In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
1. The subject of the chapter is the glory of the Son of God.
(1) In His essential relation to God He is the true eikon basilike — only image which it is not idolatry to worship.
(2) His relation to the universe is that of immediate Creator.
(3) His permanent relation to every creature is that of a central point for all phenomena.
(4) His headship over the new redeemed humanity is that of the first-born among the dead, the source of risen life to all the body.
(5) His central pre-eminence in the whole spiritual world lies in the fact that He is Peacemaker by blood, the sole Reconciler to God. Never did John soar higher or sweep a wider horizon than this.
2. To confine ourselves to one thought here. Christ is the only link of connection between created minds and the unapproachable, unknowable Godhead. "Image of the invisible God" is parallel with John's "No man hath seen God at any time," etc., with Hebrews 1:1-2, and with the Master's "He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father." The function of Revealer, however, does not attach to Christ's incarnate life only; He was the Word of God before, and revealed God in creation. From this follows that God the Revealer, when He tells of God in Nature and in Redemption must speak in harmonious terms. Both discoveries must agree, and hence we expect to find certain lines in physics leading up to Christianity, certain thoughts of the Divine mind which grow clearer when I cast back fresh light from redemption.
3. What, then, is there in nature to fit into the representation of Deity which we gather from —
I. THE INCARNATION.
1. This stands on the threshold of the Christian system, and has no parallel in history, and at first sight none in nature. Yet look a little closer, and you will find that it rests upon the fact that man was made in the image of his Maker. For the Son and perfect Image of Godhead to become man — making the thoughts, emotions, and activities of our nature a glass wherein to mirror the heart of Deity — implies some affinity between the Divine and human, or some previous resemblance of man to God. Reason must, in some fashion, reflect the thoughts of God, and virtue His holiness, and points of moral and intellectual contact must bind the human spirit to that of the Incarnate Redeemer. How else could God become incarnate to redeem?
2. Now nature is alive with thoughts that are very human. God utters His mind in His works, and that mind is like our own. If that were not so science would be impossible. The world's Maker and its observer must have something in common, if the observer is to understand the Maker's meaning. A world put together by a Being whose notions of truth, utility, purpose, etc., bore no relation to mine would be a world unintelligible to me. But the world satisfies the reason and gratifies the taste of the human student, who detects in it with joy another mind at work similar to his own.
(1) You know how keen is the pleasure many take in mechanical contrivance, but the pages of modern books of science are full of beautiful contrivances.
(2) Equally human is the parsimony of nature. He who made this world does not overcome difficulties by inventing some fresh force for every occasion; He will rather go round about to make existing instruments answer a new purpose. To the same economical habit it is due that through the organized tribes of being certain radical types are perseveringly adhered to. A few governing ideas, modified in details only as far as needful, are made to do service, and give rise to endless diversity. This is just the style of workmanship that workmen admire.
(3) Very human, too, is the place occupied in the works of God by beauty and utility. In man's productions decoration is always subordinated to convenience, and wise men will sacrifice the ornamental without remorse when it can be gained only at the expense of human well-being. Now the original school of all art is the handiwork of God. So lavish is His decoration of the most unnoticed Objects that He must do it because He loves it; yet it is never put before utility. Nay, some animals have been made unlovely to suit their convenience; but even in them ornament is introduced where it can do no harm.
3. Nature, then, betrays in its Creator a mind so like our own as to lay a foundation for the Incarnation. The Son in impressing on all things His stamp, as God's image left a signature so human-like that we can well credit the old Scripture when it says man wears the likeness of the Son of God; and we see a propriety in the announcement of the new scripture that the same Son wears the nature which He had on purpose made so correspondent with His own. Creation of man's mind in God's image; incarnation of God's image in manhood — these are two answering facts, the one witnessed by science, the other by the gospel.
II. THE ATONEMENT.
1. In so far as this is a moral fact, whereas in nature there is neither sin nor retribution, and therefore no need of atonement, we cannot expect to find there any suggestion of reconciliation with God. Nevertheless nature indicates that the Creator possesses moral qualities, and is a character as well as an intellect,
2. Some particulars of this.
(1) Thinkers have been startled by the gospel declaration that God cares for so insignificant a creature as man. But does He appear to the student as a person likely to overlook any interest because it is minute. Remember what pains the scientists tell us have been expended on the most tiny and obscure piece of organized matter to perfect its adaptation to its place, and to elaborate every organ of it for its proper purpose. It is for investigators to tell us whether they do not find traces of kindness in this such as bespeak a benevolent heart as well as a contriving intellect. If they do, then the love of God, which seeks and saves one lost soul, is but the crown of a character patient, considerate, which has left its traces on the lower creation.
(2) But there are facts of an opposite order. Violence, death, extinction have always obtained. But whatever difficulties attend this frightful havoc of life, the sacrifice ministers always to some upward movement. Lower life feeds higher life, or the individual becomes a victim to some agency needful for the general good, the gale, the flood, the lightning: or, as the earth grows fit to bear nobler forms, the earlier ones pass away. We read here the law of sacrifice — unconscious and involuntary, indeed, because these creatures have no power of moral choice; but true, nevertheless, because sacrificed for some nobler good and more enduring end. See how beasts of prey have to make room for population, and serviceable animals are slaughtered for man's use. When I pass from this scene to Golgotha I am not conscious of any violent shock. There is pain for the good of others, and death as the price of life. The Maker of the suffering creation is not afraid to suffer for others. He obeys His own law, and the cross would have been a far more surprising spectacle had it stood upon an earth where no creature ever bled to advance creation's good.
(3) The only key we can find to the Atonement lies in the inviolability of Divine law. To magnify that God gave His Son to die. Now it would have been surprising had the Son as Creator betrayed any indifference to the violence of natural law, and yet come as Redeemer to die to vindicate moral law. No such inconsistency appears. Physical students insist on the constancy with which the former avenges transgression; and so the latter decrees death for disobedience. And it could so little be set aside in favour of mercy, that not until the Lawgiver had Himself honoured His own statute, and suffered His own penalty, did He forgive.
3. As far, then, as such indications go, the face of God, as traced indistinctly in Creation, answers to His face as its glory shines in the gospel of Christ.
(J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: