"But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ."-Rom. xiii, 14.
The highest distinction of man, taken as an animal among animals, lies not in his two-handedness, or his erect figure, but in his necessity and right of dress. The inferior animals have no option concerning their outward figure and appearing. Their dress, or covering, is a part of their organization, growing on them, or out of them, as their bones are grown within. Be it feathers, or fur, or hair, or wool; be it in this color or that, brilliant as the rainbow, or shaggy, or grizzled, or rusty and dull, they have no liberty to change it, even if they could desire the change, for one that is glossier and more to their taste. But man, as a creature gifted with a larger option, begins, at the very outset, to show his superior dignity in the necessary option of dress. It is given him for his really high prerogative, to dress himself, and come into just what form of appearing will best satisfy the tastes into which he has grown; or, what is very nearly the same thing, will best represent the quality of his feeling and character. With this kind of liberty comes, of course, an immense peril; for there is a peril that belongs to every kind of liberty. As dress and equipage may create a difference of appearing, that very nearly amounts to a difference of order and kind, the race of ambition, as soon as ambition is born, will here begin. And now the tremendous option of dress, given as a point of dignity, becomes, under sin, a mighty instigator in the fearful race of money, society, and fashion.
You already understand from this course of remark, that I am going to speak of dress as the outward analogon, or figure of character, and of character as the grand "putting on" of the soul. It would be instructive here to notice the immense reacting power of dress on character, showing how we not only choose our own figure in it, but our figure in turn chooses us; requiring us to feel and act, or helping us to feel and act, according to the appearing we are in. But I hasten to speak of the analogy referred to. Dress relates to the form or figure of the body, character to the form or figure of the soul-it is, in fact, the dress of the soul. The option we have, in one, typifies the grander option we have in the other. The right we have in one, above the mere animals, to choose the color, type and figure of the outward man, foreshadows the nobler right we also have to cast the mold, fashion or despoil the beauty, of the inward man. There is also an immense reaction in character; what we have become already, in the cast of life, going far to shape our doings and possible becomings hereafter.
On the ground of this analogy it is that the scriptures so frequently make use of dress, to signify what lies in character, and represent character, in one way or another, as being the dress of the soul. Thus they speak of "the wedding-garment," "the garment of praise," that "of cursing," that "of pride;" "the robe of righteousness," and "of judgment," and "the white robe," and "the best robe" given to the returning prodigal, and "the robe that has been washed," and "judgment put on as a robe;" of "white raiment," and "white apparel," of "glorious apparel," of "filthiness," or "righteousness that are filthy rags," of "filthiness in the skirts;" and more inclusively and generally still, of being "clothed with salvation," "with strength and power," "with humility," "with majesty," "with shame," "with fine linen clean and white, which is the righteousness of saints;" "I put on righteousness," says Job, "and it clothed me." And, in the same way, it is that Paul, conceiving Christ to be the soul's new dress, or what is no wise different, its new character, says "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ."
All the figures of dress or clothing are used up, in this manner, by the scriptures, to represent the forms of disgrace and filthiness, or of beauty and glory, into which the inner man of the soul may be fashioned-wearing heaven's livery or that of sin. As character is the soul's dress, and dress analogical to character, whatever has power to produce a character when received, is represented as a dress to be put on.
Passing thus into the great problem of life as a moral and spiritual affair, we are surprised to find that inward character and outward covering are so closely related, as to be taken, by a kind of natural instinct, one for the other, and the loss of one for the loss of the other. What do the first human pair imagine when they fall into sin, and make the loss of character, but that they have lost their covering? It does not appear to be merely a stroke of art in the description given, but a most natural turn of fact, that the shamed consciousness within is taken, by their unpracticed simplicity, as a shock that has come upon their modesty.
