III. Our third and main point, this morning, is to answer the question, HOW WAS CHRIST MADE A CURSE FOR US?
The whole pith and marrow of the religion of Christianity lies in the doctrine of substitution, and I hesitate not to affirm my conviction that a very large proportion of Christians are not Christians at all, for they do not understand the fundamental doctrine of the Christian creed; and alas! there are preachers who do not preach, or even believe this cardinal truth. They speak of the blood of Jesus in an indistinct kind of way, and descant upon the death of Christ in a hazy style of poetry, but they do not strike this nail on the head, and lay it down that the way of salvation is by Christs becoming a substitute for guilty man.
This shall make me the more plain and definite. Sin is an accursed thing. God, from the necessity of his holiness, must curse it; he must punish men for committing it; but the Lords Christ, the glorious Son of the everlasting Father, became a man, and suffered in his own proper person the curse which was due to the sons of men, that so, by a vicarious offering, God having been just in punishing sin, could extend his bounteous mercy towards those who believe in the Substitute. Now for this point. But, you enquire, how was Jesus Christ a curse?
We beg you to observe the word made. He was made a curse. Christ was no curse in himself. In his person he was spotlessly innocent, and nothing of sin could belong personally to him. In him was no sin. God made him to be sin for us, the apostle expressly adds, who knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). There must never be supposed to be any degree of blameworthiness or censure in the person or character of Christ as he stands as an individual. He is in that respect without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, the immaculate Lamb of Gods Passover. Nor was Christ made a curseof necessity. There was no necessity in himself that he should ever suffer the curse; no necessity except that which his own loving surety-ship created. His own intrinsic holiness kept him from sin, and that same holiness kept him from the curse. He was made sin for us, not on his own account, not with any view to himself, but wholly because he loved us, and chose to put himself in the place which we ought to have occupied. He was made a curse for us not, again I say, out of any personal desert, or out of any personal necessity, but because he had voluntarily undertaken to be the covenant head of his people, and to be their representative, and as their representative to bear the curse which was due to them. We would be very clear here, because very strong expressions have been used by those who hold the great truth which I am endeavoring to preach, which strong expressions have conveyed the truth they meant to convey, but also a great deal more. Martin Luthers wonderful book on the Galatians, which he prized so much that he called it his Catherine Born (that was the name of his beloved wife, and he gave this book the name of the dearest one he knew). In that book he says plainly, but be assured did not mean what he said to be literally understood, that Jesus Christ was the greatest sinner that ever lived; that all the sins of men were so laid upon Christ that he became all the thieves, and murderers, and adulterers that ever were, in one. Now, he meant this, that God treated Christ as if he had been a great sinner; as if he had been all the sinners in the world in one; and such language teaches that truth very plainly: but, Luther-like in his boisterousness, he overshoots his mark, and leaves room for the censure that he has almost spoken blasphemy against the blessed person of our Lord. Now, Christ never was and never could be a sinner; and in his person and in his character, in himself considered, he never could be anything but well-beloved of God, and blessed for ever and well-pleasing in Jehovahs sight, so that when we say today that he was a curse, we must lay stress on those words, He was made a curseconstituted a curse, set as a curse; and then again we must emphasise those other words, for usnot on his own account at all, but entirely out of love to us, that we might be redeemed, he stood in the sinners place and was reckoned to be a sinner, and treated as a sinner, and made a curse for us.
Let us go farther into this truth. How was Christ made a curse? In the first place, he was made a curse because all the sins of his people were actually laid on him. Remember the words of the apostleit is no doctrine of mine, mark you; it is an inspired sentence, it is Gods doctrineHe made him to be sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21); and let me note another passage from the prophet Isaiah, The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all; and yet another from the same prophet, He shall bear their iniquities. The sins of Gods people were lifted from off them and imputed to Christ, and their sins were looked upon as if Christ had committed them. He was regarded as if he had been the sinner; he actually and in very deed stood in the sinners place. Next to the imputation of sin came the curse of sin. The law, looking for sin to punish, with its quick eye detected sin laid upon Christ, and, as it must curse sin wherever it was found, it cursed the sin as it was laid on Christ.
So Christ was made a curse. Wonderful and awful words, but as they are scriptural words, we must receive them. Sin being on Christ, the curse came on Christ, and in consequence, our Lord felt an unutterable horror of soul. Surely it was that horror which made him sweat great drops of blood when he saw and felt that God was beginning to treat him as if he had been a sinner. The holy soul of Christ shrunk with deepest agony from the slightest contact with sin. So pure and perfect was our Lord, that never an evil thought had crossed his mind, nor had his soul been stained by the glances of evil, and yet he stood in Gods sight a sinner and therefore a solemn horror fell upon his soul; the heart refused its healthful action, and a bloody sweat bedewed his face. Then he began to be made a curse for us, nor did he cease till he had suffered all the penalty which was due on our account.
