A Study of 2 Corinthians 5:21
“For He hath made Him sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
(2 Corinthians 5:21)
We have it recorded, beloved, in the life of this remarkable man, who wrote as the pen in the Lord’s hand (if I may venture such a word) these words to the elect Church at Corinth that, after his conversion to God, “Straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.” And I cannot imagine a more blessed topic for myself, as a minister of the Gospel, and other clergy, whom I see at my side, if our hearts are really engaged in the most blessed of all offices, than this one great and grand subject, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
“For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
(1 Corinthians 2:2)
Jesus Christ is to be set forth in our pulpits in His Person, in His offices, in His character, in His power, and I am quite satisfied that nothing will feed the Church of God that nothing will satisfy the hungry sheep of Christ’s fold despite all the Arminianism and notionalism of the day, but a simple setting forth of Christ to a simple people nothing else will do for desperate sinners, but the desperate remedy of the blood and love of Christ of Him, of whom, it is written: “But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, he that glorifieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31)
Now in preaching on the words which we churchmen call a text, and having, as I trust there are here before me at these monthly services, many who are really in earnest about their souls (not that I would daub any with untempered mortar) I would at once preach Christ to you and proclaim the fact, “May Christ be first, and Christ be last, and Christ be all in all.”
“Ye are complete in Him.”
Now in our version, the words “to be,” are added in, and are not in the Greek and so I read it thus, “For He hath made Him sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
O! what a view is this of Christ, Christ, who was holy, Christ, who was harmless, Christ, who was “separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26).
Christ, who (as the text declares) “Knew no sin.”
Christ, of whom it was declared before His wonderful birth, “That Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
My hearers! mark these words!
And now I would preach Jesus Christ to you, this Great and Glorious Christ!
“He hath made Him sin for us!”
Christ, who was without sin Christ, the Head Elect, and Holy One!
Christ, to quote Paul’s words in Hebrews 7:26; “For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, and undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.”
There was no sin in Him! and yet mark the monster fact!
O! you men of London hear me! and may grace burn it into your inmost hearts I say mark this fact, that God, in love to guilty man that God in compassion to a hell-deserving Church gave His only Son as the text proclaims “made Him sin for us, who knew no sin,” ordained that He should suffer, and bleed, and die and thus He finished the work, and made an end of sin, as His own last words upon the cross declare: “He said, It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost.” (John 19:30)
I feel powerless to preach such a fact. But believing and hoping in Him, with all my heart, I declare that this is the only way in which any sinner can enter into the presence of a holy God. He made Him sin for us: there is the only refuge of a sinner. Your works cannot save you. Let the popish priests preach works, it is their system; let them preach that system: we in a Church declare that salvation is by grace without any works.
Do you doubt that?
Let me read the words, Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace ye are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” “He hath made Him sin for us.”
I wish you would bear that in your minds. “He hath made Him a sacrifice for sin!”
The one only sacrifice, and that sacrifice has been accepted!
Jehovah made Jesus Christ such. Now take this in its simple, plain meaning our preaching should be in plain English and so I would here preach to you the simple fact, in plain, but in telling words, that Jehovah “hath made Him sin for us;” that He was offered as the sacrifice for sin, that His blood has atoned for all sin, and that He who knew no sin has redeemed His people. Now I may have here before me, all sorts and conditions of men some who believe the truth some who may not believe it but if there be one here unsound on the great subject I am preaching, you surely must distinctly understand what I declare that Christ, the holy, sinless, Son of God, was made sin for the elect that He was sacrificed for sin! “Who knew no sin!” and hence, my hearers, how intense must have been the anguish of His holy soul.
O, how bitterly must Christ the Christ of the Everlasting Covenant, have suffered when on Calvary’s cross He undertook to bear the Church’s guilt and to atone for all her sins. I think it is Toplady who says of Christ: “Bearer of our guilt and shame.”