No sooner is the deed done, than the culprits, all covered in before by the sense of God's beauty on their feeling-for exactly that was their original righteousness and not any beauty of their own culture-begin to be troubled by the discovery of their nakedness! The real difficulty is that the pure investiture of God upon their consciousness has been stripped away, thrown off by their sin. Nothing is changed without, as they foolishly think-stitching their scant leaves, vain hope! to hide a loss that is within. And probably the same is true of the immense dressing art and trade of the world; it is put agoing and continued, as regards the fearfully deep zeal of it, by just that shame of the mind which keeps it company in evil, and makes it always emulous of some better figure. Were this inward shame taken away, and the soul inwrapped, as at the first, by the sense of God's beauty upon it, the secret phrenzy at least would soon be over. The maiden would forget her torment in the sense of a holier beauty within, the hidden man of the heart, the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit; and the man of the world would be striving no more after the outward shows and trappings that are needed to cover the lost honors of the mind.
In the same way it is, just according to the manner of the fig-leaf history, that such an immense patching art, in the matter of character, is kept in practice in all ages of the world. It is the general admission of souls, that they are not in a true figure of respect before themselves; but instead of returning to God, and the complete investure in which he will cover them, they imagine, or get up, small shows of excellence, which they contrive to think are as good, for the matter of character, as they need. These small shows we have a name for, calling them pretexts, shows of covering that, after all, do not cover-patches, fig-leaves. In one view the absurd figures continually put forward as pretexts, in this way, are abundantly ludicrous; in another they carry a look most sad, as well as profoundly serious. Politeness-this is one of the fig-leaves; taken for a complete character by many, and carefully maintained, as the standard excellence of life. Honor is another and scantier, assuming still to be even a superlative kind of character; more imposing and airy than it could be under the restrictions of virtue. Bravery, again, is a fig-leaf pretext, put on to cover the loss of courage; for evil in the soul is of a coward nature, and can only keep itself up, without heart, by sallies and wild dashes of bravery from the will. These and many others of the same class are pretexts of character outside of religion, but immensely significant, as revelations of the shamed consciousness of sin. Passing into the more immediate field of religion, the pretexts there invented and put forward, as covers to the soul's nakedness, are scarcely to be numbered or named-such as sacrifices offered the world over to idols, self-tortures of the body to cover the sin of the soul, penances, austerities of solitude, vows of abstinence and poverty, exactness in rites and traditions, orthodoxy, alms-givings, honesty in trade, the doing others no harm, resignations and fatalizing submissions to God, works of reform and philanthropy, patience without feeling, liberality without character. This fig-leaf stitching is, in fact, the great business of the world; in which we may see, more convincingly than by any thing else, the certainty that men are goaded everywhere by the secret, inexpugnable feeling of nakedness or a want of character. It is a most sad picture to look upon. Then how piercing and fearful is the revelation, when the Holy Spirit strips away all the illusions they practice, and they are made to see that their righteousnesses are rags and not garments, and that they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. O, this nakedness of the soul! how dismal a figure it is even to itself! Jesus pities it, and comes to it saying, in what gentleness of promise-"buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich, and white raiment that thou mayest be clothed, that the shame of thy nakedness may not appear."
Nor let any one imagine that these deep wants of spiritual nakedness we speak of are to be satisfied, by any uprightness in the moral life. The shame is religious, not moral-it belongs entirely to the religious nature, divested as it is of what was to be everlastingly upon it, the conscious infolding of God. The law moral is a law of this world, sanctioned by this world's custom. It was not this out which the first man fell; for custom had not yet arrived. No, it was the original inspiration, that enveloped and, as it were, covered in his life; the holy investiture that he had inductively from God, by community of being with him-this it was that he had put off, and the loss of which was the dreadful shame of his uncovering. Impossible, therefore, it is for any one to reinvest himself with the covering he needs. He can not dew himself in the dews of his lost morning, can not cover in himself in the righteousness that was God's infolding of character upon him. What he had by community of being he can never reproduce by his personal will. lie must have it again, as he had it at the first; only by that same righteousness of God revealed to faith, in Christ his Son. Here again the robe is offered back, and he may have good use of his liberty in putting it on; he only can not make a thread of it himself; the warp and woof must be wholly divine-the incovering beauty of God's own feeling and Spirit, that enveloped our first father, and, in Christ, are offered to us all.
We pass, then, here to another point in advance, viz., to the fact that Christ our Lord comes into the world to restore the investiture we have lost; or rather to be himself, for us and upon us, all that our sin has cast away. The original word of scripture, represented in our English version by the word atone, or make atonement, literally means to cover. In this manner, Jesus the Lord comes to cover our sin; covering, first, our liabilities in the sins that are past, by the forbearance of God, and the honor he confers on God's instituted justice, by community with us in the penal scathing and curse of our transgression; and, secondly and principally, in the sense that he undertook to be the divine character upon us-yea, the divine glory. For he does not merely teach us something, as many fancy, which we are to take up notionally and copy, item by item, in ourselves, but he undertakes to copy himself into us, and be the righteousness of God upon us. Had we been taught, in the best manner possible, what things in character to add, what things to change, or qualify, or put away, or put on, what could we have done, in the weaving of so many and such infinite subtleties and shadings of quality, but inevitably miss of all the really divine proportions; producing only a grotesque and half absurd caricature? But when Jesus comes to us bearing all these finest, holiest proportions of beauty in himself, we have nothing to do but to believe in him, or receive him in his person, and he copies himself into us, by the wondrous power of his feeling and sacrifice upon us. Then, as every shade is from him, nothing is overdone, distorted, missed, or omitted. The glory of the Father, all the Father's character, is upon him, and he is able to say-"the glory which thou gavest me I have given them."
Furthermore, there is this wonderful art, so to speak, in the incarnate human appearing of Jesus, that he humanizes God to us, or brings out into the human molds of feeling, conduct and expression, the infinite perfection, otherwise inappropriable and very nearly inconceivable. Since we are finite, God must needs take the finite in all revelation. He can never draw himself close enough to get hold of our feeling, or sympathy, and be revealed to our heart, till he takes the finite of humanity. In the man-wise form only can we put him on. Otherwise his very perfections, elaborated by our human thought, would be only impassive, distant, autocratic, it may be, and even repulsive; as they often are, even in the teachings now of Christian theology. That he has any particular feeling for men, or this, or that man, that his great spirit can be overcast and burdened with concern for us under sin, that he is complete in all the passive virtues he puts it upon us to practice-how could we think it, or be at all sure of it? But here he is, in Jesus Christ, moving up out of a childhood, into a great manhood, filling all the human relations with offices and ministries in human shapes of good; helping the sick with kind words, and healing them by the touch, so to speak, of his sympathies, careful of the poor, patient with enemies, burdened for them in feeling even to the pitch of agony, simple, and true, and faithful unto death. And so we have God's infinite perfections in our own finite molds, and are ready to have them even upon ourselves. God is now no more some blank idol of reason, some fate, or infinite abyss, or some frigid, thin immensity of pantheistic unconsciousness; his vast superhuman proportions no longer baffle us, or spread themselves in phantoms of glory, which we can as little think as partake. But they are given us in the traits of Jesus, who being Son of God, has come to be the Son of Man among us, living out, in his human way, and so helping us to conceive, that excellence of God, in which we require to be invested. The ineffable character is made human, set forth in the human proportions, and we have it as a glorious, full suit, prepared in the exactest fit of our humanity, yet still divine. The virtues, graces, glories, sympathies infinite, are so brought forth and embodied in the incarnate whole of his life, that we can have them all upon us at once, when we could, not even sketch the pattern, by simply embracing, in trust, his human person.
In this manner, for this, in brief, is the gospel, we are to be new charactered, by the putting on of Christ; not by some imitation or copying of Christ that we practice, item by item, in a way of self-culture-the Christian idea is not that-but that Christ is to be a complete wardrobe for us himself, and that by simply receiving his person, we are to have the holy texture of his life upon us, and live in the infolding of his character. And this is the meaning of that "righteousness of faith" which is variously spoken of in the scriptures. It is that Christ is everything for us and upon us, and that we are to see our whole supply-righteousness, beauty, peace, liberty in good, graces, and stores of character, putatively ours in him; reckoned to be ours by faith, always derivable by faith from him; for this exactly is the difference between a Christian and a merely humanly virtuous person, that one draws on Christ for everything, and the other on himself-on his will, his works, his self-criticism, shaping all his amendments himself. Or, reversing the order of comparison, one manufactures a suit for himself, in patches of character gotten together and laid upon the ground of his sin, and the other takes a whole robe of life, graciously fitted and freely tendered, in the humanly divine excellence of Christ his Saviour-who is thus made unto him wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.
But we are to put him on-"put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ." And here is the difficulty-you can not see, it may be, how it is done. The very conception is unintelligible, or mystical, and you can not guess, it may be, what it means. What then does it mean to put on Christ?
It does not mean, of course, that you are only to make an experiment of putting on the garb of a new life, and see how you will like it. No man puts on Christ for any thing short of eternity. The act must be a finality, even at the beginning. He must be accepted as the Alpha and Omega. Whoever contemplates even the possibility of being without him, or of ever being without him again, does not put him on.
Neither do you put him on, when you undertake to copy some one or more of the virtues, or characters, in him-the gentleness, for example, the love, the dignity-without being willing to accept the sacrifice in him, to bear the world's contempt with him, to be singular, to be hated, to go through your Gethsemane, and groan with him under the burdens of love. There can be no choosing out here of shreds and patches from his divine beauty; you must take the whole suit, else you can not put him on. The garment is seamless, and can not be divided.
Neither do you put him on, when you undertake only to realize some previous conceptions of character that are your own. The dress is to be not from you, but from him-the whole Christ, just as he is, taken upon you to shape you in the molds of his own divine life and spirit.
But we must be more positive. First, then, there must be a full and hearty renunciation of your past life. As the apostle words it in another place, you must put off the old man in order to put on the new. You can not have the new character to put on over the old. The filthy garments, all the rags, must be thrown off, thrown completely away. Christ will be no mere overall to the old affections and lusts.
How, then, for the next thing, do we put him on? By faith, I answer, only by faith. For in that the soul comes to him, shivering in the cold shame of its sin, and gives itself over to him, to be loved, protected, covered in, by his gracious life and passion. It sees such beauty upon him that it dares trust him, and says-"be thou my all, the washing away of my sin, the covering of my vileness, my character and life. O Lord, my hope is in thee!" And this is faith; it is coming to Jesus in all his manlike sympathies, characters, molds of life, and receiving him, by a total act of trust, to be-upon you, as the Lord your righteousness. Your iniquities are thus to be forgiven, your sin to be covered. Righteousness from him, and not from your own will and works, is to be upon you thus, by the infolding of a divine power; even the righteousness that is of God by faith, unto all and upon all them that believe.
Take another conception, which may be more intelligible to some, viz., that you will put on Christ by obedience to him; for whoever obeys Christ willingly trusts him, and whoever trusts him obeys him. Hence the promise-"If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my father will love him. and we will come unto him and make our abode with him." And then it follows that whoever has the abode with him, consciously, of the Father and the Son, will be all folded in by the thought of it, and will live as being in the sacred investiture of the divine character and power. If, then, you can not understand faith, you can understand obedience, and if you go into that, as the final, total, giving over of your life, I will answer for it, that there will be a faith in your obedience, and that Christ will be with you, manifested in you, truly put on, as the consciously divine attire of your life.
I have only to add on this point, that you are to be always putting on Christ afterwards, as you begin to put him on at the first. All the success of your Christian life will consist in the closeness of your walk with Christ, and the completeness of your trust in him. You are not so much to fashion yourself by him, as to let him fashion you by himself-to be upon you, as he is with you, and cover you with all the graces of his inimitable love and beauty; and this you will do most perfectly, when you trust him most implicitly, and keep his words most faithfully.
It only remains, now, to bring our subject to its fit conclusion, by speaking of the consequences of this putting on of Christ. And I name, first of all, that which the apostle suggests, in a kind of cadence that immediately follows and finishes out the text. "But put ye on," he says, "the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof." Where he conceives, it will be seen, that one substitutes, or takes place of, the other-that when Christ is really put on, the world falls off, and the lusts of property, and fame, and power, and appetite, subside or fall away. The effect runs both ways, under the great law of action and reaction-as the old man is put off that the new may be put on, so the new put on still further displaces the old. This, too, we know by the attestations of experience. He that has the sense of Christ upon him, has himself ennobled. He is raised in the pitch of his feeling every way; having such a consciousness awakened of his inward relation to God, that money, and pleasure, and all the petty lustings of the lower life are sunk out of sight and forgot. Sometimes you will see that an appetite which has become a madness, like the appetite for drink, and has shaken down all the man's resolutions, and floored him at every point of struggle, utterly dies and is felt no more, from the moment when he has put on Christ. He wants no more a sensation, when the sentiment of his soul is full. It is as if he were in Christ's own appetites, instead of those which have so long domineered over his diseased nature. And so it will be universally. If there be any over-mastering temptation which baffles you, and keeps turning you off in your endeavors, and boasting itself against you, here is your deliverance-raise no fight with it in your own will, as you always have done when you have failed, but simply turn yourself to Christ alone: put on Christ, let your soul be so covered in by the power of his grace upon you, that you feel yourself raised and caparisoned for glory in him, and all the little and low lustings of this world will be silent-felt no more.
There is also this most admirable effect in the putting on of Christ, that being thus enveloped in his life and feeling, a power will move inward from him, that will search out all most subtle, inbred evils in you, even those which are hidden from your consciousness, and will finally assimilate you in them, and in all beside, to what he himself was. This, in fact, is the wonderful power of dress, that, while no person who has spent his life in the rags of poverty, and the coarseness of lowbred manners, can possibly fashion himself to ways of elegance, by superintending his every particular look, motion, gesture, and tone, the simple insphering of his life in new associations and new proprieties of dress, may and often does suffice, in a very few years, to recompose and assimilate his whole manner as a man. And so it is that Christ will be able, when put on, to fashion us into a character of innumerable graces, all consolidated, in a harmonious whole of beauty like his own.
Here, too, is the true idea of Christian sanctification. It is that we may so put on Christ, and be so infolded in him, as to be consciously raised above all bad impulse into good, above all guiltiness into a conscience void of offense, above all detentions of bondage into perfect liberty, above all fear into perfect assurance, and so continue as long as we falter not in the faith, by which Christ is thus brought in upon the soul, to be its impulse and the appetizing force of its life. But whether this can be fitly called a perfect sanctification is more doubtful. That it leaves the soul in a temptable state all must and do in fact agree, and if the faith, at any time, gives way, the subject will immediately lapse into some kind of sin. Nay, if he were sanctified far down, in all the deepest, most underground cells of feeling he was ever conscious of, there would yet be treasons hid still deeper in the soul, and he would fall at once, the moment he let go his faith. The truth appears to be that, in such a state of perfect liberty and good impulse as we have described, the character still is not wholly inherent, but only in part;-a kind of supervening, or superinduced character; a garment of grace put on, the grace of which has not yet struck through into the inmost nature of him who is covered by it. Christ is perfect on him, and he is in Christ, but he is not perfected in himself. The transformation of the man has not yet come up to the type of his Christly investiture. He is like a soldier in the fiery panoply and dress of war. When he has it on him, and hears the trumpet sounding bravely, he is bold enough to face all danger in the fight; but there still are vestiges of a naturally coward feeling, it may be, in the center and core of his personality, such that if you strip him of the warlike trappings, and send him out to fight a silent engagement in that common figure, he will not unlikely turn and flee for his life. It is one thing in this way to have on a pure garment, clean and white, and so to act purely, and quite another to be clean and white all through, in the inmost substance, and deepest impulse, and subtlest windings, of the soul's own habit. This requires time, and it may be a long time. Even if he were to be in Christ so perfectly as not to commit one conscious sin for many years, which is possible, there would still be in him, after all this long investiture by Christ, old vestiges of disease, and disorder, and bad passion, not yet sanctified away.
But it is much, how very much, that all these can be thus kept under, so as never again to break out and reign, as long as Christ is faithfully put on by a believing, consecrated life. Potentially speaking, all sanctification is here; for the superinduced character may be kept up bright, and clean, full, and free to the last; when, of course, it will complete itself in the all-renovated, absolutely perfect, through and through character of the glorified.
