Notes of an Address on 2 Corinthians 5
It is important to notice, in the first place, on whose side the reconciliation is needed. The old hymn which says,
“My God is reconciled,
His pardoning voice I hear.”
completely misstates and reverses the case. The reconciliation was never needed on God’s side. Romans 5:10 states it clearly enough, “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son:” or, as our chapter puts it, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” He was not against us, but we were against Him.
Before God we are sinners and guilty, and thus exposed to His judgment. Also we stand at an immense moral distance from Him. But besides this another thing came in by the fall, not only distance and death, but there was complete estrangement and utter alienation from God.
Adam not only became a sinner, but that disobedient act of his severed him instantly from the Fountain of light and love and alienation and distance came in. Thus at one fell blow man was plunged into estrangement from God and hatred of God. He was “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18). “Alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works” (Col. 1:21). Thus God utterly lost man. “Where art thou?” was His cry in Eden. And such was man’s folly that he might have made his miserable state permanent by taking of the tree of life. How wise and full of grace was that act of God which closed the gate of Eden, lest man should eat and live for ever in that state!
This alienation, with its accompanying moral and spiritual darkness, made itself increasingly felt. When we come to Romans 1 we get the full story of the downfall.
1. They gave God up, by changing His glory into an image made like man or the lower creation.
2. They changed the truth of God into a lie, in worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator.
3. They did not like to retain God in their knowledge at all. Satan had tempted by holding out wisdom and knowledge as a bait, but as a matter of fact, “their foolish heart was darkened,” and further, “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”
4. Consequently, God gave them up to their darkness, and folly and corruption.
All this shows what a terrible thing alienation is. The further from God that man can get, the better he likes it. It shows too that reconciliation is an absolute necessity. In no other way can God and man be together according to the wish of God’s heart.
Now since man does not want God, since he does not wish to entertain the thought of Him in his mind—would rather imagine that He does not exist—it is evident that the first approach must be from God’s side, if reconciliation is to he brought about at all. God has taken the initiative. He was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, as we have seen.
God’s proposition was to bring alienated and estranged man back to Himself, and that in such a way that He can find His perfect satisfaction in having him near Him, and also that man may joy in God. This is God’s present triumph in the Gospel!
Not only is the distance to be removed, but the heart that once was filled with enmity should have God’s love shed abroad in it.
All this necessitated the Cross. God was truly in Christ and reconciling, in His incarnation. That was the first step; but in the presence of it man only declared his utter hatred. Then came the Cross, where God’s judgment on man was expressed. He could not have man back and wink at his sin. There must be the absolute removal of everything connected with us in which God could not find His pleasure. “Our old man is crucified with Him” (Rom. 6:6).
The distance had been expressed by the closed gate which separated man from Eden. At a later period it was expressed by the veil of the temple, which showed there was no admission to the presence of God. Now the just One must suffer for the unjust, that they may be brought to God. He went into the distance in His holy soul, and endured it all.
The question of our trespasses was really a secondary thing. They were only in existence through the condition that gave birth to them. Lawlessness had come in where subjection and obedience would have been, had man remained in his true relationship with God, as creature before a Creator.
Therefore God takes steps designed to remove the condition, and not only to deal with the conduct. This was accomplished when Christ who knew no sin was made sin for is. We have been reconciled, “in the body of His flesh, through death” (Col. 1:22).
On this basis we are brought near to God. Such is the greatness of God’s triumph. Once we were a grief to the heart of God, but now brought near He finds pleasure in our company. Once we hated Him, and desired to banish every thought of Him from our hearts: now we are delighted to draw near for, “we joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Rom. 6:11, margin). In the world of course it is still true that “there is none that seeketh after God,” that all are “gone out of the way.” It is still a fact that the more a man thinks he can remove the distance that separates him from God, the more he hates God’s way of removing it.
Thus we are brought back to God upon an entirely new footing. The parable concerning the prodigal son illustrates it. He was not only at home, but also kissed and robed and sandaled, and that was the signal for all the feasting and merriment of the father’s house. Even the first sign of return fills all heaven with joy and rejoicing; for, “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”
And we rejoice too! Is it not wonderful that where once nothing but sin and alienation and hatred were, we now find the Holy Ghost and the love of God. For, “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”