Newton has said,
“What boundless love, what mysteries
In this appointment shine;
My breaches of the law are His,
And His obedience mine.”
Now, “He hath made Him sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
And here we have the doctrine of a “double imputation!” and, as it has been said, if it were not a double imputation, it would be ineffectual for all Christ’s righteousness must be imputed to me, and all my disobedience and sin must be imputed to Him! and then, “though a sinner, I am safe;” for, “by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:39)
Now is there a poor sinner before me, guilty and self-condemned one who may have been betrayed overcome by temptation and by sin the Church is constantly the object of attack by the enemy: “Sly snares beset the traveller’s feet, and make him often halt.”
Have you been overcome by sin as Peter was?
O, hear my text!
What a blessed word!
“For He hath made Him sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
(2 Corinthians 5:21)
Perhaps no man was more harassed in the experimental and narrow pathway than the poet Cowper; and he says in one of his hymns, and which we were singing at my own Church on Sunday at Winchelsea,
O! what we feel sin in the reality of it when guilt is made known in its dreadful development, when our state, as sinners, is made bare by the Holy Spirit’s power and when the thunder of God’s Holy law is heard then nothing can comfort nothing can relieve and soothe, but the fact which I am preaching before you, that “He hath made Him sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
That God in His mercy made His co-equal, co-eternal Son, the bearer of His people’s sins. This, mark me! is the message from the Lord this is not my mere word. It is God’s truth in the Bible! “To the Law and to the Testimony.”
My hearers, we are living in a day, when we dare not compromise the truth. We must out with it in all its fullness. We must be like (to use a simile) the Duke of Wellington, who, on the plains of Waterloo, when victory was about to crown his sword gave the still well-remembered command to his faithful Guards against the enemy “Up, Guards, and at them;” and so here, in a spiritual sense, I, in the heat of another battle must “declare unto you all the Counsel of God.”
And that nothing can conquer sin and the enemy, but that which my glorious text proclaims: “For He hath made Him sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
O! what a Saviour!
O! what great salvation!
God Himself has done it!
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their life time subject to bondage. For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham.” (Hebrews 2:14-16) Or, He taketh not hold of angels, but of the seed of Abraham He taketh hold.
Salvation is all of grace! Why was Zaccheus called?
See the reason in Luke 19:9. “And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.” Or in other words because he is one of His “own elect.”
Salvation is in Christ alone it is in the Elder Son that the family estate is vested primogeniture is the system of our own England! and as concerns our aristocracy, the title and estate goes to the eldest son! so, in a higher, and a vaster, and a more amazing sense, Christ, as the Head Elect One, has all and everything of grace and glory treasured up in Himself for the members of that family which His blood redeemed from iniquity, and transgression and sin!
“Wherefore in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted.”
Now here in the first branch of the text, is a message of no common order!
“For He hath made Him sin for us, who knew no sin” that Holy Redeemer, the Virgin’s Child, the Carpenter’s adopted Son He who was free from all sin who had not a stain, not a spot of it that He Himself should take the sinner’s place and be made sin a sacrifice for sin! in order to redeem from the curse of sin and a broken Law the people of His choice and love! and thus in the beautiful language of Isaiah 26:1, “In the day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city: salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.”
My hearers, salvation is in and by Christ alone. Dependence must be nowhere else. It is wholly in Him it will not do to depend partly on Christ and partly on our own works! O! no. He is the one only, Saviour; and He is also our dependence see Zechariah 2:5, “For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her” a wall of fire, and He will burn up our enemies on every side, and “Nothing shall by any means hurt” His Church!
Now to understand this fully, you must be tried and tempted, you must be in tribulation. Trials bring out the reality of all this it is in the path of trial and of trouble that we learn these things; it is the skilful Artist that darkens and blackens the picture, in order, afterwards to bring out the bright and telling touches of a master hand!
The non-artistic dauber cannot do that! and so it is with the Christian.
