George T. (George Tybout) Purves.

The sinless Christ online

. (page 1 of 9)
Online LibraryGeorge T. (George Tybout) PurvesThe sinless Christ → online text (page 1 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



PULPIT %.<^'






F. Gutekunst

George Tybout Purves, D.D., LL.D.

JLhc Presbyterian pulpit





Late Pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York,
Sometime Professor in Princeton Theological Seminary




Copyright, 1902, by the Trustees of
The Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-
School Work.

Published November, iq02.


The sermons contained in this volume cannot
fairly be called sermons preached by Dr. Purves.
He prepared full notes. In preaching, however,
he was absolutely independent of them, and many
of the most impressive passages of his discourses
had never been written. But, as he closely ad-
hered in the pulpit at many points to the lan-
guage of the outline written in his study, these
discourses will enable the readers who heard him
preach on their texts to recall the sermons as
he delivered them.

Those who, like the writer of this Introduction,
listened to Dr. Purves regularly as his parish-
ioners know that he was an exceptionally great
preacher. Underlying his preaching was the
Christian "theory of the universe." To this
theory he had given and was always giving the
careful study and reflection of a large, disci-
plined and energetic mind. As he apprehended


it, it was self-consistent, justified by reason and
in harmony with his religious experience. It was
his strongest, most distinct and most cherished
intellectual conviction.

During his entire professional life he was a
close, scientific and enthusiastic student of the
Bible, and of the New Testament in particular.
He had a brilliant career for eight years as Profes-
sor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis in
Princeton Theological Seminary. He knew the
later Scriptures as few men know them. He
received them as the absolutely truthful and in-
spired record of God's gracious revelation to sin-
ful men, and as the infallible rule of religious
faith and life.

His religious Hfe was sincere and simple. The
trait which those near to him would probably call
distinguishing and out-standing was his affectionate
loyalty to Jesus Christ, his Redeemer, Lord and

He was a man of high intellectual tastes and
wide and various intellectual interests. He was a
cultivated man who loved good and great books.
But these tastes, strong as they were, were reso-


lutely subordinated to his sympathy with his
fellow-men, his affection for them and his active
interest in their spiritual well-being. This affec-
tionate interest finely revealed itself in his work-
as a Christian pastor. I never knew a better
pastor than Dr. Purves was when in Princeton.

He had a great gift of speech. I have heard
him more than once when he was compelled to
speak with no time at all for preparation and had
to throw himself upon his reserve of culture.
At these times he surprised and delighted me
by the spontaneous methodizing of his mind, and
the clearness and grace of his speech. I never
heard him speak when his own emotions and
the emotions of his audience were not stirred.
He spoke with fervor and energy, which the
hearer felt as power.

To say that these were the gifts, convictions,
attainments and method of a man is to call him a
great didactic Christian orator. But no catalogue
will explain the consummate charm of Dr. Purves
as a preacher. The living whole was far greater
than the sum of all the parts. We, whom he in-
structed and inspired, while we rejoice that some


of his discourses are given to the public, cannot
help regretting that many of those who will ob-
tain from this volume new strength to do and
bear and undergo and overcome, did not enjoy
the high privilege which was ours when he
opened unto us the Scriptures.

John DeWitt.
Princeton, October 23, 1902.


I. The Sinless Christ ....

II. The Crisis of a Soul

III. Confessing Christ ....

IV. Samson's Riddle ....

V. Peter's Shadow, or Unconscious In

VI. The Way, the Truth, and the Life

VII. Earthly and Heavenly Lights

VIII. The Waiting Dead ....









" For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless,
undefiled, separate from sinners." — Heb. vii. 26,

Whatever makes the person of Jesus Christ
vividly real to our thoughts helps us in our daily
lives. Practical Christianity finds a mighty stimu-
lus in trusting, contemplating, understanding, and
following Him ; for in so doing we learn to live
with God and for man. He is the personal center
of our religion, the living revelation of truth and
life, the magnet by which we are drawn heaven-
ward, the One in and by whom salvation becomes
an actual possession. Yet thus vividly and
truthfully to apprehend Him is not easy. Being
invisible. He does not stand so clearly before us as
do other objects which address themselves to our
senses. The historical distance from us of His

