A Study of 2nd Corinthians 5:21

Preached at the annual meeting of the “Gospel Standard” societies, 1944, by Mr. J.H. Gosden.

“For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
(II Corinthians 5:21)

How many of us here have burning in our souls a real question:

“How shall a man be just with God?”

Comparatively nothing else matters.

We may have many outstanding things, many interests and concerns in life, but as our friend said this afternoon, with many of us life will soon end. We must all — each for ourselves — soon stand before the throne of God to receive the final verdict, the irreversible sentence.

This is a solemn matter. The Lord make it increasingly so to us. A lightsome and superficial profession may very well please our religious flesh, but to have a religion that comes from God and takes us to God, will be worth more than the universe.

The solemn fact that we are lost sinners by nature, the Scriptures clearly teach: the fall of the whole human race in Adam by one transgression.

By one man’s sin death came upon the whole human race, and the Lord God who is our Creator, and Law-giver, and Judge, owes us nothing on the ground of personal merit but His awful curse in hell.

With sin came immediately spiritual death, so that man was alienated from God in nature and practice. That is a general truth. But what is a general truth in the Scriptures is made by God the Holy Ghost a particular experience and a felt reality in the conscience of some people.

It is our mercy if that has been so with us.

Had the Lord God made no provision for the putting away of sin, had He not taken, as it were (and really it is so) the initiative in His divine prescience before the world was, to provide—not against the fall of man but to provide a remedy for His own people, elected but equally involved with the non-elect in the depravity of nature consequent upon sin, what would have been the consequence?

There would have been no salvation, no knowledge of God except in His holy curse, no hope of heaven, no fitness for heaven. Therefore the vast settlements of divine grace in eternity past are worthy all consideration. We should, and shall as the Lord leads us, consider the great source of that river which wafts salvation down to fallen men.

The hymn-writer may well have wondered why and when that river rose. It rose in eternity in the electing purpose and love of God.

In the text and context, we have set before us reconciliation.

What a very wonderful thing, that reconciliation between fallen man and the holy God is made possible!

My friends, it is not a matter of course that it should be possible. God would have been just, as He is, had He never provided a way of reconciliation. He did provide it, and that lie contrived it, and effected it, and communicates it, will fill innumerable sinners with everlasting glory, happiness, and holiness in heaven, an I with peace of conscience in this life from time to time.

Reconciliation was not effected by a mere act of divine omnipotence.
It could not be. Some things God cannot do, although nothing is too hard for Him. He cannot infringe His own character, or deny Himself, or act unjustly. Therefore it will ever be a marvel to all who know it, that God did devise a plan whereby He could vindicate His character, retain inflexibly His divine justice, in all its glory, and yet reconcile sinners to Himself.

There is in this context a work of reconciliation, there is also a word of reconciliation; and the two are blessedly connected. The first is the chief. It is the fountain of the other. There could be no word of reconciliation apart from the work of reconciliation; and that work is God’s, not man’s.

Mockingly his mistaken friends said to Job: “Acquaint now thyself with God and be at peace.” Oh but he said: “There is not a daysman betwixt us that can put his hand upon us both.”

Acquaintance with God out of Christ is acquaintance with consuming fire. The question
with Job was: “How shall man be just with God.” I wish that many
in this chapel had that question burning in their consciences. It would
make them want—not mere religion, but salvation.

The work of reconciliation is in the text. It was a work accomplished by God, the Trinity. It involves the doctrine of the Trinity. We cannot know salvation without being Trinitarians. There could be no salvation unless the doctrine of the Trinity were a true doctrine. None who is not God could stand in the place of a Mediator to bring alienated polluted sinners near to God, and reconcile them. And none can accomplish the work of reconciliation but He Who is Man. Therefore implicit in this text is the sacred truth of the incarnation of God’s eternal Son, the only begotten of the Father. This was the device of infinite wisdom, constituting His eternal Son the Mediator in the covenant, and in the fulness of time constituting Him Immanuel by incarnation, which being interpreted is, God with us.

Oh, what an absorbing truth this sometimes is to faith!