It is in trouble of soul it is in the furnace, it is in the deep waters, that we are made to learn the need of a Saviour the value and efficacy of His precious blood and constant love and care like the old woman who said, when one visited her in her cottage, in affliction and trouble, and who tried to comfort her, and pity her; “O,” she said, “if I had no trials I should feel my Lord had forgotten me,” (or words to that effect.)
“For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”
Now my hearers, is your faith on Christ, and Christ alone?
Is it fixed on the Rock?
If you ask me where my faith and hope is, I answer on Christ.
“On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.”
Nothing else will do!
He has answered all demands of law He has satisfied the justice of God; “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” (Romans 10:4)
Let me remind you of those words in Revelation 22:14; “Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.”
Now these commandments are not the moral law, but they are, (as has been well remarked by another man,) those commandments which God from time to time sends forth into the hearts of His people, giving them at the same time power to obey; for instance, John 13:34, “A new Commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”
Also “and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and Thou shalt glorify Me.” (Psalms 50:15)
And another, “And they said Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” (Acts 16:31)
Now, “Blessed are they that do His commandments,” but these came not from Mount Sinai, but from Mount Zion. These are the commandments of Christ, to His people; and as Dr. Hawker used to say, God’s commandings are enablings.
Take another “Be not faithless but believing.” (John 20:27)
My hearers you cannot believe of yourselves!
You cannot Repent of sin by your own power neither can you sorrow for sin without all-enabling Grace, neither can you help your depravity by reason of your sin, and when sin lies heavily on our hearts, then we know something of Paul’s words, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24) and “The Name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it and is safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)
Now does this Gospel suit you men of London?
It is the only Gospel to suit poor souls the only Gospel to comfort the broken in heart!
But I must pass on, the text states, secondly, “He knew no sin.”
O! how He loved His Church!
He who was so Holy, Harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners! became bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh: and in Paul’s words to another Church, the Church at Ephesus!
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it.” That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. That He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
Solomon says, “Thou art all fair my love! there is no spot in thee.” (Song of Solomon 4:7)
Now in common life the wife is not only dependent on her husband, but what he has she shares.
So the Church; “Thou art all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee,” and this is because of the imputed righteousness of Christ: the Church corrupt and depraved in herself, is holy as He is holy, in Him! is perfect as He is perfect, in Him!
Perfect in another’s righteousness!
I was reading that wonderful account in Genesis, when the guilty pair in Eden’s garden, hearing the voice of Jesus, hid themselves from His presence! amongst the trees of the garden!
But O! listen to me, “where art thou?” said the great Jehovah to Adam! and they (Adam and Eve) hid themselves among the trees of the garden!
Arminianism was there, “I hid myself,” but O, it was a fig leaf covering only, it was a vain shelter among the trees.
O, my hearers, where are we ourselves?
Where do we stand?
Is it on Christ alone?
O! the safety!
O! the blessedness of being really in Him! “in Him is no sin,” and in Him His Church is holy, safe, and saved!
I would proclaim the gospel then to every man in this Church! and if there is one before me, as bad as bad can be, any (to state the case fully,) just out from the walls of Newgate, and if you by grace are made to repent of, and to hate sin, if, like the prodigal, you begin to be in want, then in that case, I have a message of mercy, a proclamation of love to you, that “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)
No profligate can be too bad!
No sinner can be too monstrous, that precious blood is all-sufficient it cleanseth us from all sin.
O! to be brought down to true repentance! to be made really sorry for sin, not like the Pharisee “the Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” (Luke 18:11-12) “In Christ is no sin,” and in Him “His own elect” are sinless also.
When Onesimus left his Master and after a work of grace had been accomplished in his soul, Paul entreated that he might be received back again, “not now as a servant, but as a brother beloved,” and in these remarkable words “put that on mine account.” I am reminded of a far higher and more glorious subject for listen to my text, “For He hath made Him sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
The man involved in difficulties and in debt, reduced to a state of poverty and destitution, wants a Surety.
