"It is finished" (St. John xix. 30).
WITH this word we come near to the end of the long-drawn agony on the Cross, with its mental and bodily anguish, its spiritual desolation and its physical thirst: "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work"--that had been the object of His Incarnate Life, and now in suffering and death that object is attained, that work is done. God's work, God's will--what was that but the salvation of the human race, a work of rescue and deliverance, the opening of the prison-house of bondage to sin, the healing of sick souls by the strengthening of their broken wills, and the cleansing of their corrupt affections? And obedience to the Father was not only the principle of His own life, but that also which He wanted to produce in the men for whom He lived and died. The work of God was to be accomplished in them through their obedience; by the transference of their allegiance from evil to good, from the devil to God Himself.
There must be some dominant ruling principle which determines the bent and tendency and character of our lives. We must recognize and serve some sovereign power or other; for good and evil are not abstract ideas but dominant powers, one or other of which we have to obey. The question is not whether we will obey anyone, but whom we will obey. "Choose you this day whom ye will serve," said Moses; and so Elijah--"If Baal is God follow him; if Jehovah, then follow Him." There must be a sovereign Lord of our lives, and there can only be one at the same time. "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon," as our Lord Himself insisted. If, then, God was to rescue His people it must be by bringing them to serve the right master, by making them the loyal subjects of the legitimate King and incorporating them as citizens in His Kingdom.
Here, as everywhere, we notice the absolute conformity between the teaching and the example of our Lord. As He preached that men must have one Master Who should bear sovereign rule over their hearts, and as He preached the coming of a Kingdom in which God should be that sovereign Lord, so in His own life He exhibited that absolute and single-hearted obedience to the will of God. Obedience to the will of God the Father was the one guiding principle of His life, from which He never swerved by a hair's breadth to the end.
Here, then, is the lesson of His example to us. "It is finished "--the one work to "which His whole life was devoted--the unfaltering allegiance to the will of God Who sent Him. Is there in our lives that unity of a single guiding principle, and is that guiding principle allegiance to God as our King? Is not the secret of our unhappiness to be found just in the fact that there is no such unity of allegiance in our lives, in the fact that we are always attempting the impossible task of serving two masters at one and the same time--God and Mammon--whose laws are diametrically and fatally contradictory? Hence we find in ourselves a heap of good desires and aspirations not carried into effect, because the law of a carnal nature sold under sin has asserted itself in the teeth of the law which is holy and just and good. Hence we find no rest or satisfaction in our sins, because the law of God which we recognize after the inner man springs up in our path "to haunt, to startle, and waylay" as we try to fill ourselves with the husks that the swine do eat. As I said in the opening address, we are for ever unable in our own strength to follow Christ's example, because of the weakness of a sinful nature, but at any rate now on Good Friday, when the Cross is set up before our eyes, there must come a parting of the ways, we must compare the claims of the two masters and make up our minds whom we really and honestly want to serve. If we honestly want to take God as our King, then the mere fact that the weakness of our mortal nature makes it impossible for us to obey Him of ourselves will bring us to claim the privileges which citizenship in His Kingdom brings to us, to dwell in His land with the certain conviction that verily we shall be fed.
Now, Christ as our Redeemer founded the Kingdom of God upon earth, and offers us its privileges, by the shedding of His Blood. Why was that necessary? Simply because God's Kingdom is to rule our hearts and wills; simply because "there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie;" because, in that Kingdom, God is to be the absolute Master, and its true citizens are to be cleansed from iniquity and devoted wholeheartedly to the doing of God's will. So the Kingdom is to be a Kingdom of the redeemed, of those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sin of the world by the one perfect oblation of Himself.
The work of Redemption is a finished work. It was done "once, only once, and once for all," and as the result of it we vacillating, wobbling time-servers and trimmers, who are neither with all our hearts for God or for His enemies, we, with our weak, divided nature, are freed from guilt, and, cleansed and forgiven, are set down in God's Kingdom to be His obedient subjects. The former things are passed away, and all things are made new. Whenever we will we can turn to God and claim this position by the merits of Him Who won it for us by the work of Redemption finished upon the Cross.
