For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
Utter condemnation and loss lies in that little word "not." "Ungodly," or not godly, is to be strengthless, condemned, and lost.
I. BY NATURE ALL MEN ARE UNGODLY. Ungodliness takes a great many forms.
1. In some it is lawlessness. It is seen in the breach of every Divine commandment.
(1) Idolatry is the sin of hundreds of thousands during every hour of time.
(2) Swearing and impiety load every gale.
(3) Sabbath breaking is, wherever there is a Sabbath to break.
(4) Parents are disobeyed and neglected.
(5) Murder: does it not come to our very doors, and shock the city with its terrors?
(6) Adultery: is not that one of the sins which is fed by our wealth and the artificial state of society? and is it not preying on the very vitals of the nation's life?
(7) Dishonesty: Diogenes would still need his lantern in some places of the city and the world if he would find an honest man.
(8) False witness, slander: what society is free from these? What man or woman is safe from them?
(9) Covetousness: no man has anything which is not apt to be desired unlawfully by another. All these commandments are broken because men are ungodly. If men were godly they would see the excellency and the beauty of them. They do see this when they become godly.
2. But ungodliness may exist in strength where there is little or no outward violation of the commandments. A man may keep them all in the letter, and not one of them in the spirit; he may still have the "carnal mind which is enmity against God." Suppose a child of yours were to forget your name, or to show indifference about you when named, or coldness and dislike, although veiled under the form of politeness, could anyone persuade you that all that was consistent with loving you? And is not God forgotten? Disliked? Treated like a stranger, like an enemy? Ungodliness — that is the great sin.
II. THE AFFECTING CONCOMITANT OF THIS STATE OF THINGS.
1. Ungodliness brings of necessity many evils in its train, condemnation, banishment from God, the wild passions and the miseries of life, gloomy, dismal prospects; but perhaps the most affecting thing of all is moral paralysis, "without strength."
2. The meaning is this — that there is in ungodly human nature no recuperative power, no blessed gracious recoil in itself, back again to goodness. We may look up, but we cannot rise. A tree may be bent almost to breaking, but in a day it is erect again. There are some trees which do more than recover! The prevalent winds in Mexico which split the plantain's leaves and warp the mango tree, give the cocoanut tree a permanent inclination towards the winds. This result arises from the rebound of the stems after being bent by the wind. Did you ever hear of any man having such a spring in his own nature, that the more he was pressed down by evil the higher he would rise in goodness? Is not the process rather "waxing worse and worse" — going away backwards? "Not liking," and liking less and less, "to retain God in their knowledge."
3. Without strength —
(1) Of reason, to find the lost God.
(2) Of wisdom, to discover the right plan of life.
(3) Of conscience, to see and testify for true morality.
(4) Of will, to do the duty that is apparent.
(5) Of affection, which has all been squandered and lost, to love God even when He reveals Himself!
4. This is a very sad condition. If you saw a man who, by his self-will and over-confidence, had brought on himself some terrible disaster, you would yet pity him, and help him out of his difficulty. And do you think that God will not pity a whole world of immortal creatures made in His own image? True, He condemns. But He also sorrows, over our fall, and yearns for our salvation.
III. SEASONABLE INTERPOSITION. "In due time." As "for everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven," so there was a ripe and full time for the manifestation of God in the flesh.
1. This manifestation was not made too soon. Suppose it had been made very soon after the fall, men might have said, "We got more help than we needed — we were not fully proved — we had no chance to try our powers." If Christ had come sooner —
(1) The Jewish priests might have said, "We are sent away from the altar too soon; perhaps the blood of bulls and of goats might take away sin in the end."(2) The heathen philosophers might have said, "We are superseded too soon. The World by wisdom might know God, if time were given."(3) The great conquerors, Nimrod, Cyrus, Alexander, etc., might have said, as representing kings and all civil governments, and the whole doctrine of force in this world, "The sceptre is wrested from us too soon; a few more battles and the world would have been one empire of far-stretching righteousness and peace." But no such protest was raised. They were all silent, priest, and sage, and conqueror.
2. The Divine interposition did not come too late.
(1) Not after the world had grown so old in sin that it had lost in its wanderings the very faculty of hearing the recalling voice.
(2) Not when even the salt of the earth, the chosen people, had lost their savour, worn out their own beliefs, and lost, as they might have done, the knowledge of God.
(3) Not when all the continents and islands of the earth were full, and no fresh tracts remained to be claimed and peopled by races baptized into a nobler faith. Not too soon, and not too late, but when the world was weary of waiting, like a sufferer worn out with a long sickness, in this "due," "full" time, the Saviour came.
IV. HE CAME TO DIE.
1. The fountain and spring of our salvation is the death of Christ —
(1) One might have said when the angels sang, "Unto you is born this day a Saviour," — that will be humiliation enough — will have virtue enough to save us. No; incarnation is the foundation fact, but something more must be built on it.
(2) Is life enough? Working, sleeping, passing up and down Nazareth for thirty years? No; this is not redemption. It brings us nearer to it, year by year. But life like this forever would not have saved us.
(3) Is teaching enough? No; that had great power, but was like God's law: it made sin more exceeding sinful, but did not take it away.
(4) Would translations to heaven, then, have been enough? No; nothing will do but this.
2. "Christ died for us," as our Ransom and Substitute, not merely for our benefit and advantage. All the explanations of this truth, with which we are familiar, have force in them, although they all come short of the great and blessed meaning. He died —
(1) To satisfy justice. Not only would it be impossible for God to save in any violation of that attribute, but men themselves could not (for their own moral nature would not allow it) accept a salvation that did not consist with the integrity and clearness of that attribute.
(2) To honour the Divine law, which is the visible strength and protection of the universe, the wall of heaven and earth.
(3) To procure for us a righteous forgiveness, a peace — calm, and deep, and pure — like the very peace of God.
(4) To cancel guilt, to cleanse us by His sacrificial blood.
(5) To express Divine grace and boundless favour.
3. And this great act is brought before us here, and everywhere, as the most wonderful proof that could be given of the love of God. In the whole course of human history there has been nothing like it (ver. 7). Who ever heard of anyone dying for a worthless man? But this is what God does. "He commendeth," makes very conspicuous and great, His love to us, in sending Christ to die for us, "while we were yet sinners." Take away the love; make the death only a great historical fact, necessary to the accomplishment of God's purpose in the development of this world; make it a contrivance in moral government, and although it will still be an impressive fact, you have shorn it of its glory. It is no longer the loadstone that draws all hearts. The death without the love might still be the wonder of angels, and the political admiration of the universe, but would be no longer the joy and rest of humble souls. "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me." How? By the subtle, mysterious power of all-conquering love. Do you see it? Are you drawn by it? I long to lead you to the "large and wealthy place," to which you have right and title.
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.