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St. Paul's wish, kvádeua eivai årò toû Xprotoû, explained
Romans ix. 3.
-I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my
brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Apostle are obvious enough : for St. Paul having, in the foregoing chapters, taught some doctrines which he knew would be extremely grating and offensive to the Jews, thought it the more necessary to profess how warm an affection he had for them all the while, in order to convince them, that his telling them unwelcome truths proceeded not from any aversion or resentment he bare towards them, but from the love and tenderness he had for them, as well as from a just regard to the honour of Almighty God. In the words therefore of the text, he expresses his sincere and great affection for them, declaring how much he was concerned at the spirit of slumber fallen upon them, and how contentedly he could suffer any thing, (that could be reasonable for him to suffer,) if he might but be any way instrumental in rescuing them from the sad circumstances they were in, and might procure for them pardon and salvation. “ I could “ wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren,” &c. Very affectionate words, strong and pathetic, the language, doubtless, of a most generous love and a most exalted charity.
But while we acknowledge the warmth and ardency of his affection, take we care to understand it in such a sense, that it may be rational too; that it may be worthy of a wise and a great man, yea of a great Apostle, and him conducted in what he wrote by the Holy Spirit of God. What then could he mean, by wishing himself “ accursed from Christ ?" Is this a sober or a Christian wish, as it sounds at first hearing, and as expressed in these broad terms? Some Divines of the mystic way have thought it reasonable for a man to submit himself even to everlasting misery, to serve the ends of God's glory and the general good of mankind: but the thought is shocking, and the thing impracticable: no man can do it ; neither is it rational or pious, either to suppose that God could admit of so absurd a thing, or be pleased with a wish so wild and extravagant. The more judicious Divines therefore, being sensible of this, while they have understood St. Paul's words of the curse everlasting, yet have had recourse to figure in the other parts, and called it, upon the whole, a strong hyperbolical expression, such as ought not to be rigorously interpreted up to the letter.
But still there may be a third way thought on, better than either of the former ; which is to examine strictly into the original Greek, whether it may not justly bear a milder and less exceptionable rendering. It is observable, that the words åváleua Eivai, which we render by accursed, often signify no more than being devoted to temporal death, or being made a sacrifice of: and the words &TÒ Toll XPLOTOU, which we render from Christ, may signify after Christ, that is, after the example of Christ. Let the whole sentence then run thus: I could be content, nay I should rejoice, to be made a sacrifice myself, after Christ, (or as Christ has been before me,) for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh. The Greek words [από του Χριστού] will signify after Christ, as well as the like phrase (åtò apoyóvwv) elsewhere used by St. Paul, signifies after my forefathers, or as my forefathers have before me. “ I thank my God, whom I serve from my fore“ fathersa," or as my forefathers have done before me. So then the true and the literal sense of the Apostle in the text is neither more nor less than this, that he wished to be devoted even to death for the eternal salvation of his brethren the Jews, in like manner as Christ, his high leader, had been devoted before him. For as he taught his doctrine, so he was desirous also to follow the example of his sufferings, as far as he might be capable of so doing.
2 Tim. i. 3.
The rendering of the text being thus corrected, and the sense cleared, what I have more to say upon it may be easy and plain. In the text, as now construed, two things are offered to our serious and devout meditation :
I. The exceeding great love of Christ, in submitting himself to death, to be made a sacrifice for the salvation of mankind.
II. The good Apostle's ardent zeal and desire to die in like manner, after Christ's example, for the salvation of his brethren. Of these two articles I shall distinctly treat in their order.
I. Let us duly weigh and consider the exceeding great love of our Saviour Christ, shewn in submitting himself to death, to be made a sacrifice, for the salvation of mankind. The height and depth of his love towards mankind will best appear from a consideration of the circumstances of that so generous and so adorable an act of lovingkindness. Consider who it was that did it, what he did, for whom, and for what ends. All these circumstances have their weight, and very much enhance the value of the thing done, as well as heighten the obligation.