It seems to gather up the mind of a poor scattered sinner away from all the jostlings, and counter-attractions, and difficulties. It is a great truth, that God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, believed on in the world, and received up into glory.

Great is the mystery of godliness.

Dear friends, consider for one moment, in the great matter of reconciliation, there was a necessity for God to deal with the sin that caused the alienation. Omnipotence exerted in its sheer force could never deal with sin except to curse the sinner in hell. But the Lord did deal with it; He fitted One in Whom, as a Surety, He could deal with it conclusively.

If God should deal immediately and finally with us for our sins, vindicating His justice directly upon us, what could we have but His unmitigated and everlasting wrath ?

But here in this context is declared, as throughout the whole Scripture, the provision of a Surety, Who also is Mediator and Substitute, all in one Person. “He,” that is the Father, “hath made Him,” that is,
the Son as incarnate, “Who knew no sin, to be sin for us.”

He knew no sin in His nature, as Man; pure and harmless He ever wass this blessed Redeemer, Jesus of Nazareth, God’s co-equal Son in human nature, never defiled by sin When He assumed human nature, it was a miracle.

He came not by natural generation. We believe in His eternal generation as God’s Son, though we cannot understand it. It is a fundamental doctrine of our holy faith, and it is a doctrine by the holding of which we maintain a separation from others who either deem it indifferent or else deny that sacred mystery.

He is God the Son. He did take our nature – In all things He was made like unto His brethren, with one exception.

No sin was ever in His nature as Man.

That was avoided by the miracle of His incarnation and virgin birth. Men, modernists, scientists so-called, deny the virgin birth of Jesus, but the Scriptures declare it.

Faith embraces the blessed truth, and it strengthens the faith that lays hold on it. There is spiritual nourishment in the doctrine of the miraculous birth of Christ, whereby He took hold of human nature without natural generation, uniting it indissolubly with His divine Person. This He did without sin. Holy, harmless, undefined, and separate from sinners, He ever was. But there was no beauty in Him that He should be desired. He was despised, a poor man. He came not with earthly dignity and glory, and yet there was a glory that some saw.

“The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” said John, “and we beheld His glory.” That was not an external glory that John saw, but a spiritual, a divine glory which he saw by faith: “the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father.”

This appearance of God in our nature “full of grace and truth”, was for the one purpose of reconciling sinners to Himself, and of vindicating His own character in the justification of the ungodly, the pardon of sin, and the sanctification of sinners.

My friends, the greatest thing that ever took place in this world was the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth, that holy King, that blessed Saviour, that poor despised Nazarene. Upon Him are necessarily placed all our hopes of heaven and of every good gift here.

Jehovah the Father laid upon Him the sins of all His people, and made Him to be sin (that is, an offering, a sacrifice for sin,) who knew no sin.

Here was an act, a dual act as it were of divine justice and grace.

Grace first. It was grace that permitted and that provided a Substitute. Justice did not forbid a Substitute. Justice forbad that sin should be excused, or exonerated, or mitigated.

It must be dealt with if God is just. It must be considered. Look at yourself and your life. Try and look at one day’s thoughts, and consider that not one foolish thought but it is seen by God and He must deal with it. I wish we felt more about sin. For myself, I am really ashamed that I have so little thought about sin.

Sinful thoughts, plenty; but thoughts about the nature of sin, how feeble and few!

But what does God think of it?

It is that thing which He hates, that thing which pollutes man, the only thing that separates from God. But in His grace, and love, and wisdom, and power, He permitted and provided a Surety. O my friends, God’s own Son Himself undertook in the covenant to assume our nature and occupy the position of )a Mediator. It was God the Son who thus voluntarily engaged to be the Surety of the covenant. He was a party to that covenant, with the Father and the Spirit. No possibility of a covenant of grace apart from the Trinity in unity. How sweet it is to consider the love of the Trinity in this covenant, and especially the love of a Son, knowing well what it would involve, undertaking the responsibility for His people, to be their Surety, their Substitute, their Redeemer. And He never failed. He knew what the price was, and yet He voluntarily, lovingly gave that price, pledged Himself to bring back His banished.

