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SALVATION BY MAN.
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection from the dead.—1. Cor. xv. 21.
It can not, of course, be the apostle’s meaning, that mankind are going literally to raise themselves from the dead. When he says “by man,” he mentally refers to Christ; only taking advantage of the fact that, since Christ the Son of God incarnate, is become a proper man, a member of the race, it is therefore permitted us to regard the whole remedy of sin, or power of salvation, as being included in humanity itself. Redemption, life, resurrection—all are, in a sense, being and to be, by man. When we say humanity, there is inclosed and, as it were, closeted in it, all the inspiration, all the light, all the life-impulse of the divine man, and so all the supernatural, resurgent powers of a complete salvation, even up to the resurrection force itself. It is not as if God had called us here from a distance, or had sent his Son to sit upon the circle of the heavens and lecture us from those supernal heights, but he has gotten him into the race by a birth, and has entered, in that manner, a corporate grace of life into the race itself.
What I propose then at the present time, is the practically important fact that Christ is not so much to be thought of as a being external, or as dispensing salvation from above, as a second Adam in the race itself; a regenerative and redemptive power, so inserted into humanity as to be in a sense of it. Just as the apostle’s language intimates—“For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection from the dead.” For this word “since” is a word of rational connection, supposing an impression felt of some inherent fitness, requiring the corporate disadvantage of the fall, to be made good by a corporate remedy. Consider then—
1. The antecedent probability of such a remedy, indicated by familiar analogies. It is not God’s manner to work all remedies in things from without, but to make them largely self-remedial, when attacked by damage, or disorder. Thus all creatures of life, all substances above the range of mineral substance, are endowed by him with recuperative functions for the repair of their own injuries. The bush that is bent to the ground does not require some other bush or even tree, to come and lift it up, but, no sooner is it let go, than it springs up suddenly by an elastic force within. Cut it down, as it begins to be a tree, and it will set new growths to pricking through the hard bark even of its stump, and so, by a newly begun architecture it will go on to build the tree it was beginning to build at the first. Every animal body has a distinct self-medicating force in its own vital nature, called by physicians and physiologists the vis medicatrix. When, therefore, it is attacked by disease, or hacked by violence, the qualified physician, knowing how it will rally its own hidden force, and put its own mysterious self-medications at work, will simply endeavor, on his part, to clear the way, and supply the needed stimulus of action, till the subtle, inborn physician, wiser and more sovereign than he, has mended the break, or completed the cure. The same is true as regards all defections of honor or character. If the man himself does not return to himself, and repair his losses by a process of recovery undertaken by himself, there is no recovery for him. The whole world toiling at his vices and dishonors, could not repair one of them. He alone has power to win the first inch of recovery. On a larger scale the same is true of society. Broken down by oppression, desolated by conquest, rent by faction, weakened by every sort of incapacity, it finally gets clear and rises, by reactions from within itself—just as Italy is rising now. The rational resurrection comes by man—man, that is, grown manlier, as God prepared him to be, by his own great struggles of devotion.
We see, in this manner, on how large a scale God contrives to incorporate powers of self-recovery in things. What then shall we expect, when humanity is broken by the irruption, or precipitation of sin, but that if he organizes redemption, he will do it in a way to have it appear as a redemption from within, executed in a sense by man.
I do not mean, of course, when I speak in this manner of “self-recovery,” and “salvation my man,” that the recovery and salvation are not by God. There is exactly the same propriety in this kind of language that there is in speaking of a harvest, or a voyage, as being by man—it is never such in the sense of excluding God and his natural agencies. Indeed the recovery and salvation of souls are more properly by man, because the agency of God is here incarnated and works in the race by a man thus inserted into it.
2. It is another point to be observed, that we not only want a supernatural salvation (for nothing less than that can possibly regenerate the fall of nature,) but in order to any steady faith in it, we must have it wrought into nature and made to be as it were, one of its own stock powers. It does not meet our intellectual conditions, till it satisfies, in a degree, the scientific instinct in us, and becomes rational and solid, by appearing to work inherently, or from within, as by a certain force of law. Moving on the soul and society, as from a point above and without, it would be here, and there, and nowhere, flitting as it were apparitionally, breaking out now as from behind the moon, and vanishing next, as our faith reels away, in we know not what spaces of the air, or abysses of the sea. What we want can be seen, at a glance, from the eagerness that hurries such multitudes of our time after the doctrine of progress. We love to look on education, political liberty, personal culture, and the sway of moral ideas, all as advancing under fixed laws of progress. This doctrine of progress is even a better kind of gospel to many, and more rational. And yet if we speak of a strictly natural progress, under natural laws, there is no fiction more utterly baseless: for after the fact of sin, or moral evil broken loose in the race, the progress of society must be inevitably downward from bad to worse. Just that too which ought to be true is true, many of the proudest, most historic races drop into extinction; and many others exist that we call savage races, just because they make no such progress, more than the animals, from age to age.