1. The person who submitted to suffer for us was a very great and extraordinary person ; not a mere man, not an angel, or an archangel, but infinitely higher still, even the eternal Son of God; who took flesh upon him, that he might be capable of suffering, bleeding, and dying for us. Here lies the particular stress and emphasis of the thing, according to the scripture account of it; that God sent so great, so dear, and so Divine a Person die
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only be“gotten Sonb." “ In this was manifested the love of God 6 toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into “ the world,” &c. The majesty and greatness of the Person sent heightens the favour, and endears it to us; as it is the greater condescension in him, and does the greater honour to us. St. Paul expresses the whole thing in very strong and lively terms, thus: “ Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery “ to be equal with God; but,” nevertheless, “ made himself of
b John üïi. 16.
c i John iv. 9.
no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant,” and so ond. See what an emphasis is here laid upon the dignity of the Person doing it. He was one that had the form, the majesty of God, and had a right to be revered, honoured, and adored as God; and yet he submitted to become a servant, by taking upon him the nature of man, and in that nature he died. Wonderful condescension and most disinterested love, such as no inferior person could have shewn towards us ! Had the highest angel or archangel, had the brightest cherub or seraph done it, the kindness had been nothing in comparison ; because they are all creatures of God, infinitely short of the dignity of the Son of God: and however great they are, they are yet capable of being made greater, and of receiving fresh honour and dignity as a reward for well-doing ; so that their serving us would have been at the same time serving themselves. But the eternal Son of God was so high and so Divine in himself, that he was above being promoted higher: he could have no interest of his own to serve, no ambition of his own to gratify, in what he did : it was all done purely for our benefit; was perfectly free and generous, such as no creature whatever could have shewn towards us. In a word, his kindness excelled all that ever was done by created beings, as much as the dignity of his person excelled theirs; and that is infinitely
2. Next, let us consider what he did, as well as who did it, to give us the more lively and affecting idea of his love towards us.
He made himself of no reputation,” says the Apostle, “ took
upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness “ of men :" that is to say, he veiled his glories, he drew a curtain, as it were, over his high and adorable Godhead, condescending to take part with frail mortality, and to converse with dust and ashes. But this was not all: for the Apostle goes on; “ being “ found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself" yet further, “ and became obedient to death,” to the most painful and ignominious death, even the death of the cross e. This was descending, as it were, from the highest pinnacle of glory to the lowest circumstances of disgrace. For crucifixion was a punishment inflicted by the Romans upon slaves only and fugitives, and was looked upon as the most shameful of all their ways of despatching criminals. Besides which, it is to be considered, that, according to the maxim of the Jewish law," he that is hanged " is accursed of Godf,” which is the text that St. Paul refers to, where he says, “ Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the “ law, being made a curse for us : for it is written, Cursed is
d Phil. ii. 6, 7.
e Phil. ii. 7, 8.
every one that hangeth on a tree 8.” He was made a curse for us in the same sense as he was “made sin for ush,” and as St. Peter expresses it, “ bare our sins in his own body on the tree i.” That is to say, he stood in the place of sinners, and was contented to suffer in their stead, and to be treated in such manner as they ought to have been treated, or as their sins had deserved. This was an instance of exceeding great love and condescension, submitting to appear as a criminal, and to take upon him all the shame, and odium, and ignominy that belong to sinners, though he had no sins of his own He was content to be accursed, in a certain sense, that is, to be devoted to death, and to bear the punishment of sin, which sin had the curse of God attending it; a curse, which Christ alone was able to take off. The sins of the whole world were laid upon him : he bare them, and took them upon himself, suffering and dying for them ; so great was his condescension, so wonderful his love towards mankind. And this reminds us,
3. Of another circumstance in this affair, the persons for whom he died ; not for the well-deserving, or innocent, but for sinners, and sinners against himself. St. Paul takes particular notice of this circumstance also, making use of it as a proper consideration for the magnifying and illustrating the love of Christ,
Scarcely for a righteous (or just) man will one die : yet
peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. “ But God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we
were yet sinners, Christ died for usk.” As much as to say, that it is a very rare thing, that any one should die for the sake of an honest or just man: and not very common to do it even for a kind and most obliging friend : but to be content to die for those who were neither kind nor just, but the contrary; to die for sinners and rebels, this is a height of generosity beyond the common measures, is without precedent, and above all comparison. Such was the love of Christ towards mankind, who had deserved no such favour at his hands, having rebelled against him, and acted in opposition to him. “Greater love hath no man
& Gal. iii, 13
2 Cor. v. 21.
i i Pet. ii. 24.
f Deut. xxi. 23. k Rom. v. 7, 8.