Home >> Life-indeed >> De Profundis to The Work Of God >> Putting on Christ

Putting on Christ


A phrase so striking as this merits attention, especially as it is twice used by St. Paul. The figure of speech embodied in it is many times em ployed in the Scriptures: it was a favorite one with this apostle, and it is not infrequently found in clas sical writers. We recognize its appropriateness and feel its poetical beauty when Job says, for example, "I put on righteousness and it clothed me, "or when Isaiah sings, "Awake, awake, put on strength, 0 arm of the Lord, "or when Ezekiel prophesies, "The princes of the sea shall come down from their thrones, and lay away their robes and.put off their broidered garments, and they shall clothe themselves with trembling."So the promise of our Lord to His disciples, as He was about finally to leave them, was that they should"be clothed with power from on high."In all these passages there is nothing foreign to our modern modes of expression. Neither is there anything strange in the language of St. Paul, when he exhorts the Roman Christians, in view of the fact that"the night is far spent and the day is at hand, "to"cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light"; or the Thessalonians to"put on the breast plate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation"; or the Ephesians to"put on the whole armor of God."It is interesting to ob serve how the martial life of the cities where he wrote affected the form of his thought and sug gested the imagery which he employed. And so again when he urged his brethren at Colosse to put on various virtues, such as a heart of com passion, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffer ing, and over all these, like a large outer garment, to put on love; or when he says to the Corinthians that the corruptible body must put on incorruption and the mortal must put on immortality, he is still speaking as we ourselves might speak; such ex pressions might be met with in a writer of the pres ent day. But we begin to feel the strain which his thought is putting upon his language, to feel that he is crowding into words more meaning almost than they can hold, when we hear him speaking of the human spirit as"clothed upon with its house which is from heaven, "or, as in two different epistles, of"putting off the old man, "and"put ting on the new man, "as if one could change his nature as he changes his garments. But the climax in his use of this strong metaphor is reached, when summing up in one compact phrase all that he would say, as if it were impossible, as it really is, to ex press his whole meaning more tersely, clearly, or forcibly, he says, "Put on Christ. Clothe your selves anew with Him. Let your souls be wrapped up in Him, as in a garment. Wear Him as a celestial panoply, a true armor of light, through the battle of life. It is not enough to be clad, like God's servant of old, in any righteousness of your own. It is not enough to throw around you any separate graces of character. There is only one thing to strive for, only one thing to do; it is to put on the Lord Jesus Christ." Such language as this is not unparalleled in ancient writers, but it would sound strangely if we were to speak thus of putting on Plato or Aristotle, Bacon or Stuart Mill, Emerson or Herbert Spencer. And if the expression were allowed and were in telligible, it would still mean much less than St. Paul means when he speaks of putting on the Son of God. I want, if I can, to lead you a little way into his meaning, and then to urge you to do the thing which he enjoins.

I have referred to two passages in which the apostle uses the same words, but he does not use them in the two places with precisely the same idea. The other one is in the Epistle to the Galatians 27), where he speaks of this as a thing already done."As many of you, "he says, "as were baptized into Christ, did put on Christ."But here, in the Romans, he speaks of it as something which those who were long since baptized are to be all the time engaged in doing, Let us try, first of all, to get hold of this distinction.

It will be plain enough if we consider for a mo meat what baptism signified to those to whom he was writing. It was the rite of initiation into the new society which Jesus had founded. That was, so to speak, its human side. But it had also a far deeper significance than this, even on its human side. It meant that those who received it began a wholly new life. They ceased to be heathens, and they became Christians. They broke free from their own past, as well as separated themselves from the society around them. Of course they aban doned their old religious beliefs and all their idola trous forms of worship. But they also withdrew from many of the associations in which they had formerly been held. All their views of things were altered, of God and man, of life and death, of pleasure and pain, of duty and destiny. The pro found change which had taken place in their intel lectual convictions brought with it a corresponding change in their outward lives. They came out from the corrupt society in which they had been born, and formed at once a community apart. All things literally had become new to them; it was as if they had entered into another world. How great the change must have been, may readily be seen, if you will think what it means for a Hindu in India or a Mussulman in Turkey to become a Christian in our day. It was not merely a change of opinion on certain subjects, or a change of con duct in certain particulars. It was the renunciation of all that one had believed and loved and lived for, and the beginning of life anew. When a Gentile convert went down into the water of bap tism, it was, as St. Paul says, as if he went down into his grave, and he rose from it another man. And this new man was a man to whom Jesus Christ was everything.