' The copyright of this sermon belongs to the Fleming H.
Revell Company, New York and Chicago, who courteously permit
its use in this volume.



earthly career is apt to make His figure indistinct.
Even our dogmatic conceptions of His person
and work sometimes become formal and lifeless,
though intended to interpret Him, and though
correctly expressing what we should believe about
Him. It ought, therefore, to be our effort con-
stantly to repaint His figure upon the canvas of
our thought, to turn upon Him the hght of ex-
perience and research, of comparison and analy-
sis, that fresh ideas of His unspeakable glory
may daily dawn upon our minds, delight our
hearts, and cause us to give Him all the admira-
tion and devotion of which we may be capable.
Now, in the words of our text, we have briefly
described the moral purity of Jesus, the sinless,
unspotted excellence of His personal character.
The language is very vivid. It shows the pro-
found impression which Jesus made on the first
generation of disciples — the immediate reflection
of the impression made on those who came into
direct contact with Him. The words breathe the
realism of personal acquaintance. They do not
enlarge upon what all knew, but they express
very beautifully the sense of ineffable purity and
holiness, of infinite moral superiority, which the
disciples received from Him whose very presence
had revealed a new and heavenly life. He was


" holy "; and the Greek word is not the common
one for a thing set apart for sacred usage, but a
word less often employed and indicative of an
exquisitely pure and lofty character, one that real-
ized and discharged all its obligations. He was
*' harmless," i. e., thoroughly good, gentle, benevo-
lent, tender-hearted, and true. Out of Him as
they remembered Him, no harm ever proceeded.
No evil ever issued from act or word of His.
Nothing but good came from Him. When we
remember how much we influence one another,
and how much evil goes forth even from the best
of us, to counterbalance not a little of the good
we do, we shall appreciate the character of the
One of whom it could be said by those who knew
Him best, that He was, as He bade them to be,
" harmless as a dove." Further, He was " unde-
filed " — untainted by the corruption of the world
in which He dwelt, unspotted by the passions
which left a stain even on apostles. In short, He
was " separate from sinners." Some would take
these words with those that follow, " made higher
than the heavens," and understand them to de-
scribe our Lord as now separated at the right
hand of God from the world of sinners, even as
the high priest in the most holy place was sepa-
rated from the multitude for whom He made


atonement. But I judge it more natural to see in
these words another phrase to describe Christ's per-
sonal character. He was separated from sinners.
The disciples who stood nearest to Him felt that
there was a great chasm between His spotless
soul and theirs. He was on a plane above them.
His motives and purposes were unlike theirs.
And this, although in other respects He was so
near to them and so truly man. He had laid hold,
as this epistle says, on the seed of Abraham. He
was touched with the feeling of their infirmities.
He was full of sympathy and friendship. He
understood them. He took them by the hand.
He wept over their griefs and rejoiced in their
joys. Yet He was evidently as far above them
as the gleaming stars w^ere higher than the water
in which their brilliance was reflected. He was
the friend of publicans and harlots, and yet He
was " separate from sinners."

Could any language more forcibly express the
sense which the disciples had of their Master's
sinlessness ? As I have said, the words indicate
the realism of personal -acquaintance. They do
not speak in the language of the schools. They
do not measure Christ's worth by formal stand-
ards. They are the outcome of personal adora-
tion and unspeakable reverence for One whose


character and life had been to those who knew
Him the disclosure of the absolutely good.