And yet we want a salvation that is to us all which this doctrine of progress pretends to be, and God defers to our want, by contriving a gospel for man that is to be, in form, by man; giving us to see the general humanity so penetrated and charged with the supernatural, by Christ living in it, as to be, in a sense, working out redemption naturally from within itself. We call it the progress of society, and such it really is, and yet, solid and scientific as we think it, all the reality it has comes of the incorporated, incarnated grace, in Jesus Christ, which is countervailing always the penal disorders of nature, and setting continually on, as by a destiny itself, the rising fortunes of the race. Our gospel is a cause, in this manner, among causes; a real calculable force, the Confidence of which can be held with a steady assurance. Is any thing more rational than to believe that goodness and truth are bound to master all things by their own everlasting necessary laws? No matter from what sphere they come, natural or supernatural, getting into man, into the race, they will as certainly master man at last, master the race, as gravity will master a stone. Exactly this confidence God therefore means to give us—no visionary confidence but a rational, that of a banker whose fund is in; for God has put the stock functions of his own everlasting kingdom into humanity itself, and by man He must reign. Meantime—
3. We shall see that, if it were possible to restore the fall of our race, by any kind of agency, or operation, wholly external, supposing no recuperative forces and concurrent struggles operating from within, it would reduce our character and grade of significance to a virtual nullity. Dismiss the grand world-honoring fact of the incarnation, conceive that the Jehovah angel, or some angelic messenger comes to us, not humanized in sympathy or in order, but having a plastic power to work on us from without and sway us to good, by his own methods of divine magic, apart from our consent; this would settle us, at once, into a state of cliency both dangerous and humiliating. We should probably begin, at once, to pay him the honors of idolatry; for the manly consciousness in us will be taken away, and we shall be to ourselves a kind of second rate interest in God’s kingdom; just that which the incarnation, begetting a new divine power in the race itself contrives to avoid with a skill so beautiful.
Or we may suppose that God was able to put the physical world into such a state of divine glow, showing forth, in its objects, such radiances and miraculous revolvings, such glorious apparitions of truth, such faces of. goodness, that men should have their bad will quite taken away by the magical sceneries they live in. But the transformation they undergo in this manner would have little dignity in it, because their manhood is unexercised in the change. It would be a kind of vegetable conversion, not a kindling of God’s fires in the soul’s aspirations and choices.
So, if the race were to be recovered in any way that includes no struggle of self-recovery, no power within striving toward recovery, it would almost take away the sense of our personality. We should be ciphers to ourselves, not men. Exactly contrary to this, it is the very great merit of the incarnation, that it brings help in a way to make it valuable. God could easily help us in a way to crush us, just as many human helpers will really make nothing of their beneficiaries, by allowing them to make nothing of themselves, and be nothing for themselves. The very thing wanted here is to get power into the fallen race, and put it striving upward; to raise a ferment of recuperative energy, feeling, aspiration, choice, and whole right working in humanity; exactly what the nearness and high sympathy of God in the incarnation must inevitably do. The Saviour being, or becoming man, the salvation dignifies and raises man even before he receives it; giving him the right to feel, that, coming verily as an approach of God, it is none the less a power in the race itself, a salvation by man.
4. Since it is continually assumed by the scripture that we fall by race, or as a corporate whole, we naturally look for some recuperative grace to be entered into the race, by which so great disadvantage may be repaid or overcome. Thus, if we say “as in Adam all die,” we want also to say, “so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Or if we say that “through the offense of one many be dead,” we want also to say, “much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.” In this manner it is that Christ is conceived to be a “second Adam,” a kind of new progenitor, such that we get in him, as it were, a new descent from good.
