Here further is the designation given to this faith. It is called The faith of the Son of God. It is so denominated, because, 1. He is the revealer of it. Neither nature nor the law could open the door of faith. “Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, (John 1:17, 18); No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” 2. He is the approver and favorer of faith. There is nothing more acceptable to him. When he finds it strong in any, man or woman, he is ready to say, O man, “O woman, great is thy faith; be it to thee even as thou wilt.” 3. He is the Author of faith; he is both the seeker and the giver of it; Faith is the gift of God: and he that calls us to believe, he only works it in us. 4. He is the increaser of it; therefore the disciples pray, Lord, increase our faith. He that gives it gives the increase of it. 5. He is the Finisher of faith; both the founder and finisher, (Heb. 12:2). He that begins this good work, he perfects the work of faith with power. 6. He is the object of faith. Faith desires to know nothing but Christ and him crucified. On these accounts it may be called the faith of the Son of God: where again you have the object of faith described from his glorious person: he is the Son of God, a person of quality, and of such quality as to be equal with God the Father; “Higher than the highest; without beginning and without end; the faithful Wit­ness; the Prince of the kings of the earth; the Alpha and Omega; the beginning and the end; which was, and which is, and which is to come; the Almighty; he who hath on his vesture and on his thigh his name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords.” And then the object of faith is described from his works; “He loved me, and gave himself for me;” which is

The sixth branch of the text. The apostle had, in the proceed­ing words, challenged Christ for his own; I am crucified with Christ and I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, in me. He engrosses, him to himself, as if he was his own, and no man's else. And the life I live is by the faith of the Son of God, who is likewise mine for, He loved me, and gave himself for me. It is the noble art of faith to challenge Christ for its own, and that with an I and me, as if none else were concerned by itself. And hence this whole verse is made up of so many I's and me’s; “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live: yet not I but Christ; Christ lives in me: and the life I live is by faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me;” a short sentence: but the whole scrip­ture, and all evangelical comfort is conceived in it, as if the apostle had studied to wrap up all the words in one word; in which two inestimable jewels are to be found, viz., Christ's love and Christ's gift; He loved me and gave himself for me. Glorious Lover! the Son of God! Gracious act! He loved! And, strange object, whom he loved! me, unlovely me! but how did he evidence his love? Even by the gift he gave. What did he give? Himself. For me, unworthy me! Every word hath weight, and every act of faith hath a me in the bosom of it; Christ lived in me; he loved me; and gave himself for me.

It is this last branch at present I intend to speak upon, having formerly spoke to these preceding ones. What I propose, at the time, is only, first, some explication; and then some application of the words.

I. For explication of the words, we may observe these two things: first, Christ's love, He loved me; and then the proof of it, He gave himself for me.

1st, In the words observe his love. He loved me. Where you may consider these three things, viz., the lover, the act, and the object.

1. The Lover, or the person loving, in the pronoun He; O glorious Lover The Son of God! He loved me. A person of no mean quality. Love is grateful to us from any person; but the greater and worthier the person is, the dearer and more grateful must his love be to us. But who so great as He, who is the Son of God higher than the highest: of equal dignity and greatness with his eternal Father; the King eternal and immortal; without beginning and without end; the first begotten from the dead; the Prince of the kings of the earth; he who is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end; which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty: he that hath upon his vesture and his thigh this name written, “King of kings, and Lord of lords,” (Rev. 19:10). This is the Lover, and his love must, of necessity, be greater than other love; for he himself is the greatest of all. The quality of the person doth commend his exceeding great love. O! who is he! Who is this lover, that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? This that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in his greatness of his strength? Who is this King of glory? who but God manifested in the flesh, and whose going forth was of old, from everlasting, who is this true God and eternal life? He is the omnipresent God, who hath promised his gracious powerful presence in these ordinances, saying, “Lo, I am with you.” He is the omnis­cient God, saying, “I am he that searcheth the heart and trieth the reins.” He is the omnipotent God, “That created the heavens and the earth,” and who is able to save and to damn to the utter­most. O! who is he that Arians dare blaspheme him, and deny his necessary existence, who is the same God with the Father; “I and my father are one?” O! “Who can declare his generation,” who is the only begotten of the Father, and whose name is Jehovah our righteousness; whose name is, I am that I am; whose name is, Immanuel God with us? Here is the person loving.

2. Here is the act, He loved; and he loved becacuse he loved. There is no other reason of his love, but his love: Jacob have I loved: this is all the reason. Love in God, is God himself loving; and therefore it must have all the qualities that belong to the na­ture of God; God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable: therefore his love must be a pure and spiritual love, an infinite and boundless love, eternal and unchangeable love. He loved: O! this act is glorious like himself. His love must be an infinitely wise love; for, he is wisdom; a powerful love, able to bring about all his lovely designs, that infinite wisdom contrives. It must be an infinitely holy love; love accompanied with holiness, love accom­panied with justice, love accompanied with goodness and truth. He is an infinitely true and faithful Lover, and hence Whom he loves, he loves to the end. As his love is accompanied with all divine perfec­tions, so with all loving offices: as a Prophet, his love is teaching love, instructing love, enlightening, directing, counseling, and conducting love. As a Priest, his love is justifying and pardoning love; reconciling, peace-making, and accepting love. As a King, his love is soul-conquering, sin-subduing love. As a Shepherd his love is leading and feeding love. As a surety, his love is debt paying love. As a storehouse, his love is supplying love. As he is a doer, his love is active love. As a sufferer, it is passive love. His love is accompanied with all loving relations: as a father, it is pitying love: as a husband, it is che­rishing love. As a physician, it is healing love. As a friend, it is helping love. As an advocate, it is pleading and interceding love. As a mediator between God and man, it is interposing love. His love is also suited to his nature, as he is God-man: as God, there is divinity in it; it is divine love: and as man, there is humanity in it; it is a humane and a natural love. And as God-man in one per­son, his love must be a divinely-humane, and humanely divine love. The act is in the preterit tense, He loved; when did his love commence and begin? Indeed, it is as ancient as from eternity, and as lasting as to eternity. He loved in the counsel of peace, and it may be called a consulting love about our salvation, before the world be­gan. He loved in the transaction between the Father and him, and then it was an undertaking love. He loved in the publication of this merciful design immediately after the fall; and there we see it a promising love. He loved in the manifestation of himself in our nature, to accomplish the promise, and there we see it a performing love. O! but this act, he loved, hath many wonders in it! But this will the better appear, if we consider the object of his love, or the person, whom he loved. This is the