Now I desire to enable you, if possible, to real-
ize afresh the sinlessness of Jesus Christ by sug-
gesting certain considerations which ought to
make it very clear and very astonishing to our
minds. I would exalt your sense of His personal
perfection, — unlike that of any other character
who ever has appeared in the history of our race,
— and I would do it, not by a formal proof of the
doctrine, but by setting His life in its surround-
ings, with the hope that the same impression may
be made on our minds as on those who knew
Him first,

I. Consider, then, that in all the records which
we have of the Lord Jesus there is not the slight-
est betrayal by Him of the least degree of the
consciousness of sin. We have a sufficiently
(complete record to justify us in saying that this
is a fact. We see Him in most trying hours. We
hear Him pray. We listen to His teaching on
religious themes. We hear Him reprove others.
We catch glimpses of Him in private as well as
in public. We know that He spoke often about
Himself But in all the life of Christ we never
hear any confession of unworthiness or any long-
ing after holiness, nor discover any indication what-


ever that He felt Himself in the least degree
touched by sin.

The significance of this will appear if we recall
two other facts, one of experience, the other of

The first is that, as a matter of universal ex-
perience, the more spiritual a man becomes the
more does he feel himself a sinner and unworthy
of fellowship with God. The progress of man's
moral life commonly consists in the awakening
and sharpening of his conscience. He becomes
more keenly aware of moral obligations. He
sees them where before he saw them not. He
analyzes more thoroughly his motives and clas-
sifies more correctly his duties. He becomes
more sensitive to the demands made upon his
conscience, just as progress in other departments
of activity consists in the refinement of our powers
and the larger perception of the objects on which
they were meant to terminate. This is the law
of the moral and spiritual life of man. He is at
first a child, and, like a child, takes in only a few
facts, feels his obligations in but a few directions.
Some men never grow beyond this stage. Though
their intellects may be cultured and their bodies
strengthened, their moral faculties remain unde-
veloped. Then conscience is apt to become a


mere scourge, driving to unloved duty ; a night-
mare, affrighting with threats of torment. I^ut
just so far as the spiritual life of man has blos-
somed and flowered, so far has his sensitiveness
to evil increased, his recognition of it brightened
and clarified, his consciousness of its presence in
him become more intense, and his longings after
freedom from it become stronger. Witness in
proof of this the hymns of all religions, and
especially the hymns of Christendom. Witness
the advance of social morality, taking in, as it has
gradually done, matters that were once thought
quite indifferent. Read the confessions of the
purest men and women who ever have lived. Those
that have risen highest have felt themselves the
lowest. And this has not been a delusion with
them ; they have only seen more clearly. A vil-
lainous murderer went to the scaffold saying that
he looked on his life as a whole with much satis-
faction, and felt that, with the trifling exception
of a murder, he had tried to do right by all men.
Augustine wrote, " The dwelling of my soul is in
ruins ; do Thou restore it. There is that in it which
must offend thine eyes ; I confess and know it :
but who will cleanse it ?" Such are fair examples.
Who of us that tries to love God does not know
the same thing from his own experience? As


Christian life proceeds, as its insight becomes
clearer, as its consciousness deepens and is puri-
fied, it becomes more and more ready to say with
the Scripture, " In my flesh there dwelleth no
good thing," and to repeat confessions at which
the world sometimes stands amazed. Just in pro-
portion as man's moral Hfe advances does he feel
that he is not worthy even to gather up the
crumbs that fall from the festal table which the
grace of God has spread.

But lo ! the one Person who by act and word
gave evidence of the most spiritual life was abso-
lutely without this element of mind. He had the
clearest insight into moral duties. His words are
still recognized as embodying the loftiest ethics.
His character is held worthy of universal imita-
tion. He loved to pray. He talked with God as
though he saw Him. Yet, unlike every other
man of spiritual insight who ever lived, he never
betrayed any sense of unworthiness or of need of
greater holiness.

This stands out still more remarkably when
we associate it with the historical fact that in the
Jewish world in which Jesus lived the sense of
sin and of general apostasy from God was spe-
cially strong among awakened minds. Jesus lived
in the age when John cried to all Israel, ** Repent !"


and with prophetic zeal unveiled the monstrous
corruption of the church and nation. But John
himself very plainly confessed his own unworthi-
ness. Speaking of the Messiah, he said, " His shoe's
latchet I am not worthy to unloose." So, Hke-
wise, those men who followed Jesus were very
emphatic in their confessions of sin. Peter cried,
" I am a sinful man, O Lord." The centurion
said, " I am not worthy that thou shouldest come
under my roof." Paul called himself " the chief
of sinners." Wherever Christ or his gospel went
men were awakened in an eminent degree to the
fact of sin, and were led to confess that, even if
believers, they were only beginning to aspire to
that holiness without which they felt that no
man can see the Lord.

