CHRIST ONCE OFFERED FOR SINS
John Owen 1616-1683*
“Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God; being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” – 1 Peter 3.18.
You know I usually speak a few words to prepare us for this ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. You know it is an ordinance of calling to remembrance: “This do in remembrance of me.” There was, under the Old Testament, but one sacrifice to call any thing to remembrance; and God puts a mark upon that sacrifice, as that which was not, as it were, well-pleasing unto Him, but only what necessity did require, and that was “the sacrifice of jealousy,” Numb. 5.15. Saith God, “There shall be no oil in it” (a token of peace); “there shall be no frankincense” [that should yield a sweet savour), “for it is an offering to bring iniquity to remembrance.” This great ordinance of the Lord’s Supper is not to call iniquity to remembrance; but it is to call to remembrance the putting an end to iniquity: God will make an end of sin, and this ordinance is our solemn remembrance of it.
Now, there are sundry things that we are to call to remembrance. I have done my endeavour to help you to call the love of Christ to remembrance. The Lord, I trust, hath guided my thoughts now to direct you to call the sufferings of Christ unto remembrance. I know it may be suitable meditation to take up your minds and mine in and under this ordinance. It is our duty, in this holy ordinance, solemnly to call to remembrance the sufferings of Christ.
It is said of the preaching of the gospel, that Jesus Christ is therein “evidently set forth crucified before our eyes,” Gal. 3.1. And if Christ be evidently crucified before our eyes in the preaching of the gospel, Christ is much more evidently crucified before our eyes in the administration of this ordinance, which is instituted for that very end. And certainly when Christ is crucified before our eyes, we ought deeply to consider His sufferings. It would be a great sign of a hard and senseless heart in us, if we were not willing, in some measure, to consider His sufferings upon such an occasion. We are, therefore, solemnly to remember them.
Let us remember that we ourselves deserved these sufferings. The curse lay doubly upon us. The original curse, “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die,” lay upon us all. The consequent curse, “Cursed be every one who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them,” that also lay upon us all: we were under both the original and the consequent curse. We know what is in the curse, even all the anger and wrath that a displeased holy God can and will inflict upon sinful creatures to all eternity. In this state and
condition, then, all lay upon us, and all must lie upon us: unless we come to have an interest in the sufferings of Christ, there is no relief for us. I will not insist upon calling to your mind that heaven and earth, and all God’s creation combining together, could not have procured relief for one of our souls. Christ, the Son of God, offered Himself, and said, Â“Lo, I come.” Indeed, it was a good saying of David, it was nobly said, when he saw the angel of the Lord destroying the people with a pestilence; “Lord,” saith he, “it is I and my father’s house that have sinned; but as for these sheep,” these poor people, “what have they done?” It was otherwise with Christ; He came in the place of sinners, and said, “Let not these poor sheep die.” If God would, by faith, give your souls and mine a view of the voluntary substitution of Jesus Christ in His person in our room and on our behalf, it would comfort and refresh us. When the curse of God was ready to break forth upon us, God accepted of this tender, of this offer of Christ, “Lo, I come to do thy will,” to be a sacrifice. And what did He do? Saith He, “Then if He will come, if He will do it, let Him plainly know how the case stands: the curse is upon them, wrath is upon them, – punishment must be undergone; My holiness, faithfulness, righteousness, and truth, are all engaged.” Yet saith Christ, “Lo, I come.” Well, what doth God do? He tells you, Isa. 53.6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath made the iniquity of us all to meet on him.” God so far relaxed His own law that the sentence shall not fall upon their persons, but upon their Substitute, one that hath put Himself in their place and stead. “Be it so; all their iniquities be upon Thee.” “All the iniquities of this congregation,” saith God, “be upon My Son Jesus Christ.”