Yes, we may reply, I know that by the merits of Christ's death I am freed from the guilt of sin and am given a new chance of living as I want to live in obedience to God's laws, so that obedience to God may be the very work of my life finished at my death. But though the guilt of my past sins is done away by my Redeemer's death, the power of those past sins remains in the form of bad habits, a corrupted imagination, and a weakened will. These things go on in spite of Christ' s death, and these things seem to make Christ's death of no avail for my salvation.
But this only means that whilst the work of Redemption is finished, the work of sanctification is not finished. Our past sins are forgiven whenever, with honest repentance, we claim their forgiveness through the merits of the death of Christ. And we are forgiven in order that we may become good; it is all one process. Christ's object is not to free us from the guilt of past sins, and leave us helpless under its present power. No; having redeemed, He goes on to help and strengthen us. "O Saviour of the world," we pray, "Who by Thy Cross and Precious Blood has redeemed us, save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord." Or, in the Te Deum, "We therefore pray Thee, help Thy servants, Whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy Precious Blood." He redeemed us on the Cross, and now He saves and helps us by His indwelling presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
If we complain that Christ's Redemption is no real help to us because it leaves us a prey to the power of bad habits, this is because we look at Christ's death in false isolation from that which follows; it is because we are not devout communicants or have forgotten that Christ's work in the Eucharist is a continuance of His work upon the Cross. On the Cross He won our forgiveness; in the Sacrament He helps us to live up to that forgiveness. On the Cross He cleansed us from the guilt of sin; in the Sacrament He saves us from its power by the stronger power of His own indwelling Life.
Redemption is finished on the Cross, sanctification is going on now in the penitent, loyal, loving reception of Christ in Holy Communion. As we come there regularly to receive Him Who did the Father's will so perfectly, our own wills will be strengthened, our affections set on things above, and our minds enlightened to behold the King in His beauty. In this way the power of sin will be gradually broken by Christ's indwelling Presence, even as its guilt has been washed away in His Precious Blood. As loyal communicants, we shall become loyal citizens of God's Kingdom, loyal workers in His Church, loyal in obeying His commandments ourselves, and loyal by our example and influence to extend His Kingdom over the souls of others. For remember that on the Cross Christ makes a great claim on us as His representatives, that we in our turn shall finish the work of sanctification in ourselves and others, even as He finished the work of redemption on the Cross. We look inwards, and see the dominion that sin still has over us, because of our lack of regularity, our lack of penitence, our lack of loyalty, in our reception of His Sacramental Life. And we look around us at the world unconverted and unsanctified because of our imperfect example, our inconsistent lives, our slackness and apathy in doing the duties of citizens in God's Kingdom. Let us resolve, then, to exert the power of the Christian life more faithfully by offering ourselves unreservedly to Christ when He comes to us in the Holy Eucharist, that He Who has redeemed us may first strengthen and sanctify us and then send us out. to do His work, or rather do His own work by means of us, speaking His words through our lips which have drunk the Chalice of His Blood, and accomplishing His purposes by our hands into which has been placed the Sacrament of His Body. Then, through our loyal action as citizens of His Kingdom, His work of sanctification, like that of redemption, will have been accomplished; He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied; His whole work will have been finished; He will rest at last from His labours in the great Sabbath of Eternity.
Let us set before us Christ's loyal adherence to one clear, guiding principle, the doing of the Father's will, which was finished on the Cross, and compare that with our disjointed, incoherent existences, without unity or purpose or result; let us thank God for that finished work of Redemption which, once accepted in faith and penitence, frees us from the guilt of sin; and let us resolve to free ourselves from the power of sin through Christ's sanctifying Sacramental presence in our hearts, and to use the new strength of Christ in us for the finishing of His work of sanctification in the world.
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