We Persuade Men
“For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God . . . For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them and rose again. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:10-21).
A distinguished theologian is reported to have once asked a noted stage actor, “How is it, when you act, you can move your audience, almost at your will, either to laughter or tears, whereas when I preach they are unmoved?” To this, quoth he, “My lord, the answer is easily given. I PLAY FICTION as though it were FACT, whereas you PREACH FACT at though it were FICTION.” Pointed, though doubtless unpalatable words which all who preach or write to souls may well give heed to. Paul needed them not. FACTS pressed heavily on his spirit, and made him most urgent in dealing with precious souls. If you doubt it, my reader, afresh peruse the solemn, most solemn, yet blessed verses at the head of this paper, and then ask yourself, Do I believe this fervent ambassador?
I shall briefly draw your attention to two facts in this passage which were the mighty springs in the apostle’s soul of earnest and affectionate appeal to men. They were—1, “The terror of the Lord” (v. 11); 2, “The love of Christ” (v. 14).
The verses I have quoted give a wonderful picture of the whole family of man. Christ is the central object. His wondrous love to ruined man evinced in His death is the theme. His love, and His atoning work for sinners, blessed, and reconciled to God by His death, are in bright relief in the forefront of the picture, if I may so say, while the background (for every picture has its background) is the judgment-seat of Christ, with “the terror of the Lord” for all those who know not His love.
Let us look at the picture a little more closely, and, first, we will examine the background.
1.—“THE TERROR OF THE LORD.”
Remember this is a fact, not a myth. “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” What will produce this “terror”? “We must ALL appear (be manifested) before the judgment-seat of Christ.” Does Paul fear it for himself? Certainly not He says, “We ARE made manifest, unto God,” i.e., even now. He has had all out now with God, sins, sin, guilt, ruin, everything he has had fully exposed to God’s eye, and he knows how all has been fully met, by that death of which he speaks in a moment. He does not wait for the judgment-seat to detect anything; grace has led him into God’s presence in the full acknowledgment and confession of all even now, and that all has been fully met by Christ’s death. He is very clear on this. “We ARE made manifest unto God.” Reader, are you? But what a terrible moment will that be for the sin-screening, guilt-hiding, iniquity-covering, transgression-veiling, Gospel-neglecting sinner, when, compelled to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, ALL will be exposed, manifested, and brought to light. “The things done in the body” are in view. Of things “good” there are none; of “bad,” abundance. The Christ-less soul, having “done evil” only, comes forth “unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29) What can be the only issue? The lake of fire. “Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15).
Unsaved reader, do you believe this? God says it. Paul knew it. I believe it. The devil believes it. And you doubt it. You—who are most concerned in the matter! Can it be? What madness! what utter folly! Be persuaded. “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” Yes, beloved reader, I would persuade you to flee from the wrath to come. It is a fact. It is no use your denying it. God has said, “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (2 Thess. 1:8). Paul was so impressed with the terror which that moment must bring to unsaved souls that his whole heart longed for their salvation, hence his words, “we persuade men.” The last account the Holy Ghost gives of his preaching is in Acts 28, and then he spent “from morning till evening” “persuading them concerning Jesus.” It is a mighty, solemn fact, there is judgment coming most surely. Sinner! I warn you, flee.
Do I hear you saying—I am persuaded, I see my danger, my sin, it’s certain judgment, my inevitable destruction, if I go on as I am going; how am I to escape? Oh! you have seen the background of my picture and like it not. It is well. Fix now, therefore, your undivided attention on the lovely One who is found in the front, and all your terror shall vanish, and your fears flee away, as you ponder.
2—“THE LOVE OF CHRIST.”
“For the love of Christ constraineth us.” Charming words! Earnest as this blessed ambassador might be, urged by the sense of the “terror” of the day when the majesty of God will be maintained by the final and eternal judgment of sin, personally, in those who are there found in their sins, he was only the more urgent because he had discovered that, in order to save men from that day of judgment, He who will then be the Judge had Himself died to deliver the guilty.
Love was the spring of this marvellous act. Sin had come in. This, God must judge in maintenance of His own character. But sin brought death, and, viewed in this light, “ALL were dead.” Further, “ALL must appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.” To appear there with a single sin is certain and everlasting condemnation. What is to be done? He who knows the extent of man’s offence alone can meet or atone for it. After the offence, but before the day when He will judge it, Christ (who will be the Judge) enters the scene and becomes a man that, as a man, He might die and bear the judgment resting on man. This indeed is love! What was man’s condition in God’s sight because of sin? “Then were all dead.” But oh! what news! “One died for ALL.” Magnificent grace! Unparalleled love! Uncalled, unasked by one, He “DIED FOR ALL.” This is a new kind of love. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Mark the words “no man.” Here, however, dear reader, is love which exceeds that. The love of Jesus, the God-man, far exceeds this limit, for He died for all—for His enemies certainly, not the less for His friends, if He had any. Blessed Jesus! It is this love manifested in death—love stronger than death, and which many waters could not quench—which wins the heart to Him. Does He love me? Yes. Does He love you? Yes, without a doubt. Are you sure? Positive. Why? Because He died. For whom? “FOR ALL.” Now get out of that number if you can.
But how can I be sure that Christ loves me? Because He died for me. Why did He die? Because He loved me. Well, if this be so, I ought to live unto Him who died for me. Quite so, and that is just what Paul judged. So wonderful is His love in dying for such guilty sinners as we have all been, that, the moment the heart discovers it, the judgment is formed—I ought to be for Him who is so thoroughly for me. The soul that gets hold of this is “a new creature” truly, and has the sweet sense of being “reconciled” to God. Enmity is cast out and annihilated by such overwhelming love as the cross displays. All is of God. The desire to have us near Himself, and the love that effects this blessed result by the cross are both divine. Further, He sends out the message of reconciliation first by Christ, next by ambassadors, who, standing in the very stead of Christ, proclaim the heavenly tidings in the ears of all who will listen. It is suited to ALL, it is designed for ALL, it is proclaimed to ALL, that “One died for ALL,” and if “ALL” do not believe, it is their own fault and to their own eternal loss. Reader, beware lest you slight heaven’s message. Hear it!
“Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though GOD DID BESEECH you by us; WE PRAY YOU in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. FOR he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” What a message! God now beseeching you to be reconciled to Himself, because He once on the cross took up with Christ the question of sin. There and then His judgment of it fell upon Christ, so that now whoever believes in Him stands before God in all the value of that work by which God has been glorified and sin put away. God’s righteousness, and His estimate of that work are seen not only in His taking Christ out of the grave into glory, but by His putting the believer in Christ in the very same place before Him that Christ now has. In death on the cross He took our place, in life now before God He gives us His place. What righteousness and what love!
My reader, can you find it in your heart once more to refuse God’s appeal to you? Say not like Agrippa, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian”—but, receiving the word simply, may your response be in the words of this fervent ambassador recorded elsewhere, “I AM PERSUADED, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39), “for I know whom I have believed, and AM PERSUADED that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).
The Gospel Messenger 1886, p. 281