“There was a certain creditor which had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me, therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that, to whom he forgave the most. And He said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And He turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed My feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest Me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss My feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed My feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And He said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.”
Now there you have the fact!
Christ applied His own word, and He only can do that.
“We have listened to the preacher,
Truth by him has now been shown,
But we want a greater teacher
From the everlasting throne,
Is the work of God alone.”
That work is the work of God alone and only. Ministers cannot apply the word, we can only declare it, the Holy Ghost applies the Word with power! O! what an office I am now filling amongst you. We have tonight, in the service of the Church, offered up our prayers for the High Court of Parliament, on its re-assembling together, that Parliament is now, at this time, assembled together in Council and Debate, but what are the affairs of Lords and Commons, what are the subjects under discussion there! when compared with the vast and wondrous realities which shall outlive the ravages of time, when earthly Parliaments shall have died away, when the King of Kings shall have gathered all “His own elect” around Him!
O! my hearers, may this my feeble preaching be with power, may the text I have been speaking on “for He hath made Him sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” be a speech from The throne! May the King speak through His minister, the Master speak through His servant, may the Word be with Power in your hearts!
I thought today, as I saw the crowds looking at the Queen of England as she went to open her Parliament, I thought! what will it be “when the Son of Man shall come in His glory!” and here I would read you a scripture that comes with some power to me “And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heavens fled away; and there was found no place for them.” (Revelation 22:11)
“And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
Now, do not dare to say that I am straining the Scripture; do not dare to say this is not the real interpretation of that text: and if there is a careless man or woman before me, may it be blessed to your soul. Mark me, if you die out of Christ, if you die unjustified by grace, if you die uncleansed by the blood of the Saviour, you will be judged out of the Books, and it is my belief, and therefore I preach it, that every action of your life from your nursery to your dying hour, will be exposed in full array before men and angels in the great day of judgment; every thought, every idle word, and all your secret sins; yes, sins that no human eye has ever seen; sins that you may think are buried and forgotten, if you die unjustified there they are in the books recorded against you, and if you die out of Christ you will be damned as sure as you are a man. But on the other hand, if you are in Christ, and your name is in the Book of Life, and your name is registered there no sin can condemn you.
Peter’s perjury, and Peter’s oaths and curses Mary’s prostitution, and Mary’s sins; the adultery of the woman of Samaria; the sins of David, together with his cold-blooded murder; the rebellion of a Jonah, and all the sins of a Manasseh, are all hid from the eye of Him with whom we have to do.
Now then, do I succeed as a pulpiter, do I succeed in stirring up a spirit of earnestness amongst you men of London?
Do I succeed in the pulpit, in which I pray God to bless my labours that what I preach may get into your hearts?
I desire to be like the prophet Jeremiah, I desire to be as the mouth of God, and “to take forth the precious from the vile.” (Jeremiah 15:19)
Now can you read your name in the Book of Life?
Is it recorded there?
Does not our Lord say in the gospel, “But rather, Rejoice because your names are written in heaven?” (Luke 10:20)
I am at times applied to for the entry of a baptism, a marriage, or a death the search is made, and it cannot be found and we say it must be somewhere else.
But how, my hearers, is it with us as to eternity?
It is written, “The Books were opened” “and another Book was opened.”
Let me read that passage again, Revelation 20:12, “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God: and the Books were opened; and another Book was opened, which is the Book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the Books, according to their works.” The man of aristocratic birth will be there and the beggar will be there! and these of all ranks and all stations, no distinction; “No respect of persons.”
