From “Eternal Redemption,” Studies in the Spirit and Truth of Christianity, 190-192 (1914).
What is the supreme difference between this sacrifice of Christ and all other sacrifices, which fixes so deep a gulf between them? It lies just in this, that while they were momentary acts of devotion, this was a permanent and unshakable obedience expressing itself in the life of unswerving loyalty to God and the death voluntarily accepted. What we see in the last journey to Jerusalem the journey that began on the mount of the Transfiguration and ended on the hill of the Crucifixion is not a passing religious emotion nor the gratification of a generous impulse; it is the steady purpose to fulfil the destiny of a life. And so we rightly apply to Him the words of the Psalm: “In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hadst no pleasure; then said I, Lo, I am come to do Thy will, God.”
Single acts of worship or of reparation were not what was demanded; God requires the dedication of he whole of life: “Lo, I am come to do Thy will, God.” “By the which will, “the writer goes on,” we have been sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Here is eternal redemption. Just as the eternal sin is a sin which so completely expresses our nature that we feel no shame at it, no better self condemning it, so eternal redemption is the devotion of the whole being to God, with such completeness that no part of us rebels the obedience whose type for evermore is the life that was “obedient unto death, yea, even the death of the Cross.”
Now we often think that the unpardonable sin must be something of which only great criminals are guilty; Judas Iscariot, perhaps, and Caiaphas, or Cesare Borgia, or Napoleon. But, as a matter of fact, every one of us is guilty. The degree to which that sin, that indifference to right or wrong, has actually infected our whole nature may vary greatly; but we are all touched by it. At one point or another we are allowing ourselves in wrongdoing or in a wrong habit of mind; we are content to be selfish, or dishonest, or untruthful, or snobbish; we are careless in the way we express our feelings or our thoughts, so that we hurt people whom there was no call to hurt, and then rather pride ourselves on that false sincerity; or we let ourselves persist in thoughts or actions which in our hearts we know to be unclean; all of us in one way or another are failing to fulfil the law of Christ, and are content so to fail. And so each of us in his own degree is guilty of an eternal sin, a sin which cannot be treated as something momentary, and so pardoned; while it remains in us we are not fit for pardon; our self-complacency must be broken up, and we must begin again. And so long as this sin of moral blindness remains in us, it will inevitably be poisoning our whole nature, until perhaps at last our whole character is infected with it and we become altogether indifferent to right and wrong, which is spiritual death.
And quite equally is eternal redemption within everybody’s reach. For though it was won by Christ alone, by the life and death of uttermost obedience, it is available for all, because in that life and death is a power to which we may submit and by which our lives may be remodeled after the same pattern. By Christ’s accomplishment of the will of God we are sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Do you ask how it can be true that Christ’s merits and sufferings avail to set us right with God? It is not because God accepts His sufferings in place of the penalty due to us; but it is because the beauty of that perfect obedience, and the knowledge of what our sin brings upon him, reveals to us the odiousness of our sin and wins us away from it. We can plead that sacrifice on our own behalf because it has transforming power, and as we meditate upon it, it will purify and ennoble us.
William Temple (1881-1944) was an English bishop and theologian, and an influential advocate for ecumenism and social reform. He taught at Oxford before serving as a headmaster and a canon of Westminster Abbey, and then was Bishop of Manchester and Archbishop of York, and, finally, Canterbury. Studies in the Spirit and Truth of Christianity is a collection of his early sermons, published when he was headmaster of Repton School. Temple is commemorated on November 6 on the liturgical calendars of several Anglican churches.