Observe again the consciousness of strength, and the exalted confidence of feeling, that must gird any soul that has truly put on Christ. It will be with him, in his faith, as it was with the prodigal, when the Father said, "bring forth the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet." From that moment he felt strong in the family. The shame fell off as the robe went on, and the confidence of a son come back upon him. So it is that every Christian is strong who has really put on Christ. He is clothed with strength and honor, as with salvation. He lives in the garment of praise. All misgivings flee, all mutinous passions fall under. Do you sometimes try, my brethren, to be strong by your will, strong by your works, strong by what you can raise of excitement, or high resolve, that is only weakness, and a great part of all weakness comes in that way. Nothing is more natural for a Christian losing ground, than to put forth all the force he has, in a strain of hard endeavor, lashing up and thrusting on himself; but in that, he is believing, probably, just as much less as he is goading himself more. Let him go back to faith, see that he lets go mere self-endeavor, to put on Christ, and he will have all strength and victory.
Here, too, be it understood, is the source of that strange power of impression, which is felt in the life and society of all earnest Christians. Everybody feels that there is a something about them not human. And the reason is that they have put on Christ. The serious, loving, gentle, sacrificing and firm spirit of Jesus, is revealed within, or upon them, and they signify to men's feeling just what he signified. They fulfill that gracious name that was formerly in so great favor in the Church-they are all Christophers, Christ-bearers. They will even put so much meaning into their "good morning," or their bow of courtesy, as to carry a Christly impression in the heart of a stranger. This, my brethren, is the true power. Would that the multitude in our day, who can think to be powerful only as they strive and cry, and go dinning through the world in a perpetual ado of hard endeavor, could just learn how much it means, to put on Christ.
It only remains to add, what has been coming into view in the whole progress of our subject, that the only true salvation-title is Christ put on, and found upon the soul as its heavenly investiture. A great many persons are at work, in these times, to fashion a character for themselves, and demanding it of them who preach the gospel, that they preach conduct, tell men how to be good and right, correct their faults, make them good husbands, wives, children, citizens-cease, in a word, from the mystic matter of faith and divine experience, and put the world on doing something more solid and satisfactory. This kind of cant has gone so far, too, that many professed preachers of the gospel itself are in it. The Master owns them not, so far, at least. He wants, not simply a better conduct, but a solid, new man-so, new husbands, wives, children, citizens; new kindness, truthfulness, honor, honesty, beauty. This new man to be put on, as having put off the old, is a very different matter from the old man in a better style of behavior. It is that which after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness-a man after God, even as Christ was, when he came in God's love to take us on his soul, thatwe may take him on our soul, and be covered in by the new investiture of his life; that sighing we may sigh with him, dying die with him, rising rise with him, carrying up all our once low affections to sit with him where he sitteth, at the right hand of God. All which he figures in the parable of the great king's wedding-feast; where the guests are called by sending round to each, for his card of invitation, a caftan, or splendid wedding-robe. Putting on this robe the guests are to come in, and, by this found upon them, are to be admitted and have their places assigned. But it happens, at the great eternal feast, as the Saviour represents, that the King comes in and finds one there that has no robe on him but-his own. It may be a very fine, wonderfully elaborate robe; he may even have thought to shine there in it more than if it were the king's providing. But the king says-"Friend, how camest thou in hither not having on the wedding-garment? And he was speechless. The king said-"bind him hand and foot, and take him away." Inasmuch as holy character in created beings is and must eternally be derivative, finite from infinite, who shall be able to stand by self-originative goodness, who that will not put on Christ! Putting on his robe of self-criticism, self-endeavor, self-righteousness, will not answer. All such fine attire is only rags at the best. The true wedding-garment is Jesus himself, and there is no other.
Here then, brethren and friends, I speak now to you all without distinction, here is the fearfully precise point on which our eternity hinges-the putting on of Christ. Observe, we are to put on no great name or standard, no sectarian badge or livery, no lawn, or saintly drab, or veil, or stole, or girdle-none of these are the real new man to be put on. No! Christ! we must put on Christ himself, and none but him. We must be in-Christed, found in him, covered in the seamless, indivisible robe of his blessed life and passion. Far be it also from us, when we put on Christ, to think of turning ourselves about, in the search after some other, finer, pretext that we may put on over him, to make him attractive, pleasing, acceptable. No, we are to put him on just as he is, wear him outside, walk in him, bear his reproach, glory in his beauty, call it good to die with him, so to be found in him not having our own righteousness, but the righteousness that is of God by faith. Cover us in it, O thou Christ of God, and let our shame be hid eternally in thee.