Then comes in justice. An act of matchless grace and love in providing the Surety, in assuming the Suretyship. Now justice must come in, and have its say and be vindicated. “And the Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquities of us all,” said that evangelical prophet Isaiah.

Imputation comes in here.

“Not imputing their trespasses unto them,” is the work of reconciliation: the work of reconciliation was in imputing the trespasses, and iniquities, and sins, and transgressions of the whole Church to the harmless Surety.

There justice must vindicate the divine character. There the sword of vindictive justice must awake by divine power against Him who is Jehovah’s Fellow, and smite Him.

How terrible!

My friends, wre shall never know the nature of sin, we shall never know the nature of grace, of justice inflexible and glorious, and of love unquenchable, unless we know Jesus Christ and Calvary.

There, and there alone, is the immeasurable love of God seen. There, and there
alone, is the terribleness, the blackness of sin revealed. A sight to the eye of faith of Christ crucified would indeed ravish the soul, give hope to the blackest sinner out of hell, and it would be, I believe, the commencement of reconciliation as an experience. The experience of reconciliation with God flows from the work of Christ known by the Spirit’s teaching in the conscience.

One man once said that the atonement “terminates” in the conscience. It was effected on Calvary : “Making peace through the blood of His cross.” It could not be in existence, much less reach the conscience, but for Calvary.

O but it is the Spirit’s work to bring Calvary, Christ crucified, and the sinner together.

“For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin.”

The purity, harmlessness, holiness, spotlessness, immaculate condition of the Lord Jesus Christ we cannot imagine. We can only understand purity by the reverse. We are black. Innocence, it is impossible for us to know. We are born guilty and sinful. He was innocent, pure, without the slightest inclination to impurity. Oh, could we but a little apprehend what we shall never fully comprehend concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, Jehovah’s righteous Servant in the covenant!

“Such an High Priest became us,” says the apostle, “Who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.”

Yet see how He had to do with sin, and see how that infinitely just God, Jehovah the Father in whose bosom the Son dwelt eternally, dealt with sin in Him!

O see here what God thinks of sin, and how His character must be maintained. As it is written in the Romans: “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.”

Did not spare Him at all, but inflicted upon Him the severest stroke possible. One of our hymn-writers, speaking of the crucifixion of the Lord of life and glory, says very truly, and simply, and solemnly:

“Many hands were raised to wound Him, none would interpose to save;
But the awful stroke that found Him was the stroke that justice gave.”

Oh, many wicked hands were raised against Him to smite Him, many wicked tongues derided Him and sneered at Him, and said : “Let Him come down from the cross if He be the Son of God, and save Himself and us…He saved others; Himself He cannot save.”

The Romans, they persecuted Him; the Jews and priests, they mocked Him; Judas, he betrayed Him; Peter, he denied Him. His heart was broken with reproaches, His body broken on the cross, the devil attempted to break Him to pieces with temptation.

But all that, inconceivably great though it was, was little compared with Jehovah making Him sin and visiting sin in the condemnation of it upon His holy Person.

He suffered hell, He experienced the curse of God. He knew what desertion was. He cried out on the cross:

“My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

Ah, my friends, but for God’s hatred to sin and His love to sinners, that never would have occurred. He could have hated sin and sent us all to hell. But He loved sinners, hating their sin, and determined to deliver them from sin, fit them for Himself, reconcile them to Himself, and take them to Himself at last.

But though these truths are sacred inscribed truths in the Scriptures, the thing is, What do we know about the virtue of them?

We are individual sinners; and the Lord will not deal with you for my sins, nor with me for your sins. He will deal with every person individually, either in this life, or at the judgment.

All the world shall become guilty and subject to the judgment of God, says Paul in the third [chapter] of Romans. It is well worth our inquiry as to whether the Lord has been, or is, dealing with us.

Doctrine is good, but it must be translated into experience to do us good.

There are many theorists in the religious world who have doctrines very finely sorted in their judgment, and are able perhaps to speak of doctrine more or less clearly, who give no evidence of an interest in the doctrine they hold.