Thus for him henceforward Christ was the source from which he derived his knowledge of the truth. When an ordinary Greek or Roman of the time of St. Paul desired to know the truth on any subject, outside of matters of daily experience, he went, if he was a scholar, to the philosophers; if he was a plain man he went to the priests, or he took the current popular opinion, or he gave up the quest in despair. When he became a Christian, he went to Christ or to those who could repeat and explain to him the words of Christ. His only question was, "What has Christ said about this?"and every utterance of Christ was for him the final truth. On His promises he rested with an absolute confidence, and he received every declaration that had come from His lips as being the very word of God. He put his mind, as it were, into the keeping of Christ, and made Him Master of his thought.

And so of his conduct. The law of Christ was his supreme law. The usage of the day justified many things which Christ had forbidden. No matter; it was Christ who was to be obeyed. The law of the state forbade certain things which Christ had commanded. No matter; he would go to the dungeon or the arena, but he would not dis obey Christ. He felt that he belonged to Christ and not to himself. He stood in the lowly rela tion of a slave to One whose authority over him was absolute and perfect. His supreme purpose was to honor and serve his divine Master, and he felt that nothing could ever release him from the obligation to live and to die for Him. The very name of Christian that he bore, was the badge of his voluntary and honorable servitude.

And then when he became a follower of Christ, he clothed himself, as it were, not only with his Master's thought and will, but also with His righteousness. What righteousness was to a Jew, we all know. It was to keep the letter of the Mosaic law. To a Greek or a Roman it was to obey his own conscience as well as he could, to be not less virtuous than his fellow-citizens and a great deal more virtuous than his gods. The whole con ception of righteousness was changed by the gos pel, and those who accepted its teachings saw at once that it was vain for them to hope to commend themselves to God by such obedience to His will as they were able to render, and they therefore sought by faith to cover their sins with the perfect righteous ness of Christ. Over their polluted souls they sought to throw that spotless mantle. They were taught that they were guilty before God, and could base no claim to His acceptance on the deeds that they had done or tried to do. But they put on the righteousness of their Master and Redeemer as a white, unsullied robe.

This, I say, was the relation of the first Christian believers converts from heathenism, most of them, whether among the mountains of Galatia or in the great cities of the Empire, - this was their relation to the Lord in whom they trusted. They con fessed it when they were baptized. And this is what St. Paul meant when he wrote to them, "As many of you as were baptized into Christ did then put on Christ."" You renounced what you had formerly believed and trusted in and lived for. You died to the ideas and practices of your old heathen life, and began a new life in Christ. You divested yourselves of your former principles and habits, and you put on, instead of them, the mind, the will, the righteousness of Christ." Now this is not precisely true of us in this age and in This country. No such complete and striking change has ever taken place in us, simply because we are not converts from heathenism. It may have taken place in others around us who were brought up in heathenism, though they have always lived under the shadow of our churches and at the threshold of our doors. But even this is hardly possible, because Christianity is now in all the air; it is in the very blood of all civilized men. We at all events have always been Christians, and we are more Christian than we know or are per haps willing to admit. Many of the teachings of Christ are now commonplaces of our thought. Many of the precepts of Christ are wrought into the laws of the land and into the unwritten laws by which all society is governed. In this sense we have never put on Christ. He was born in us when we were born, and has been wrought into us, as our education has gone forward. Still less did any such radical change take place in us at our baptism, for, unlike the believers to whom St. Paul wrote, we were baptized in our infancy, and the faith, if faith there was, was that of others, not our own.

And yet, if we have ever confirmed that bap tismal vow, if we have ever taken our places among Christ's people and have declared ourselves His followers, we have done precisely that which the apostle here describes. We may not have had as much to put off as the earliest Christians, but we have had just as much to put on, and we have put it on. We put on Christ when we stood be fore men and confessed that Christ was our Mas ter. We meant that He was then and thencefor ward Master of our thought. We did not profess that we would stop thinking or learning, or that we would accept nothing as true which had not the stamp of His authority upon it, or which lay out side the range of His teaching. But we meant that we would receive His declarations, on every sub ject of which He spoke, as to the character and will and purposes of. God, as to His own nature and office, as to the nature and condition and destiny of man, his need of forgiveness and of moral renewal, his duty of repentance and faith and self-surrender to God, as the exact and eternal truth. We received these declarations, whether or not we could fully understand them, whether or not they perfectly accorded with our accustomed opinions or with the opinions of other men. We surveyed the whole realm of truth and each par ticular portion of it, from the point of view of one to whom the greatest and truest of all truths is that of the incarnation of God in Christ. This is what it is to be a Christian thinker, and this is what we became, when we became followers of Christ.

Then we accepted also the yoke of His authority as the Lord of our conduct. We gave ourselves up to His service, we made His commandments the law of our living. What the Galatians did in the time of St. Paul, what every converted heathen does now, in receiving the sacrament of baptism, that each of us has done who has declared himself to be a Christian. We have not only professed our intention to comply with the precepts and to ex hibit the spirit of Christ, as these have become ele ments of decorous and graceful living. As much as that every decent man must do, who lives in a Christian community. But there has been the def inite surrender of our personal choice, desire, will, to our divine Master, and the cheerful acceptance of His blessed will in place of our own. We put off our selfish ambition, and we put on a temper of submission to Christ.

