Box 06-005 COLLEGE SERMON BY REV. CALVIN MCQUESTEN
Dec 12 1909
Lesson Gen.2:15-17, 3:1-19
Text Rom. 6: 23
If we take the words of this text in their ordinary everyday meaning no statement could be plainer. We would understand from them that sin brings a speedy end to human existence, but that the man who accepts God's free gift of salvation lives forever.
There is just one grave objection to that interpretation--we know that it is not true. We know that men notoriously wicked, like the King of the Belgians often live to a very old age, while it is proverbial that the good die young.
Even if we take eternal life to mean the life beyond the grave, we are no nearer a solution, for we believe that bad as well as good live on after death, and that endless existence is the common lot of all men. And Jesus himself declares of the wicked that "Their worm dieth not."
More than that Jesus distinctly says, "He that believeth on me hath eternal life," indicating that eternal life is possible to us here & now as a present possession.
Plainly then we must look for a deeper meaning in the words. Let us examine them phrase by phrase.
"The wages of sin is death."
What does that mean?
I know of nothing that sheds clearer light on it than the story of the Fall of Adam & Eve as we have just read it in the book of Genesis. This wonderful story teaches us two things about death.
(1) the nature of death.
(2) the cause of death.
What can we learn from it about the nature of death?
We notice that God distinctly said to Adam--"in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
Now, did Adam die in the physical sense on that day? We know that he did not. What did happen on that day? Man became alienated from communion with God, and was banished from His presence, that presence which alone transformed an earthly garden into paradise.
It is this separation from God, I take it, which is really death. Other things follow as the effects of death--moral degeneracy, mental decadence, physical deterioration & dissolution. But death itself was the cutting of the nerve which gave man vital connection with the Eternal Source of all life. And the cutting of it left man as truly dead as the tree whose roots are severed though its leaves are still green.
(2) In the second place we are here taught the cause of death.
How did this fatal separation between God & man come about? It was the direct result of sin. When this man & woman sinned, they became afraid of God; and tried to hide themselves. Oh my friends, that is the terrible thing about sin--it makes us afraid of God. And because we are afraid of God, we consciously or unconsciously shut ourselves up from God instead of throwing our whole nature open to His influence. And the result is darkness & death.
"The wages of sin is death!"
Ah! How terribly true that is! We see it in the workman whose hand is shaky with drink.
We see it in the professional man, who through idleness & carelessness has let his mind lose its keenness
We see it in the business man who through constant trickery has killed his conscience and through harsh treatment of his employees has become dead to all kindly feelings.
But do we really need to go any further than our own hearts?
Don't we know ourselves what it is to be crippled & stopped at every step by the blight of sin?
And yet do we realize the danger of it fully until it is too late for us to help ourselves? Do we realize that we cannot continue on terms of casual acquaintance with sin, but if we have anything to do with it at all we must become its slaves? With most of us I am afraid there are certain things which we know to be wrong, but which we allow ourselves to do occasionally because we think they cannot do us very much harm and are not as bad as many things which other people do. And it takes a life-story such as Edward Mercer told of himself in this city not long ago to bring home to us the death-like grip that sin can get on a man who dares to play with it.
Mr. Mercer is a nephew of a former president of the United States, and a graduate of Virginia University. While at college he got into the grip of bad habits and after he left college these habits got the complete mastery of him.
His father kicked him out for forging his name to a cheque. And bit by bit he sank to the lowest depths. He sank so low that he sold his wife's engagement ring to buy liquor. He sank so low that he, who as a boy had slept in the White House when his uncle was president of the U.S., was now glad to find an empty bench in the park when night came. His will power was gone, and he was a total wreck. Could death itself be worse than that? He thought not, and so one night in New York he was hanging about the bridge over the river trying to get up enough courage to jump off and end it all, when a worker from the Jerry Macauley Mission gathered him in, and he heard the message which the other half of our text proclaims--"The gift of God is eternal life." He accepted the gift; and when I saw him about a year afterward, a clean, manly, well-dressed gentleman, it was almost impossible to believe that he had ever had such a past.
Truly to him the words "The gift of God is eternal life" had been like an edict of pardon to a criminal condemned to the gallows.
And yet for many of us I am afraid they have but a very vague meaning, indeed. Let us look at them more closely. "Eternal life"--what do we mean by that? Many, no doubt, think it simply means the endless life of happiness which Christians shall live in heaven. It includes that, no doubt, but it includes much more. Jesus said "He that heareth my word & believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life & shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death into life."
Plainly then, as has already been suggested, eternal life is a life which may be lived here & now right on this earth. What then is the difference between this eternal life and the ordinary existence most people live?
