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The worst has already happened so that the best can come to us.

“What is the worst that can happen?” How often have those words been spoken to someone who is filled with anxiety? How often do they fail to satisfy because the person does not know what the worst is but fears it all the same?

I was reading something not so long ago about a man named William Cowper.[1] He was friends with John Newton, the famous author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”, and he wrote many great hymns himself. Cowper struggled most of his life with a sense that, though he desired to be saved, his sinfulness was such that he could not be and would not be.

Cowper felt the horror of his sin. But it seems that this drove him to the cross. In the horror of the cross, it seems he saw that the worst that could happen has already happened.[2] God the Son has perished at the hands of sinful men. The ultimate sinfulness of our sin is also revealed. Given the chance we kill God’s Son. God himself has had to stoop down, become one of his own creatures, be mocked, jeered at, spat upon, whipped so that his skin hung off his back, and then nailed to a cross. There he was exposed to shame and ridicule. And here is the nub of it. He did that for us. He could have avoided it. He could have saved himself. But for our sake (for the sake of all who will be saved) he stayed there and endured the excruciating physical pain of crucifixion.

For our sin to put the Son of God through the physical agonies of the cross is a horrendous thought in itself. That, without grace, we hate God’s rule that much that we are prepared to have this happen ought to cause us to rend our hearts and our garments. But to put this into perspective, the physical agony, harsh and brutal thought it was, was not what caused him to sweat drops of blood at the thought of it. No, the very worst was that God the Father had to treat God the Son as though he were sin itself. Sin in all its vileness. And then he had to expose him, in those few short hours on earth, to the eternal separation from God that our sin should have led us to receive. This is a torment our human minds are not competent to grasp. But here, in this moment of time when God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, the very worst that sin can cause actually happened.

And yet from this very worst comes the very best. In this vile act is none the less a profound beauty. For here God showed his love for us in that, knowing all that it would cost, he chose to undergo all this for our salvation and so that we would not face the deep and unimaginable consequences of our own sin.

Jesus, as God incarnate, “ought to strike us to His feet as dead,”[3] but instead we are told that “the Son of God…loved me and gave himself for me.”[4] How can we remain so wooden in our praise, so stone like in our love, when the one who has been given authority to judge and would have every right to condemn us none the less gives himself for us? And he does so in order to present us, unworthy, undeserving, arrogant and rebellious though we are and have been, to present us pure and blameless in his sight. Is there a love that can compare to that? Is there any greater way to speak of the unutterably profound grace that makes that possible? Why are our hearts not leaping in our breasts? O Grace, sovereign, free and unmerited, how sweet should the sound be in our ears! Grace paid for in the suffering servant. Grace that falls on ungrateful wretches and yet continues to fall. Grace that we have treated lightly and yet still comes to us. Grace that meets us in the midst of our rebellion. O grace, how sweet you are!

The worst has already happened so that, if we turn from our sin in repentance and turn to Christ in faith, the best can come to us. And that best, Paul tells us in Romans 5:1-3 is to that we will be drawn into sharing the glory of God. We will become more and more like God without ever becoming God. And we will, to an ever increasing degree throughout all eternity, enjoy and delight in and praise and honour the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.

How precious is Jesus who wins for us, not just forgiveness of sins and the absence of hell, but so very, very much more. The very best that there is in fact. And that is nothing less than God himself.

 

 



[1] In James M. Gordon, Evangelical Spirituality From the Wesleys to John Stott (London:SPCK, 1991). I cannot recall the pages for these observations.

[2] The phrase “the worst that can happen has already happened” is taken from Gordon, either in those direct words, or similar. I do not claim any originality for them.

[3] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (London: Oswald Chambers Publications Association and Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1963), 318.

[4] Galatians 2:20

 

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