1 Peter 1:17-25.
What is man's real condition before God? He knows it not; but this is the great preliminary question ere he can be brought under the ministry of the grace of God.
The very ground necessarily assumed before preaching the gospel of God's grace is that every man is a lost and ruined sinner. God has asserted it. (Rom. 3:10-23.) And if we come to practical Christianity, it is equally an axiom that the great ground of Christian action is redemption security.
The point at issue between God and every soul is whether man is as bad as God's testimony says he is; for the starting-post in preaching the gospel is God's declaration: "All flesh is grass." Take man in every state of moral and intellectual improvement, and he is grass. "All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass" (the flower, is a much more fleeting thing than the grass itself). "The grass withereth, and the flower thereof fadeth away."
Job was a man remarkable for integrity and uprightness, according to God's own declaration: "Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?" But when he comes to stand before God it is, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Here Job learnt that as flesh he was grass.
Whenever a plea is made for the flesh, for anything merely human, whether righteousness, wisdom, or strength, the plea cannot be established except by condemning God. The Lord had said, when speaking to Job out of the whirlwind, "Wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous?"
In seeking to bring the testimony concerning truth and grace before the conscience, I would not take the dregs of humanity to prove that all flesh is grass; here, in the first instance, you have righteous Job.
Again, Solomon was a remarkable specimen of a person blessed of God in various ways, but principally in having wisdom given to him - the gift of wisdom directly from God. (See 1 Kings 3:4)
"God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men. And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom." All his experience ended in this: "I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. That which is crooked cannot, be made straight and that which is wanting cannot be numbered. . . . . For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." All vanity and vexation of spirit "All flesh is grass!"
Again, as to the religious man. If any really think that religion consists in doing this, or doing that, the Pharisee was more religious than any of us. The era of our Lord's ministry on earth was a most religious era; and yet, when our Lord Jesus Christ came seeking fruit, He could not find any. He was cast out and murdered because they maintained their religion.
Here we see that human righteousness, human wisdom, and human religion are all hindrances in the way of knowing God really as He is and ourselves as we are. One of the most genuine marks of real conversion to God is the utter and entire denial of any goodness in ourselves, or expectation from ourselves.
Man, as an intellectual and moral creature, is now putting forth all his powers to establish that concerning which God says it is grass. Modern philanthropists are seeking to raise and cultivate man's intellect. They may succeed above all their expectations, but no philanthropic society or effort for the amelioration of man, however honest the intention, can meet the ruin of. the condition in which man is before God, because it falls short of the cross. It can do nothing but leave man as it found him, a ruined sinner, dead in trespasses and sins, unaltered before God, knowing nothing of Him, or what it is to have thoughts and desires in communion with Him, and in a world as ruined as himself.
Every man by nature is a lost and ruined sinner, and he is in a lost and ruined world. It is quite necessary to state these things together in order to know what salvation is.
What was salvation before the flood? It was to get into the ark, because the world was going to be judged.
What was salvation in the days of Lot? To get out of Sodom, because Sodom was going to be burned.
And what is salvation now? Not merely to be saved from hell, that it is; but it is also "deliverance from this present evil world."
Persons may be reformed, and yet not be converted. I do not like the expression, "a converted character;" conversion is the being turned from everything, whatever it may be, and brought to God.
What is God's testimony now to man, thus ruined himself and in a ruined world, but testimony unto His own grace, and His own power, to His own ability to meet him in these circumstances, in a way that nothing but His own grace could provide. The apostle says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." It is impossible to be the subject of God's power without effects following. Christ is "the power of God, and the wisdom of God." "We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto us which are saved, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." This may be a puerility to the present age, as it was to the Greeks, to men who are seeking wisdom, a stumbling-block to those who are requiring a sign as the Jews; but unto those who believe, Christ is "the power of God, and the wisdom of God."