The only definition I know of that the gospels give us of eternal life is this--"and this is life eternal to know Him, the only living & true God, & Jesus Xt, whom He hath sent." In other words, just as death consists in separation from God, so life, or eternal life consists in union with God.
But what is it like, you may ask, and how shall we know it when we see it? I know of only one adequate answer to that question; and it is this--eternal life is the kind of life that Jesus lived. If you will study the life of Jesus you will find one dominant note running through it all, and that is oneness with God, oneness in heart, oneness in will, oneness in work. Again and again He declares this--"The works that I do, I do not of myself, but the Father that dwelleth in me, He doeth the works."
"My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me & to finish His work."
"I and my Father are one."
It finds utterance in the first recorded words of the boy Jesus, "Wist ye not that I must be about my father's business." It was the keynote of His whole life, and at its close all the agony of the Cross is gathered up in that last heart-broken cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!"
Oneness with God is, then the inward secret of eternal life. But what is its outward sign? Its outward sign is the possession of that which marks God off from all the brute creation. God lives to give, His creatures here to get. And in our lives it is the Godlike that makes us long to give; the brute that makes us crave to get. In the life of Jesus it was just that passion for giving that marked Him as the Son of God.
Do you ever think of that when the brute greed of getting grips you hard?
What life in all the world's long history can compare for greatness with that of Jesus?
But when you are tempted to envy the man with great houses & swiftly gliding motor-cars, do you ever ask yourself what place these things which money buys, had in the life of Jesus?
"Foxes have holes, & birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man had not where to lay His head," and when He died, He had to leave His Mother dependent on the charity of a friend.
Do you really want to live the eternal life? For that is the kind of life it is, in this world. It is the kind of life that Jesus lived. And in the next world it will be but the consummation of this oneness & unselfishness.
But that is not all.
Just as we see eternal life in Jesus, so we receive it through Him. And this is true in three respects.
(1) the nature of eternal life has been made plain by His life on earth.
(2) the way to it has been thrown open by His death.
(3) the power for it has been made possible through His risen life.
There is not time for me expand each of these points separately. The first has already been dwelt on sufficiently. The second that is the significance of His death is best accepted as a single fact without attempt at explanation. In regard to the third, I would merely say that of itself the example of Jesus has not the power to make men like Him. It would remain for us only a tantalizing ideal impossible of attainment, if God had not also granted us the power of the Spirit of Jesus to mould our lives into His likeness.
And all that is the free gift of God. We could never have achieved it of ourselves, any more than Edward Mercer could have accomplished his own salvation, when his mind & body were shattered & his will power gone.
Christ alone can do it for us. But never let us think of it as being done by Christ apart from God. Christ himself declared He could do nothing of Himself. And when the great breach was healed between God & man, it was by "God in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself." When Christ humbled Himself, God humbled Himself. And when Christ suffered on the cross it was God that suffered there.
And now I wish to emphasize a very important point with regard to our text; and that is the fact that it confronts us with a choice. Are we going to be the slaves of sin and earn the wages of sin; or are we going to be the slaves of God and receive His full gift? Perhaps you will baulk at that word slave and say that you are too independent to be anybody's slave even God's.
Well, all I have to say to that is that you have got to serve one or other and there is no third alternative. Some of you may not believe this, because the devil has a perfect genius for making people imagine that what is really his way is simply their own way. He is very modest about asserting his ownership at first, until he has got you fairly in his power and then he shows no mercy. Like ["the Jewish moneylender" is crossed out] Shylock, he is all smiles and servility at first; but once he has got his victim in his grip he is tyrannically cruel.
Remember that you never see the true hideousness of a sin from the outside. For the devil does not play fair. He dazzles us with the foam and sparkle that covers the top of his cup and we know nothing of the bitterness of the drugs until we have drunk it.
How different Jesus is!
How fair and honest with us! He never cheats us with the false lures of the recruiting sergeant or the immigrant agent, showing us only the bright side of the life he calls us to, and saying nothing of the dark. He wants us to know exactly what hardships we may have to face before we ever enter his service.
You remember the man who came to Him & said "Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest." And Jesus answered him--"Foxes have holes & birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head."
And what were the terms of discipleship which he offered to His followers?
"Whosoever will come after me let him deny himself & take up his cross & follow me."
Ah, surely such a leader & a master is to be trusted. And surely there is no comparison between the two lives. The one devoted to the service of self & of sin like that of the devil-fish stretching its loathsome arms in every direction & grasping at everything within reach.
The other is like the life of Jesus ever striving not to get but to give, and ever receiving at the hand of God Himself all that is best & most worth having. So that the Apostle Paul could declare after a long experience of the good things of God, "all things are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's."