But again, amid this whole movement and as
the vital center of it, the Lord Jesus never be-
trayed the slightest consciousness of wrong. If
He had been the product of the same influences
which molded the rest, He would have been the
loudest in His confessions. But not an accent of
penitence fell from His lips. How does the con-
sciousness of sin show itself? With some in fear,
causing them to turn away from God and dread to
think of Him, much more to pray. With others
it assumes the form of bravado, leading them to


boldly dare the consequences of their misdeeds.
These effects, however, are seen in characters
which cannot possibly be compared with Christ's.
With g-ood men, on the other hand, who have
been awakened to a sense of sin, it shows itself
in expressions of repentance, in prayers for for-
giveness, in longings after holiness, in acknowl-
edgment of the unmerited grace of God ; some-
times in painful acts of self-denial and asceticism,
which are supposed to compensate for transgres-
sion or to extinguish the power of evil. But none
of these things are discoverable in Jesus. Though
He called others to repent, He Himself never
expressed repentance. He never asked to be
forgiven, though He taught us to ask it. On the
contrary, we find Him rejoicing in the assurance
of His Father's eternal love, delighting in com-
munion with God, and finally openly challenging
His enemies on this very point : " Which of you
convinceth Me of sin ?" Nor is there any trace
of development in His spiritual life, but, from the
first and to the last, the utter absence of the con-
sciousness of sin appears in Him. The Buddha
claimed to reach perfection, but only as the result
of a long and painful process of self-purification.
Christ appears as free from the sense of sin in the
beginning of His career as amid its close.


Is not this a life which stands alone in all his-
tory ? Try to imagine, if it be possible on the
ordinary suppositions of human experience, how
one could be gifted with such spiritual discern-
ment and yet see no flaw in himself, if there was
a flaw. How could one teach such high and
pure morals without confessing his own short-
comings, if he did come short ? How could one
dwell so near to the divine Father and never ask
to be forgiven sin, which that Father hates, if
there was any sin to be forgiven ? I ask you to
think of this, not from the standpoint of the deity
of Christ in which we believe, but from the stand-
point of His humanity. Conceive the impression
which He must have made upon those about Him.
Realize that He was an actual living person.
Then you will appreciate the fact that in all the
record of His life there is not a trace of the
slightest sense of sin. " If I should say, I know
not the Father," said Jesus to the Pharisees, " I
should be a liar hke unto you : but I know Him
and keep His sayings." '* I do always those
things which please Him." Such expressions,
imbedded in such a life, form a unique fact in the
history of moral teaching.

2. There are only two ways by which those
who doubt these facts can evade the force of the


evidence. The first is by saying that the record
in the gospels is not true, but that the disciples
exaggerated the character of their Master, embel-
lished His virtues, and forgot His faults. To
reply to this objection would lead us too far
afield. It involves the whole question of the
credibiHty of the Gospels. But I may point out
in passing that the Gospels do describe Christ's
weakness and weariness, His struggles with temp-
tation, and His agony in the garden. They evince
no disposition, therefore, to idealize the character
of Jesus or to hide His genuine humanity. On
the other hand, they do not, except in the pro-
logue to the fourth Gospel, bring out the formal
doctrine about Him which the apostles themselves
believed, nor do they impute to the Master the
theological language which later revelations would
have justified. They have therefore all the ap-
pearance of honest histories. They confirm one
another. They are themselves confirmed by the
epistles. The very simplicity of their story attests
their historical veracity.

The other way to escape the natural inference
from the facts of which we have been speaking is
to say that Jesus was under an hallucination, that
His enthusiasm made Him blind to His own
defects. So Renan writes : " Jesus cannot be



judged by the rule of our petty propriety. The
admiration of His disciples overwhelmed Him
and carried Him away."