The same God that hath told us that "all flesh is grass," the same God who, after long experience of man, has said "flesh profiteth nothing," is now sending forth the testimony unto salvation through "the precious blood of Christ." He is not any longer testing man, beloved, and in that sense, it is not now a state of probation to ruined sinners. They have been tried under the best and most favourable circumstances in Israel, under the law, and found wanting. The Son of the living God has come, and found man to be "dead in trespasses and sins." Man, therefore, is pronounced as bad as he can be - utterly ruined.
But grace would never be known as it is, if it could not meet a sinner "dead in trespasses and sins." This was exhibited in the personal ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ He was the expression of grace and truth when here, and it was thrown in His teeth by the self-righteous Pharisee, that He was receiving publicans and sinners!
Man is more angry with God for meeting ruined sinners in grace, than for dealing with them in righteousness. Grace is the one thing he cannot understand. Human wisdom cannot grasp that word, it can understand law, but that God should be dealing in grace with poor lost sinners - the human understanding cannot grasp that. You will find, if you test your hearts, that you naturally hate grace a great deal more than you hate holiness. Well, grace meets the sinner just where he is, in all his misery and ruin: the love of God meets him there. Each one of us, who have received Christ into our own souls, can give our Amen to that. We were loved by God, not when we had improved ourselves, but when we were dead in trespasses and sins. "God commendeth his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."
What is it which enables God thus to have to do in grace with poor lost sinners? "The blood of the Lamb." "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, who by him do believe in God, that raised him from the dead, and gave him glory: that your faith and hope might be in God." It is the blood of the Lamb which enables the holy God to meet unholy sinners, it fills up the amazing gap between the throne of God and them, as lost and ruined sinners. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
And this after man had proved that there was no response in his heart to the love of God. Had there been a spark of good in him, it would have been called out by the Lord Jesus Christ. But no, the answer to all His love and grace was, "Away with Him! away with Him! crucify Him! crucify Him!"
Man has preferred a murderer to Jesus - "Not this man, but Barabbas!" Nay, God's Son has been murdered! And now the ministry of reconciliation is granted to that world where He was murdered. God's answer to all the hard thoughts of man's heart is, "I have given you my Son." His answer to all man's pretensions, "You have crucified my Son." It is always of strengthening power to my own soul, to see that when God begins, He begins with those who crucified His own Son! What a blessed thing to find, that from among the very murderers of Jesus a number were brought to know God's love through the blood of His Son.
The gospel to us is the proclamation of the value, not only of the person of Jesus, but of the blood which has been shed. God's controversy with man therefore is, What estimate have you of His Son, and of the blood that He has shed? You cannot be neutral: "he that is not with me is against me." But it matters not what your thoughts are; God's thoughts and the thoughts of all redeemed sinners is, that there is nothing so "precious" as the blood of God's own Son.
The blood of Christ not only brings God down in grace to us, it brings us up to God. "Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." A ruined sinner washed in the blood of Jesus, is immediately brought into the presence of God. All the great things of God are very simple. By one and the same blood a sinner who believes in Jesus is washed from his sins, justified and brought nigh to God! And in the glory the theme of the redeemed will be, "the blood of the Lamb." "Thou hast redeemed us unto God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation." "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."
What becomes of a person so "washed from his sins," "redeemed," and "brought unto God"? Here we find the importance of his seeing his position in the Head. He is redeemed as he fell: he fell in one, he is redeemed in one, in a Head: "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." We are in Him as the Risen One, and derive from Him new life, a new nature conversant with a new sphere of things - new affections - a new world. The redeemed man is brought into a new creation with Jesus, and all those who are redeemed by Him unto God.
This is a remedy worthy of God. It is that which the apostles preached, "Jesus and the resurrection." Deny grace, and you deny the wisdom of God.
Were man redeemed merely to be brought into a moral system, then remedial associations might effect the object; but he is dead and wants life, and men are seeking the improvement of that world which is stained with the blood of Jesus, for which He will make inquisition by and bye. If I am giving myself to philanthropy, a thing which would be very well if man were to be improved for a social system here, I am denying his ruin and that of the world. In this we see the deceiving power of Satan. The Church should not be deceived by him, he is the accuser of the brethren; but the deceiver of the whole world.