And then, thirdly, we put off our self-righteous ness and put on the righteousness of Christ. Not that we then gave up the endeavor to do right. 0, far from that! Then it was that we first began to feel such a desire to do right as we had never felt before, to hunger and thirst after a righteousness such as we had not yet attained. There was awakened within us a deep, strong longing to be like Christ, to be worthy of Him, to be fit to ap pear in His presence. But then, realizing also our sinfulness and weakness, we felt that we could be acceptable in the sight of God, only as the mantle of Christ's perfect righteousness was thrown around us, hiding all our imperfections and our sins. We hoped to be justified (that is the scriptural word) not because of what we do or what we are, but be cause of what Christ did, and because of what He was and is. By a simple act of self-offering faith we hid ourselves as it were in Christ. We clothed our shrinking, sin-stained souls in the white robe of His holiness.

This is what it is to"put on Christ, "by a sin gle, decisive, voluntary act. And it is well for those of us who bear His name and who hope in His grace, to consider what we have already done, what we did, many of us, years ago. If we have to-day any hope of God's mercy, it is not be cause of the lives we are living, but because we have put on the righteousness of Christ. Let us feel, then, our utter unworthiness, and empty our hearts of all foolish pride, while we realize and confess our entire dependence upon the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And then let us remember that we are committed to His service. We have pledged ourselves to obey Him. We have accepted Him as our Master. The world has no authority over us; to Him alone we stand or fall, and He is able to make us stand. 0 let us not forget that the yoke of Christ, when once put on, can never be put off, and that each of us, who have accepted the rule of Christ, owes to Him the same patient, un wearied, complete devotion, which the slave owes to his master, which the subject owes to his king. And, thirdly, what right have we who are Chris tians, to suffer our minds to be disturbed on any subject on which we have the authority of Christ? How shall we doubt or deny, when He has spoken? How shall we dispute His word? How shall we distrust His promises? Heaven and earth may pass away, but no word of His can ever pass. It is not for me to urge those of you who are already His followers, in this sense of the words, to"put on the Lord Jesus Christ."But I exhort you to re member that you have long ago done so, and to keep ever in mind, and to make your thought and conduct accord with, this close and beautiful relation of dependence and of service, that He may be to you what He was to His first disciples, all in all - the beginning and the end of your re ligion.

But there are some of you, probably, who do not stand in this relation. You are to some extent Christians. Yes; I presume there are no heathen here. But you are Christians because you cannot help it, because you were born in this country and in this age of the world. Or you are Christians because it is the decent and proper thing to obey some of Christ's commandments, and to show some thing of His spirit. But you are not Christians in the true sense of the word, till you have done what I have now been describing, - till you have"put on Christ."And till then you not only have no right to hope for the favor of Christ in the life to come, you have not even begun to know the joy and glory of life on earth. You are all adrift on an ocean of uncertainty, if you do not accept Him as a divine teacher. You are at the mercy of your own ignorance and of your own passions, if you do not let Him rule your conduct. And 0, how will you dare to appear before the all-seeing eye of God, if your frailties and your sins are not covered up by something better than such a righteousness as yours? Do not tell me that, so far as you can see, many of those who call themselves Christians have not put on Christ to any very great degree. I know it; I know it. It is the scandal and the shame of Christendom. But after all, the truest, noblest, happiest life is a life in Christ. And there is no other sure foundation for the hope of blessed ness hereafter than that which is laid in Him. This is no longer a proposition to be proved. It is the declaration of the word of God. It is the testi mony of an illustrious and increasing company, from the days of the apostles to our own. And this - and nothing else - is what it is to become a real Christian. It is to make the mind and will and righteousness of Christ your own. It is to clothe yourself with Christ. One simple act of self-surrender, and it is done! But if this is so, why did St. Paul write to the Roman Christians, exhorting them still to put on Christ? Had they not been baptized into Him like the Galatians? Or had they so fallen away that they needed to be converted over again? Ah! but we have not yet got at the full meaning of this deep phrase. There still remained for them, and there still remains for us, the long, hard, necessary task of putting on the character of Christ. And that is what St. Paul refers to in the text. Without it everything may be begun, but nothing is finished. The foundation is laid. Now let the perfect build ing rise upon it! And this, my Christian friends, is the one thing that we have to do, - to put on the character of Christ. A man may go and live for many years in a foreign country. He may engage in business there, may learn its language; submit to its laws, and adopt many of its customs; he may even be come a citizen of it, and earn a right to its pro tection. And yet he may never enter at all into the real life of its people, may take no true interest in its prosperity, may cherish toward it no genuine loyalty, but remain to the end as much a foreigner as he was at the beginning. Or one may be a member of a Christian church, he may attend its services and behave with entire propriety, may suf fer his name to stand on its roll, may make his little contribution when the plate is passed, and pay his pew-rent with prompt regularity. But he may still have, and may even desire to have, no share in the real life of the Church; its spirit is not in him, he takes no part in its work, and its services perhaps do him about as much good as they do to the rafters of its roof or to the carpet on its floor. And so a man may be a Christian - yes, we cannot deny it, he may be a genuine Christian; he may have put on the Lord Jesus Christ in the sense thus far explained, and to such an extent as to cherish a comfortable hope of his final salvation, who has caught very little of the spirit of Christ, and exhibits a character very dif ferent from that of his Master. The world does not want such Christians as these. They are simple obstacles in the way of Christianity. And such Christians we do not want to be. We want with the faith of Christ to put on the character of Christ. His purity, for example, His utter and absolute aversion to evil. We do not want the spirit which says, "Pardon thy servant in this thing, "or that thing, or which does the thing and asks no pardon, because it deems Christ's standard of morality too high. We want a character that will not tamper with evil, but will fearlessly do right at whatever cost. Then the gentleness of Christ. His purity was not of that kind which makes a man hard in his judgments, and repels those whom it ought to attract."Separate from sinners, "and yet the best friend that sinners ever had, always working for them, always winning them to Him, always doing them good - that is what He was, and that is what we ought to be. The constant sense of spiritual things was another trait of His character which we too should strive to put on. The world around Him was not so bright as it is around us, but no earthly splendor could have blinded His eyes to the heavenly vision which was before Him all the time. And what we need, beyond almost anything else, is to realize the nearness to us of the unseen realms, so that in fluences from them may govern our lives, and that the truth which relates to them may be to us both motive and consolation. The self-denying love of Christ for men, - if we have not something of it, we are not worthy of Him. If we are not willing to sacrifice anything of our wealth, our comfort, our present advantage, for the sake of those whom He died to save, how can we call ourselves His dis ciples? Surely we need to put on more of this.