But we are born of Adam physiologically, it will be remembered, and so we go down with him as a race by physiological consequence, while we are not thus born of Christ the second Adam. He only comes into the race at a given point, just as we do, and communicates nothing by descent to persons collateral, any more than we do to persons collateral to us. How then, being no progenitor, does he become any proper Adam at all? how get himself into the race, in any such general way, as to become a new headship of life?
To this I answer, that we must not press the correspondence too closely; it is not understood to be literal, or to hold in any but a general and qualified way. Let it be enough that as the sin abounded, so the grace much more abounds, only not in exactly the same manner. Adam is our head physiologically, Christ is our head by the head influences he inaugurates, by the authority, sympathy, beauty, of his suffering goodness—a power that propagates across all the lines of generation, as efficiently as if it traveled by descent—a new regenerative power incarnated into the race as such, there to work, running down through all descent, as a redemption of man executed in the large view by man.
Observe too this very striking distinction, that good souls have a power to get into the race by collateral propagations of their goodness, when bad souls have almost no such power at all. The bad impregnate human feeling through falsities, and lies, and oppressions, and combinations of interest, or at best through the dazzling exploits of ambition. But there is a short run to such kind of power. Deep in evil, the world is yet naturally shy of evil, and begins very soon to get away from it. No bad character propagates long, as by character. Even bad writings drop out soon and die, as it were, of their own poison. On the other hand it will be seen that good and great souls have a destiny of headship, propagating side-ways, and every way, till they become Adams in the sublime fatherhood of their power, and that so completely as to finally reach, and take headship of the race. Thus we think of Socrates, for example, as a kind of progenitor in good for his people; a man whose ideas, principles, sacrifices, entered him into the whole Greek race, and more and more widely into the general life of the world. So of Washington. Dying childless, he had yet many children, and his large posterity still multiplies more and more rapidly, in every part of the world. Aaron Burr was a man of greater splendor, but he never got into the world’s life and feeling at all, and never became progenitor of any thing. He was dropped instinctively even out of the world’s thought. But Washington goes on to be, not father of his country only, but world’s father also; inserting his grand fatherhood into kings, emperors, peoples, and laws, accepted more and more reverently, by the compulsion of good in his life, and reigning, in fact, as a kind of civil-state Messiah, that has come to propagate his sway in human laws and liberties. The civil capacity even of the world, is increased by the august propagations of his example and sentiment.
And so it is, illustrating the great by the small, the divine by the human, that Jesus, the incarnate word of God’s eternity, coming into birth and living and dying as a man, fills the whole race with new possibilities and powers, starts resurgent activities, overtops the sin abounding with a grace that much more abounds, and becomes the Adam, so to speak, of a new humanity. Consider now—
5. Some of the scripture evidences of the subject. And here we meet, first of all, as it were at the head of all scripture, the remarkable and rather strangely worded promise, which declares that the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head. The representation is not that Christ, sometime hereafter to be born of the woman, shall bring under and finally destroy the bad power, though that is true, but that the woman’s whole posterity, having Christ included, shall do it. God will of course be always present in the struggle, pushing it on, and turning all the crises of it, by his invisible agency; while outwardly, to human apprehension, it is but a struggle, in one view, of society and man. In this manner, he contrives, by the hiding of himself, in our otherwise poor, dejected humanity, to put us in confidence and keep us at a pitch of courage, quite above our own broken powers.
Here and there, it is true, this interior hidden method is departed from, and he appears to be operating from without, doing something for, or upon, our humanity, and not through it; working some astounding miracle, sending some angel, or appearing by some angelic theophany. In one case he even ordains a supernatural sign that is to be a kind of institution, recurring, like the sun itself, with astronomic regularity; the cloud, I mean, by day and the pillar of fire by night. And yet none of these extraordinary, external things, appear to get much hold of the race, just because they do not get into it. Nothing works like a power that does not work by man. The sacrifice of Abraham and the wrestling of Jacob bring more victory and might into the race, as far as we can see, than the brazen serpent, or the waters drawn out of the rock. When, too, Christ comes, what is he but a man? and though, as such, he has a divine power and plenitude, how careful is he to get his attitude in the race and not above it. He undertakes no outward championship. Seed of the woman, a proper man, he only gets into the common family register as such, and puts the struggle on, as being a struggle of the race itself. Perfect in all divinity even, he is still the Son of Man, claiming the appellation for himself. He dies low. And when he is gone, all that we know is that a gospel is born! In one view there seems to be nothing here but the same humanity there was before, and the same hard fight still going on that before was struggling to bring the serpent under and to bruise his head. But it is a very different fight, as respects the power of it; for there is a Christ now in the race, and the whole seed of man is quickened by the sense of his divine brotherhood.