Well, what then did He suffer? He suffered that which answered the justice of God; He suffered that which answered the law of God; He suffered that which fully repaired the glory of God. Brethren, let us encourage ourselves in the Lord. If there be any demands to be made of you or me, it must be upon the account of the law of God, or upon the account of the loss that God suffered in His glory by us. If the Lord Jesus hath come in and answered all these, we have a good plea to make in the presence of the holy God:-
1. He suffered all that the justice of God did require. Hence it is said that “God set him forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the forgiveness of sins,” Rom. 3.25. And you may observe, that the apostle uses the very same words in respect of Christ’s sufferings that he uses in respect of the sufferings of the damned angels, Rom. 8.32, “God spared him not.” And when He would speak of the righteousness of God in inflicting punishment upon the sinning angels, He doth it by that very word, “God spared them not.” So that whatever the righteousness of God did require against sinners,
Christ therein was not spared at all. What God required against your sins and mine, and all His elect, God spared him nothing, but He paid the utmost farthing.
2. The sufferings of Christ did answer the law of God. That makes the next demand of us. The law is that which condemns our poor guilty souls to punishment, in the name of the justice of God. Why, saith the apostle, “He hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us,” Gal. 3.13. By undergoing and suffering the curse of the law. He redeemed us from it.
3. He suffered everything that was required to repair and make up the glory of God. Better you and I, and all the world, should perish, than God should be robbed of His glory. It is a truth, and I hope God will bring all our hearts to say, “Christ hath suffered to make up that.” The obedience that was in the sufferings of Christ brought more glory to God than the disobedience of Adam, who was the original of the apostasy of the whole creation from God, brought dishonour unto Him. That which seemed to reflect great dishonour upon God was, that all His creatures should, as one man, fall off by apostasy from Him. God will have His honour repaired; and it is done by the obedience of Christ much more. There cometh, I say, more glory to God by the obedience of Christ and His sufferings, than there did dishonour by the disobedience of Adam; – and so there comes more glory by Christ’s sufferings and obedience upon the cross than by the sufferings of the damned for ever. God loses no glory by setting believers free from suffering, because of the sufferings of the Son of God. This was a fruit of eternal wisdom.
Now, having thus touched a little upon the sufferings of Christ, what shall we do in a way of duty?
(1.) Let us by faith consider truly and really this great substitution of Jesus Christ (the just suffering for the unjust) in our stead, in our room, – undergoing what we should have undergone. The Lord help us to admire the infinite holiness, righteousness, and truth, that is in it. We are not able to comprehend these things in it; but if God enables us to exercise faith upon it, we shall admire it. Whence is it that the Son of God should be substituted in our place? Pray remember that we are now representing this infinite effect of divine wisdom in substituting Jesus Christ in our room, to undergo the wrath and curse of God for us.
(2.) Let us learn from the cross of Christ what indeed is in our sins; that when Christ, the Son of God, in whom He was always well pleased, that did the whole will of God, was in His bosom from all eternity, came and substituted Himself in our place, “God spared him not.” Let not any sinner under heaven, that is estranged from Christ, ever think to be spared. If God would have spared any, He would have spared His
only Son. But if He will be a mediator of the covenant, God will not spare Him, though His own Son. We may acquaint you hereafter what it cost Christ to stand in the room of sinners. The Lord from thence give our hearts some sense of that great provocation that is in sin, that we may mourn before Him, when we look upon Him whom our sins have pierced.
(3.) Will God help us to take a view of the issue of all this; – of the substitution of Jesus Christ, placing Him in our stead, putting His soul in the place of our souls, His person in the place of our persons; – of the commutation of punishment, in which the righteousness, holiness, and wisdom of God laid that on Him which was due unto us? What is the issue of all this? It is to bring us unto God, – to peace with God, and acquitment from all our sins; and to make us acceptable with the righteous, holy, and faithful God; to give us boldness before Him; – this is the issue. Let us consider this issue of the sufferings of Christ, and be thankful.
*Delivered November 2, 1673.