We need to show it in our daily life, in our homes, in our business, in our relations to the Church of God, if we are to make on our fellow-men any thing like the same impression of character, which was made by the Lord whose example we profess to be copying. And so of His meekness, His patient forbearance, His pity for every form of suffering, His perfect sincerity, His utter indifference to hu man applause as compared with the favor of His Father ii heaven. I cannot enumerate all the traits of His character, but there is not one of them which one who desires to be truly His fol lower will not strive to put on. And yet, after all, what we need to do is not to seek to adorn our selves with these separate graces, as one might tie a handful of roses to a dead stem. The true way is to put on, not the characteristics of Christ, but Christ Himself; to get His real spirit into our souls, and then these several graces will soon make themselves manifest, as a tree which is truly alive will burst of itself into a perfect dome of bloom, when it is touched by the summer sun.

And this is Christianity, its secret, its power, its divine, undying beauty. It is Christ, first, last, and midst, and without end. And it is Christ not only on the page of the world's history, not only on the artist's glowing canvas, not only exalted to the right hand of God, but Christ incarnate again in every Christian. It is the hiding of human in firmities and passions, not only from the eye of God by the cloak of Christ's righteousness, but even from the eyes of men by the radiant garment of His character. Just as fast and as fax as men put on the character of Christ, just so fast and so far will Christianity move onward irresistibly. That which hinders it now is simply that those who represent Him in the world are so unlike Him, that you and I, among others, who owe to Him what we most highly prize, who look to Him for what we most ardently desire, have so little of His spirit and are so contented to remain the poor, im perfect Christians that we are. 0, let us awake, arise, and put on, more and more, the Lord Jesus Christ! Then two things will happen. In the first place, those around us will feel the power of His religion as they have never yet felt it. It is not by sermons that the world is to be saved; sermons enough have been preached to save it twice over; nor by the printed Bible, translated into every language of the globe; nor merely by the silent, mysterious influence of the Holy Spirit. It is by the pure, earnest, unworldly, self-sacrificing lives of men and women, who have not only put on Christ, but in whom as a living energy He dwells. If that were true of His people anywhere, the whole community around them would be stirred, as we are told that the city of Capernaum was moved at the coming of the Lord Himself.

And finally, for them at least heaven would al ready have begun. For this is heaven - to be like Him. Not golden streets and crystal seas and sap phire walls and gates of pearl! It does not mat ter where we are; everything turns on what we are. If we are of the earth, earthy, then there can be no heaven for us. But if we bear the heavenly image, then heaven is around us and within us now."Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be hereafter. But we know that when He shall ap pear, we shall be like Him."We know that, and to know that is enough. It is to have the assur ance of eternal life.

god, life, christian, righteousness and christians