We shall find, accordingly, that the scriptures are full of images, that conceive the great contest with evil to be a struggle in the bosom of the race itself, and give us the expectation that it will go on, as such, till it has won a complete triumph for the truth. Thus it is that Isaiah uses the word “increase,” which does not mean to enlarge by additions, but by internal growth;—“And of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” Thus it is that Daniel represents the kingdom of the Messiah as “a stone cut out without hands,” but a most remarkable kind of stone in the fact that it grows from within itself, and becomes a great mountain filling the whole earth. In the same way it is compared, by Christ himself, to a grain of mustard seed, which does not grow by something added on the outside, but by an internal operation, becoming in that manner a tree. He compares it also to leaven hid in a large quantity of meal, there to work till all is leavened; where the working, it will be observed, is not the working only of the original leaven, or that of the atmosphere outside, but such a kind as puts the meal next the leaven working too, and that also on doing the same to what is next to it; and so the propagated working goes on, till the whole body of the bread is leavened.
Here Christ is giving, you will see, his deliberate opinion of the manner in which his kingdom will be extended. The process will be forwarded, he conceives, within the race itself, and will so far be human, that we may rightly say of it—for since by man came the fall of the world, by man came also its restored glory and peace.
Observe, again, how even holy scripture is the scripture also of man, written by man, given to the world by man, bearing, in every book, the particular stamp and style of the particular mind, in whose personal conceptions it was shaped. The subject matter too of the historic and biographic parts is human, showing how men have acted, thought, felt, suffered for the truth, fallen before temptation, triumphed over it. Indeed the value itself of these records consists, to a great extent, in the fact that they give us divine lessons under human incidents, in the molds of human character and life. They show us too, on a larger scale, what is the meaning and way of God’s Providence, by the disasters of wrong and the struggles of merit, and also by the overturnings and uprisings of nations.
When we come to the writings of devotion, the Psalms, for example, and other chorals of scripture, these are human sentiments, lifted indeed by holy inspirations, but none the less properly human for that reason—rolling in as such upon us, from the word, even as the tides roll in from the sea.
The proverbs are specially human, being maxims of human wisdom, such as have even gained a proverbial currency, in the judgments of philosophy, and statesmanship, and common life.
The prophets, again—these are all men speaking by men s words and voices. True their voices are voices also of God, but they are none the less human, that God wants to use them as such, or that he sometimes puts them to speaking in the first person for him, saying “I the Lord;” for when he crowds himself thus into men, or men’s voices, he only proves how much he may prefer to do as man.
The same is true of the Epistles. They are written by men, to men, in the words of men, under the relationships of teacher and taught, and shepherd and flock. They deal with actual human conduct, in actual human conditions. They speak to human difficulties and human dangers. They show how good men suffer in times of persecution, how they bruise Satan under their feet, how fidelity triumphs; in a word how the great life-struggle of the church goes on.
A corresponding reason doubtless required the gospel of Christ to be preached by human ministers. It is not commonly expected that thieves will be sent to reform thieves, or perjurers to remonstrate with perjury, but sinners are sent to gospel sinners. God certainly could have taken a different method. He could have sent cohorts of angels flying through the air, to publish the good news, even as they began to do, for an hour, when Christ was here. He could have set the stars chiming with the silver music of salvation. He could have made the stones cry it out of the mountain tops, and under the ground, and under the sea. But he wants the great work of the redemption to go on from within the race itself, unfolding by internal growth, intending that his kingdom shall be great and finally universal, only because the powers or principles he has inserted are sufficient of themselves to make it so.
He also constructs a corporate state, called the church, in which, as being corporate, and not subject to death, he deposits the gospel and the sacraments, and all the institutional appointments of religion, thus to be conserved and perpetuated by man.