O! listen to the words of the Apostle James, and specially in anticipation of that great day” and “let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: but the rich, in that he is made low; because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.” (James 1:9,10)
O! how real is the fact when such a Scripture as that is known experimentally when (as we sometimes see the fact,) the obscure and unknown peasant is thus by grace “exalted” or on the other hand, when the rich is by the same grace “made low” when the cottager is thus exalted as a king and a priest unto God or when the rich, the well-bred Duke, the Marquis, the Earl, or the Baron is enabled to rejoice “in that he is made low.” O! here is the true nobility! Here is the ancient pedigree of heaven, the trueborn heirs of God’s everlasting kingdom!
O! listen! 1st Samuel 2:8, “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He hath set the world upon them.” And amongst all such, (the ones exalted and the ones made low,) an eternal brotherhood exists a tie that shall never cease, a bond of love which will outlive the vanities of time, and be realized and felt among the peers of Heaven through all eternity! but I must read this
“And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God: and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
And now, hear this word, Revelation 21:27; “And there shall in nowise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”
Here is the ultimatum of all! and hence we preach Christ to you, “for He hath made Him sin for us who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
As Paul “preached Christ in the synagogues that He is the Son of God,” so would I here proclaim Him to you, and declare that His finished work is the hope of all His poor ones; hence His people “are made the righteousness of God in Him.”
Jeremiah declares “in his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name, whereby he shall be called THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Jeremiah 23:6)
Paul says in Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”
Mark! “The end of the law” what do we mean by the end “of anything?” The end of this service will be when it is over and finished the end of a walk, or of a journey! so Christ is “the end of the law,” He has finished, He has kept it for His Church, “for He hath made Him sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
But now comes the solemn, searching point.
Are we personally interested in this? Was Christ made sin for us?
Are we made to cleave by faith to Him: and is this the effect of His own grace in us?
Do we see Christ as our own Redeemer?
Do we follow Him as the Way?
The right Way?
The only Way?
“This is the way, walk ye in it,” What a blessed position to be made the righteousness of God in Him!
I feel how impossible it is fully to preach out my subject! It is impossible to do so, and I feel like “a bottle that has no vent,” when I think of myself, as a guilty, hell-deserving sinner, with a little hope in my soul that I am made the righteousness of God in Him! that I shall dwell with Him through a never-ending eternity!
Is not this a glorious subject “For He hath made Him sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” And yet when we look at the sinful depravity of our nature “for the good that I would, I do not!” (Romans 7:19)
When we consider our own sins, our daily temptations, our incessant depravity and vileness, but as Kent declares:
“What though he feels himself depraved,
Yet he’s in Christ a sinner saved,
And ’tis a sign of life within,
To groan beneath the power of sin.”
It is said of that good man, that when he was dying, he wanted the words to be on his heart: “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
May we be moved by these great and glorious truths to deeper and deeper repentance, may it please Thee to give us true repentance, to forgive us all our sins, negligence’s and ignorance’s: and to endue us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, to amend our lives according to Thy Holy Word.
We feel how short we daily fall of that standard and yet how safe we are in Christ. When Lot was in Sodom, God would do nothing in the way of vengeance on that city till Lot was safe in Zoar! then the fire and brimstone fell. And, my hearers, The Church is safe in Christ, from all storms and every danger.
He is the one only Rock!
In His righteousness only can we stand! May these things be blessed to us in our dying hour!
May this be our experience!
May the seed now sown not have been scattered in vain! May it drop here on “good ground!”
May the Gospel which you have heard from my tongue be made useful and a blessing to you busy Londoners, and in the midst of all your business, in your Counting houses, or whether you may be, may the Gospel search your inmost souls.
Listen to me!
Are you standing in and on the righteousness of another?
Are you resting only on Christ? as your husband and as your Lord?
View Him as the husband of the Church, and as every wife should obey her husband, are you yielding obedience to Christ?
Not on the ground of fear, but on the principle of love?
I repeat the words of Paul in Ephesians 5:25-27: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it: that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. That He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing: but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
And now listen to the text: “For He hath made Him sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
May God command a special blessing on the Gospel for Jesus Christ’s sake.
Preached in King Square, London, 1861 – By J.J. West