But theory will do us little good, unless we have an experience of the truth; unless, in other words, we come into the enjoyment of the fruit of Christ’s work of reconciliation.

How is that enjoyment of reconciliation brought into experience?

First of all, I would say this. It is brought into the experience through the Holy Spirit’s convicting work in the conscience, preparing the way for the gospel.

Unless we are convicted of sin by God and fall under that conviction, and unless we are brought to confess our sins before the Lord, how can we enjoy reconciliation?

As dead sinners, we know nothing of alienation, but when our eyes are opened and the conscience is pricked by divine conviction, stabbed as with an arrow that holds fast, and we realise that we are alienated from God through wicked works, and are condemned by God for our sins, then we want something.

We want, not a mere religious profession, not a cold theory, but a salvation that comes into our hearts and saves us. Some of you may know what it is to flee from the wrath to come, and to feel that wrath as it were on your head, and the law following your conscience, demanding and condemning you.

Oh, it is a solemn thing to be turned out of house and home, and to know just this, that you are a sinner, and God a holy
sin-avenging God!

But the Holy Spirit who convinces of sin teaches convicted sinners what to do. They can do nothing towards their own salvation (they learn that!) but He reveals to them a way in which they may come to God to treat with Him, and that is through Him who died and rose again.

Sin did not remain on Christ. It was truly imputed to Him and really visited upon Him, but justice being vindicated and sin expiated when He died, He rose again.

Blessed be God for the truth of the resurrection, and the triumph of it, and the declaration therein of Christ’s eternal Sonship.

For He was “declared to be the Son of Gad with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.”

And He entered into heaven with His own blood. Now the blessed Spirit does, in the faithful discharge of His covenant work, take of the things of Jesus Christ and show them to convicted sinners, and He shows them what they must do.

What is that?

Confess; only confess. By the Spirit’s help the confessing sihner in that very confession takes the first step in the path to reconciliation.

Until we are really brought to confess our sins to God, forsaking them also, we are alienated, and God will contend with us for our sins, in our consciences, if we are His.

“I will contend with thee, because thou hast said: I have not sinned,” said the Lord by Jeremiah. Ah, some of us know what that is. But there can be no confession before God abstractly considered, apart from Christ, because there can be no hope for a sinner out of Him.

It is the revelation of Christ and His precious death to faith created in the heart, that enables a sinner to confess. My friends, confession of sin is not always accompanied with slavish dread.

I believe that the more clearly Christ is revealed and believed in by the Spirit’s teaching, the more the virtue of His death is known, the more freely a sinner will confess his sins.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

I commend that Scripture to you. Should the Spirit make it in your heart what I hope it has been made to me, you will find strong nourishment in it, great encouragement amidst all the discouragements you feel because of what you are in fallen nature.

Faithfulness and justice both involved and pledged to forgive sin, for Christ’s sake, to those confessing it.

“For He hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin.”

The apostle bases the ministry of reconciliation on this work of reconciliation accomplished by the Lord Jesus. He says to those who have an ear to hear: “As ambassadors for Christ we beseech you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”

That is no mocking word, such as Job’s friends used : “Acquaint now thyself with God, and be at peace.”

Acquaintance with God through Jesus Christ is to come to Him as a lost sinner, pleading the blood that did for sin atone, and receiving into the conscience divine remission. Then reconciliation is a sweet experience; peace with God. Some of you know what that experience is. Says one hymn:

“Close in with Christ by saving faith, and God’s your Friend for ever.”

Now that closure is no mere effort of a religious mind. It is the sacred inimitable, and yet real, work of faith in the power of the Holy Ghost. You know it if you have been favoured to close with Christ, and can remember the place, the spot. Ah, a sacred spot it will be where Christ and you met, where you embraced Him in the arms of your little faith, where you felt in your conscience the peace of God, the removal of condemnation, the sweet comfort of pardoning love.

Oh, what a change!

Not a cloud of tormenting fear left; no guilt remaining; liberty, reverence, worship, contrition of heart, sweet repentance and praise; and hatred to sin. If ever a man hates sin, as sin, it is when forgiving love permeates the conscience, when redeeming love melts his hard heart.