We have been accustomed in divinity to divide the penalty into two parts, the penalty of loss and the penalty of actual suffering. Christ endured both of these. It was due to sinners that they should lose Gods favor and presence, and therefore Jesus cried, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? It was due to sinners that they should lose all personal comfort; Christ was deprived of every consolation, and even the last rag of clothing was torn from him, and he was left like Adam naked and forlorn. It was necessary that the soul should lose everything that could sustain it, and so did Christ lose every comfortable thing; he looked and there was no man to pity or help; he was made to cry, But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. (Ps. 22:6)
As for the second part of the punishment, namely, an actual infliction of suffering, our Lord endured this also to the uttermost, as the evangelists clearly show. You have read full often the story of his bodily sufferings; take care that you never depreciate them. There was an amount of physical pain endured by our Savior which his body never could have borne unless it had been sustained and strengthened by union with his Godhead; yet the sufferings of his soul were the soul of his sufferings. That soul of his endured a torment equivalent to hell itself. The punishment that was due to the wicked was that of hell, and though Christ suffered not hell, he suffered an equivalent for it; and now, can your minds conceive what that must have been?
It was an anguish never to be measured, an agony never to be comprehended. It is to God, and God alone that his griefs were fully known. Well does the Greek liturgy put it, Thine unknown sufferings, for they must for ever remain beyond guess of human imagination. See, brethren, Christ has gone thus far; he has taken the sin, taken the curse, and suffered all the penalty. The last penalty of sin was death; and therefore the Redeemer died. Behold, the Mighty Conqueror yields up his life upon the tree! His side is pierced; the blood and water flows forth, and his disciples lay his body in the tomb. As he was first numbered with the transgressors, he was afterwards numbered with the dead. See, beloved, here is Christ bearing the curse instead of his people. Here he is coming under the load of their sin, and God does not spare him but smites him, as he must have smitten us, lays his full vengeance on him, launches all his thunderbolts against him, bids the curse wreak itself upon him, and Christ suffers all, sustains all.
IV. And now let us conclude by considering WHAT ARE THE BLESSED CONSEQUENCES OF CHRISTS HAVING THUS BEEN MADE A CURSE FOR US.
The consequences are that he hath redeemed us from the curse of the law. As many as Christ died for, are for ever free from the curse of the law; for when the law cometh to curse a man who believeth in Christ, he saith, What have I to do with thee, O law? Thou sayest, I will curse thee, but I reply, Thou hast cursed Christ instead of me. Canst thou curse twice for one offense? Behold how the law is silenced! Gods law having received all it can demand, is not so unrighteous as to demand anything more. All that God can demand of a believing sinner, Christ has already paid, and there is no voice in earth or heaven that can henceforth accuse a soul that believes in Jesus.
You were in debt, but a friend paid your debt; no writ can be served on you. It matters nothing that you did not pay it, it is paid, and you have the receipt. That is sufficient in any court of equity. So with all the penalty that was due to us, Christ has borne it. It is true I have not borne it; I have not been to hell and suffered the full wrath of God, but Christ has suffered that wrath for me, and I am as clear as if I had myself paid the debt to God and had myself suffered his wrath.
Here is a glorious bottom to rest upon! Here is a rock upon which to lay the foundation of eternal comfort! Let a man once get to this. My Lord without the citys gate did bleed for me as my surety, and on the cross discharged my debt. Why, then, great God, thy thunders I no longer fear. How canst thou smite me now? Thou hast exhausted the quiver of thy wrath; every arrow has been already shot forth against the person of my Lord, and I am in him clear and clean, and absolved and delivered, even as if I had never sinned. He hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, saith the text.
How often I have heard certain gentry of the modern school of theology sneer at the atonement, because they charge us with the notion of its being a sort of business transaction, or what they choose to call the mercantile view of it. I hesitate not to say that the mercantile metaphor expresses rightly Gods view of redemption, for we find it so in Scripture; the atonement is a ransomthat is to say, a price paid; and in the present case the original word is more than usually expressive; it is a payment for, a price instead of. Jesus did in his sufferings perform what may be forcibly and fitly described as the payment of a ransom, the giving to justice a quid pro quo for what was due on our behalf for our sins. Christ, in his person suffered what we ought to have suffered in our persons. The sins that were ours were made his; he stood as a sinner in Gods sight; though not a sinner in himself, he was punished as a sinner, and died as a sinner upon the tree of the curse.
Then having exhausted his imputed sinnership by bearing the full penalty, he made an end of sin, and he rose again from the dead to bring in that everlasting righteousness which at this moment covers the persons of all his elect, so that they can exultingly cry, He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of Gods elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. (Romans 8:32-34).
