‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.’
Why should the words ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ be a ‘faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation’?
I. Because the saying is clearly made up of the words of the Lord Himself.—On two different occasions our Lord referred to the purposes of His coming into the world, and that in terms which completely bear out the words of this saying.
II. Because of the light which it throws on the character of God.—The temptation to cherish hard thoughts of God is very old, and it is also very modern. ‘I knew thee, that thou art an austere man.’ This is the language which millions of hearts have secretly held in converse with the infinitely loving Creator. The saying of the text, when it is once received by faith, is a faithful exponent of the truth about God, and worthy of our acceptation.
III. Because it reminds us of the greatness of the work of Christ.—Never can a moral being say, under any circumstances, ‘It is good for me that I have sinned.’ Physical evil, pain, want, disease, may be made to lead to moral good—moral evil or sin, never. This sin is rebellion of the will against God. If our Lord Jesus had left this master-evil untouched, He would not have saved men, in the proper sense of that expression. The salvation I of man is a different thing from an improved condition of society. Our Lord came to save men by doing three things for the human will. He gave it freedom; He gave it a new and true direction; He gave it strength. He has pardoned believing sinners: He has put them by His grace on the true road which man should follow, and He has given them strength to follow it.
Rev. Canon Liddon.
THE SAYING AND ITS MEANING
If in other matters truth is what one needs, in matters of religion it is the supreme necessity. There are no useful mistakes in religion, no happy errors, no falsehoods that help any one to be better.
I. The biggest truth in the world.—Is it true that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners? If it is, it is the biggest of all truths.
(a) St. Paul, living in the light, beautified by the light, walking with God, inspired, illuminated by Him, says, Brethren, I have tried this truth, I have tested it with the weight of my life, ventured all on it, put it to every test; and I come to you and tell you it is a faithful saying, something that will bear your weight, and answer your hopes, and never disappoint your confidence.
(b) It fits in with all that we might expect of God. We have a taste for truth; the sheep hear the voice, and can tell the difference between what is Divine and human. Everything good in us must have had its origin in something better in God, and something answering more nobly to our pity and our compassion, and our delight in saving, and our trouble when we look upon distress; something answering, but more nobly, to all of these must be in the heart of Him that made us.
II. This gospel is worthy of all acceptation.—There is an innumerable multitude who think, and think they believe this statement—think they do, and would be shocked if they were classed amongst sceptics or unbelievers—but who immediately turn aside and think of something eighteen hundred years ago—a fact of history unimportant to them. Now St. Paul, who had seen a good deal of life, says that this gospel is worth all men’s acceptance: that the richest should take it in order to increase his wealth, and the poorest in order to dissipate all his poverty; that the troubled should take it as the cure of every care, and the untroubled should take it as the preservative of all delights; that the guilty should take it as the gleam of hope that will restore them to peace, and the innocent as that which will preserve their integrity. It is worthy of all men’s acceptance: and some accept it, binding it to their heart, making that fact the main starting-point of the plans and purposes of their life; responding to it, adoring Christ, opening the gate to let Him in, helping Him in His effort to save them.
INCARNATION AND ATONEMENT
It is of the deepest moment, especially in these anxious days, that our faith in the Incarnation should be distinct and unwavering.
I. We must unhesitatingly believe that our Lord and God did enter into our nature along its wonted pathway, and subject to all its limitations, but, so entering, remained, nevertheless, from the first moment onward of the human life He vouchsafed to live, very and eternal God, His outward glory laid aside but His attributes unchanged. The life of Jesus was thus, to use the expression of a great Christian thinker, always God-human. This is the faith handed down to us unchanged and unchangeable through ages of controversy.
II. The divine purpose of our Lord’s coming into the world was to save sinners.—The great Nicene Creed reiterates the same declaration. ‘For us men and for our salvation,’ the eternal Son laid aside His glory and came down from heaven. It was for us and for our salvation He came down, and was incarnate; for us and for our salvation that He was born as we are born, suffered—albeit in a greater and more transcendent intensity—as we suffer, died as we die.
The more we dwell on the purpose—the salvation of mankind—the firmer will be our hold on the truth and reality of the Incarnation.
‘We are at last reverting to the primary belief of the early Christian Church that God is among us, blessing and visiting the children of men. Not a God outside the world, or as for ages has been the prevailing conception of God since the days of Augustine, transcendently above it, but a God within the world, immanent and abiding. To the early writers of Christianity the Incarnation was not a new principle in the development of the world. Firmly believing in the immanence of God in the world which He had vouchsafed to create, and equally believing in Christ, not merely speculatively, but in deepest and most heartfelt reality as very and eternal God, to them it seemed no strange thing that the indwelling God should at length reveal Himself to the world and even enter it under the conditions, and in consonance with the laws of human existence and development.’