I wish I could live there. Blessed be God for this, the work of reconciliation effected by Christ does not fluctuate as does our experience of that reconciliation.

“For He hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
(2 Corinthians 5:21)

Perhaps some of you understand what it is, under conviction, to feel a terrible dejection, a kind of sudden despair; that you will never be other than you are, having come short of God’s glory, you must die in disappointment and despair I too know what that is. Oh, but the Gospel reveals a blessed hope, as it is in the Galatians: “We, through the Spirit, wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.”

The day is coming when mourning sinners shall cease to mourn:

” Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the LORD shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.The days of thy mourning shall be ended; thy sun shall no more go down.”
(Isaiah 60:20″

What is that never-setting Sun?

It is Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, Who arises upon the God-fearing trembling heart of a convicted sinner: “Unto you that fear My Name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings.”

Yes, it heals the festering sores of sin. It heals your helpless grief, and gives you sweet, wholesome, evangelical grief, with comfort, and love, and peace, and health of conscience, and fruitfulness.

“That we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”


By being clothed with His righteousness. We must have a righteousness to fit us to appear before God. We must have justification, and sanctification, to enter heaven.

And Christ is made all that to His people, as He is known.

How is He known?

Through the word of reconciliation, the word of the truth of the gospel. We are rather apt, perhaps, some of us, through fear of mere letter knowledge, to esteem too little the written Word ; but the word of reconciliation is here. It is the Spirit’s work to bring that word of reconciliation, the word of life, and of peace, and of truth, into the conscience and make it a sanctifying power there.

The law will never make a sinner righteous. Works of our own can never wipe off the old score, nor can they weave a righteousness to appear in before God. But it is “in Him”, in the righteousness of a once-crucified Redeemer, that the sinner is justified and sanctified, and by the Spirit of our God.

As it is written: “Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy Word is truth.”

So that in this experience we come to be Trinitarians.

We could no more do without the Holy Spirit’s work than we could do without the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. You may sometimes look upon the doctrine of the Trinity as a cold theory, and be sinfully weary of it; but let the Holy Spirit come with His unctuous light and shine upon that doctrine, and show you the Father’s electing love and adopting grace, and reveal to you the Son’s covenant engagements, and His incarnation and faithful discharge of those engagements in His precious life, and death, and resurrection, and intercession on high, then you feel in your heart the warm comfort of the Holy Ghost.

“Why,” you say, “I love that mystery which I cannot understand.” Its substance is in your soul. It is to you “durable riches” and you say: “This God, this triune Jehovah, revealed through the incarnation of the Son in the Person of Immanuel, this God is the God we adore. This God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide, even unto death.”

And occasionally, not often perhaps, there is just a little of that “being clothed upon with our house which is from heaven”.

“We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened.” Our poor mortal lives are fraught with difficulties, afflictions, annoyances, temptations, changes, and deaths. But Christ is our life. United to Him we can never die.

“Death, which puts an end to life, will put an end to sin,” for all in whom the Lord Jesus is revealed the hope of glory.

What a gospel is the gospel of salvation I I feel increasingly my inability and uuworthiness to set it forth. We must die to speak of Christ. But the Lord helping us, we who trust we are ordained to preach the gospel, we will try to speak well of Christ, and of God, and of the Spirit.

No salvation without Him, no satisfaction without Him.

We must perish without Him; but with Him we have all, all we can want, and all that we can desire.

If God be our God for ever and ever, and our Guide even unto death, why need we fear troubles, and dangers, and enemies?

If God is our Friend, and our Dwelling-place in all generations, and our Life, then all will be well. May He give us grace to walk answerably to His mercy to us, that we may walk before Him in peace and equity.

Redeemed by Christ’s blood, washed with the washing of regeneration and renewed by His Spirit, we owe to Him all that we are and all that we have, except our sin.

Did we feel and believe this, we should serve the Lord “in newness of spirit and not in the oldness of the letter”.

The Lord pardon what I have said amiss. I am deeply conscious of the poverty of my speaking, but also of the riches of the gospel. May the Lord make known to us that gospel. Amen.

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