Third word in the text, “He loved me;” Me, that am so wicked, so wretched, so unworthy O! that everyone here were, by faith, putting in their Me; he loved me; Me; says Paul, that was a blas­phemer; me, that was a persecutor; me, that was injurious; me that was a vile, miscreant! O! that he should love such miserable me's as we are; so unworthy of his love, so unlike to his love; and in whom he found greater reason to hate than to love! That God should love the glorious angels is no wonder; for they are messengers and mini­sters executing his pleasure, (Ps. 112:20). That he should love good men or saints, is not strange, because they love him, and can say to him, “O thou, whom my soul loveth,” (Song 1:6). Yea, that he should love the senseless, inanimate creatures, whether in the heaven above us, or in the earth about us, is not strange; for the sun, moon, and stars, run their course; they stand still, or go for­ward, as he commands them; yea, “The fire, hail, snow, and va­por, and stormy wind, fulfill his word,” (Ps. 148:8). But to love us, that were enemies, traitors, rebels, and run—away prodigals, and profligate sinners; He loved me, guilty me, filthy me, weak me, wicked me: O! How does God commend his love? and commend it to the highest degree of mercy, when it is extended to these that are in the lowest pit of sin and misery; “God commen­deth his love to us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” (Rom. 5:8); while we were yet enemies and outcasts, lying in our blood: a rare commendation indeed; “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,” (v. 10). To love such was an unexpected and unparalleled, but a most merciful love. He that wanted nothing loved us that had nothing, and worse than nothing. O the wonders of his love that the king of heaven should love wretched earth; that eternity should love death; and that immortality should love dust and ashes; yea, that infinite holiness should love such as were a mass of sin! He first loved us, (1 John 4:19), not only when we could not love him, but also afterwards, when we would not love him. If a man had the tongues of men and angels, he could not express this love, wherewith this great majesty, the Son of God, loved such misery, the sons of men; and wherewith he loved me, says Paul; and wherewith he loved me, may you say.

But, Oh! there is the difficulty, say you, I cannot win to put in that me, and say, He loved me. Indeed it is no wonder, if many here cannot say it, if they have not learned the language by which it is said: I must tell you it is not the language of earth, but the language of heaven; “He loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,” (Rev. 1:5); and so here is the language of heaven upon earth, He loved me, and gave himself for me. But, why can you not speak this language? Why, because it cannot be spoken right, but by the mouth of faith. It is not the language of sense, nor of unbelief, but the language of faith; The life I now live, says the apostle here, is by the faith of the Son of God who loved me. The faith by which he lived was the faith by which he spoke this lan­guage: now, if the Spirit of faith mix in with the hearing and the grace of faith be given in any lively act of it this day, it will cost faith but a word to say, He loved me.

Question: But what ground hath faith for this language?

Answer: The ground is in the general word of grace, from which faith draws the particular inference. The word says He came to save sinners; he loved sinners; he loved enemies; he loved rebels, and gave himself for them. Unbelief, indeed, will put in its objec­tion, saying, “Well, but did he love them all? Did he die for them all? Did he elect them all? Perhaps you were never designed to share of his love.” “Away, says faith, away with these needless disputes of the devil and of unbelief; my life and salvation is at the stake; I have no time to lose. Let those that have no need of a Saviour, stay and debate these matters with the devil and their unbelieving hearts. I have present use for this Saviour, for my present and future salvation; and I see he is come to save sinners, and that is my name. He loved enemies; that is my name. He loved rebels, and received gifts for the rebellious; that is my name; Free, the master calls me; he invites me by my name; and therefore, in spite of unbelief, in spite of the devil, in spite of my an and guilt, I will venture to say, upon the credit of his word, He loved me; even guilty me, filthy me.” Here is the language of faith. He loved me, and that when I was in the worst circumstances. The case stands with us, as with Ezekiel's wretched infant, (Ezek. 16:2). We have an Amorite for our father, and a Hittite for our mother. We are born and conceived in sin, all foul, and full of corrup­tion; and there is nothing in us to allure him to love us, but rather to provoke him to loathe us. What moved him to love us? “Thou­sands of angels stand about him; and ten thousand times ten thou­sand minister unto him “Though we had been good and upright, he needed us not; but, being bad and vile, whence arises this love? Our wages is death, his gift is life. We had misery from our pa­rents, and have been parents for our own great misery: a fit object for so great a God to look upon. He loved me; I was miserable in thralldom to sin and Satan: but he hath ransomed me. I was a captive to the power of hell, and justice was enraged against me: but he hath satisfied his own justice for me. And this brings to the proof of this love, which is contained in the second part of the text.

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