I wish, therefore, to suggest certain other facts
which render these objections highly improbable,
and which also serve to give a still livelier sense
of the real sinlessness of our Lord.

The first is that it was those who were nearest
to Him who have testified to His spotless purity.
It is quite easy to make a good impression on the
public. It is not so easy to extort from those
who live with us a similar tribute unless it be
deserved. Many men seem great and good at a
distance, but nearer at hand their faults are mani-
fest. Now the fact was that in public Jesus was
often charged with doing wrong. The Pharisees
openly called Him a sinner, because they thought
He broke the Sabbath, and a devil because He
opposed them, and a blasphemer because He said
God was His Father. He did not live such a life
as to be called a saint by the established standard
of the day. His reputation was not based on
conformity to the common ideal. On the con-
trary. He was crucified as a malefactor. It was
only those who lived with Him who testify to the
spotless beauty of His character. They saw Him
in private. They watched Him in His most critical


hours. They heard His ejaculations. They were
His confidential friends. But it was they who
from the very first acknowledged, and with greater
emphasis as their acquaintance with Him ripened,
that He was the Holy One of God. Their testi-
mony seems of great worth. Popular applause
is easy to win if we conform to the popular ideal,
but this testimony was rendered in the face of
derision and apparent failure, by those who knew
Him best.

Furthermore, nothing that Jesus ever said or
did appears even now to indicate sin in Him. We
have grown very wise. Some think that, speak-
ing comparatively, we have grown good. Cer-
tainly the world has greatly advanced in the
knowledge of duty. But it is a fact that we can-
not find anything to criticize in Jesus from a moral
point of view. All that we can do, whether
Christians or not, from theologians to novelists,
is to show that our teachings were His. He can
still say, " Which of you convinceth Me of sin ?"
In this age, for example, we lay great stress on
the love of man as the highest form of morality ;
on benevolence, unselfishness, on altruism. But
all this was taught and practised years ago by
Jesus. Or, if we say that morality depends on
the motives from which men act, what motives


can be higher than those which appear in the Hfe
of Jesus ? The Sermon on the Mount is the
moral code of the ages, and point, if you can, to
any principle or precept of that sermon which
Jesus did not obey in His life. I need not expand
on this; but I beg you to remember that the
growing moral sense of nineteen centuries has
not convicted Him of any fault of character.

Still again, remember that He made this im-
pression on His friends and gave this evidence
in His life, although He was perfectly open to
temptation and, in fact, fought it hand to hand.
He was not a cold ideal. He was not a statue in
marble. Life's battle was tremendously real to
Him. He was tempted as we are. He grew
also in knowledge and wisdom. Therefore the
spotless holiness of His character becomes of
treble worth. It appears a living attainment. It
was a conquest. It was a thoroughly human qual-
ity, and on that account must have impressed the
more those who were about Him. We need not
stumble over the notion that a sinless person can-
not be tempted. If our first parents were tempted
and fell, Christ could be tempted without falling.
Moreover, the power of temptation consists simply
in its offering us something that we desire; and
Jesus desired much that He could not have, if he


were to become man's Redeemer. It was His lot
to lay aside the enjoyment of Heaven's favor; to
fail apparently of winning men to God ; at least
to have the Father hide His face from Him. His
temptations lay in the desire for those good things
which were forbidden Him, and the very intensity
of His love of God and man made the tempta-
tions stronger. At any rate the testimony is
unanimous that He knew temptation's power.
The battle in the wilderness of Judea, the agony
in the garden of Gethsemane, the remark that
fell from His lips, ** I have overcome the world,"
sufficiently attest it. This very writer of the
Epistle to the Hebrews knew it. He says, " He
was in all points tempted like as we are, yet with-
out sin," " In that He Himself hath suffered
being tempted. He is able to succor them that are
tempted." The disciples knew Him too well to
claim for Him exemption from the common lot.
They saw Him harassed and oppressed, and
therefore bowed the more reverently before the

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryGeorge T. (George Tybout) PurvesThe sinless Christ → online text (page 1 of 9)