Another blessing flows from this satisfactory substitution. It is this, that now the blessing of God, which had been hitherto arrested by the curse is made most freely to flow. Read the verse that follows the text: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. The blessing of Abraham was that in his seed all nations of the earth should be blessed. Since our Lord Jesus Christ has taken away the curse due to sin, a great rock has been lifted out from the river-bed of Gods mercy, and the living stream comes rippling, roiling, swelling on in crystal tides, sweeping before it all human sin and sorrow, and making glad the thirsty who stoop down to drink thereat.
O my brethren, the blessings of Gods grace are full and free this morning; they are as full as your necessities. Great sinners, there is great mercy for you. They are as free as your poverty could desire them to be, free as the air you breathe, or as the cooling stream that flows along the water-brook. You have but to trust Christ, and you shall live. Be you who you may, or what you may, or where you may, though at hells dark door you lie down to despair and die, yet the message comes to you, God hath made Christ to be a propitiation for sin. He made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Christ hath delivered us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. He that believeth, hath no curse upon him. He may have been an adulterer, a swearer, a drunkard, a murderer, but the moment he believes, God sees none of those sins in him. He sees him as an innocent man, and regards his sins as having been laid on the Redeemer, and punished in Jesus as he died on the tree. I tell thee, if thou believest in Christ this morning, my hearer, though thou be the most damnable of wretches that ever polluted the earth, yet thou shalt not have a sin remaining on thee after believing. God will look at thee as pure; even Omniscience shall not detect a sin in thee, for thy sin shall be put on the scapegoat, even Christ, and carried away into forgetfulness, so that if thy transgression be searched for, it shall not be found. If thou believestthere is the questionthou art clean; if thou wilt trust the incarnate God, thou art delivered. He that believeth is justified from all things. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, (Acts 16:31); for he that believeth and is baptised, shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:16)
I have preached to you the gospel, God knows with what a weight upon my soul, and yet with what holy joy. This is no subject for gaudy eloquence, and for high-flying attempts at oratory; this is a matter to be put to you plainly and simply. Sinnersyou must either be cursed of God, or else you must accept Christ, as bearing the curse instead of you. I do beseech you, as you love your souls, if you have any sanity left, accept this blessed and divinely-appointed way of salvation. This is the truth which the apostles preached, and suffered and died to maintain; it is this for which the Reformers struggled; it. is this for which the martyrs burned at Smithfield; it is the grand basis doctrine of the Reformation, and the very truth of God.
Down with your crosses and rituals, down with your pretensions to good works, and your crouchings at the feet of priests to ask absolution from them! Away with your accursed and idolatrous dependence upon yourself; Christ has finished salvation-work, altogether finished it. Hold not up your rags in competition with his fair white linen: Christ has borne the curse; bring not your pitiful penances, and your tears all full of filth to mingle with the precious fountain flowing with his blood. Lay down what is your own, and come and take what is Christs. Put away now everything that you have thought of being or doing, by way of winning acceptance with God; humble yourselves, and take Jesus Christ to be the Alpha and Omega, the first and last, the beginning and end of your salvation.
If you do this, not only shall you be saved, but you are saved: rest, thou weary one, for thy sins are forgiven; rise, thou lame man, lame through want of faith, for thy transgression is covered; rise from the dead, thou corrupt one, rise, like Lazarus from the tomb, for Jesus calleth thee! Believe and live. The words in themselves, by the Holy Spirit, are soul-quickening. Have done with thy tears of repentance and thy vows of good living, until thou hast come to Christ; then take them up as thou wilt. Thy first lesson should be none but Jesus, none but Jesus, none but Jesus. O come thou to him! See, he hangs upon the cross; his arms are open wide, and he cannot close them, for the nails hold them fast. He tarries for thee; his feet are fastened to the wood, as though he meant to tarry still. O come thou to him! His heart has room for thee. It streams with blood and water; it was pierced for thee. That mingled stream is
Of sin the double cure,
To cleanse thee from its guilt and power.
An act of faith will bring thee to Jesus. Say, Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief; and if thou so doest, he cannot cast thee out, for his word is, Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. I have delivered to you the weightiest truth that ever ears heard, or that lips spoke, put it not from you. As we shall meet each other at the last tremendous day, when heaven and earth are on a blaze, and the trumpet shall ring and raise the dead, as we shall meet each other then, I challenge you to put this from you. If you do it, it is at your own peril, and your blood be on your own heads; but the rather receive the gospel I have delivered to you. It is Jehovahs gospel. Heaven itself speaks in the words you hear today. Receive Jesus Christ as your substitute. O do it now, this moment, and God shall have glory, but you shall have salvation. Amen.