In the same way too, he makes the church even to be the pillar and ground of the truth itself; for the disciples in it are to be Christ’s living epistles, gospels of the life, new incarnations of the word, showing always what is in the text, by what is expressed in their life and walk and character. Were it not for this light continually supplied to the written gospel, from the lives of those who live it, the word of the skies would shortly become an utterly dead language, a kind of Sanscrit jargon, without either salvation or intelligence in it. Living men are its interpretation, living men are its arguments and evidences. It lives by man.
As the disciples are to be new incarnations, in this manner, of Christ, so, in a sense, they are to be vehicles also of the Spirit, demonstrations, revelations, of his otherwise unseen or unobserved agency; and so, many of his most effective operations will be through their gifts, works, prayers, sufferings, personal testimonies, and the pentecostal glow of their assemblies.
Again, last of all, and as it were to include all, it is given to men even to convert the world. Not that they, as being simply men, are able to do any such thing, but that Christ, the Son of Man, being entered into the race, and working as a leaven in the mass of it, will make them a leaven also to one another, and set the ferment on till all is leavened. And so the great world itself, all the empires, known or unknown, all the continents, and islands undiscovered, all most distant ages and times are given as a trust to men, originally to a very few, very humble men. “Ye,” said Christ, “are the light of the world.” “Go ye into all the world and disciple every creature.”
I will not detain you with farther illustrations of the subject in hand, but will simply suggest in conclusion, a few points variously related, in the practical drift of its applications.
We have then a very significant presumption raised, that when any breakage, or damage, occurs in any legitimate institution, or society of the world, God has prepared, or put in somewhere, some kind of self-remedial force to mend it. Thus if any church, or Christian brotherhood, is rent by disagreements, embittered by recriminations, and broken, for the time, as regards a due confidence of the future, the remedy must still be in it, else it is nowhere. Even if God himself undertakes for it, he will accomplish his restoring purpose, in some very important sense, only by man, even by themselves; that is by their strivings after one another, their sorrowings over themselves, their prayers and their longings after the lost love. If there be any remedy for them, it must so far come out of themselves. Not even God will try to bring it from any other quarter.
So if there be a great nation rent by faction, a good government broken down and trampled by rebellion, God has no miraculous fire to flash upon the conspirators and scorch them down. It must be enough that he has given a sword for the punishment of evil doers, that the remedy may come by man, making due use of it. If the people too will know that God is with them, let a spirit be kindled in their manly breast that shall take them to the field, forbidding any word of peace to be spoken, till the laws are vindicated and the foes of order crushed. If God will make a broken world restore itself by man, much more a broken people, and it will as certainly be done as there is quantity enough of manhood in them—enough great sentiment and patriotic fire—to do it.
Again, the immense responsibility thrown upon Christ’s followers, in the fact that the salvation of the world is to be in so many ways, by man, ought to be distinctly admitted and practically assumed. If they are to preach the gospel, and light up the gospel by their lives, so to be the gospel, and finally to regain the world to God; if Christ himself lays it on them to be gospelers with him, putting the world in their hands to be lived for, died for, won and saved, then how clear it is that their faith will be no relaxation of responsibility, but the begun fulfillment and seal of it rather. How nearly appalling too is the fact that if God has any good thing to be done, it is to be done somehow by man, and that he has the man, or men, or women, somewhere on whom so great a charge is laid. As he has undertaken to make man good, he will let the good that wants to be done, wait till their goodness gets purpose, and fire, and sacrifice, in a word, reality, enough to do it. And if they make slow progress, if the conversion of the world drags heavily, then so it must; for God will not so far dishonor the great salvation as to push on the propagation of it faster than it has reality enough to propagate itself. If it takes a million of years to recover the world to God, then a million it must have; for it never can be accomplished, either in one, or in a hundred millions, unless it is accomplished by man. O, how preposterous, in this view, is the soft opinion many hold of faith; as if it were the faith of a soldier to expect that his captain will do all the fighting himself, and that he is never to fight under him, or win with him; or as if it were the true believing unto life, to come in, as clinical patients, and lie down upon the gospel to be saved by it! No! the salvation of God is no such washy and thin affair—it has meaning, it has dignity; else it has no mark of God upon it. To really believe is to come into the great life-struggle of Jesus and be with him in it; to be engineering for him, watching for occasions to commend him, watching for souls to receive him, fighting for him in sacrifice, even as heroes fight for their country. The salvation of the world by man—that is the tremendous fact which all true faith takes hold of, and for which it is girded even by the sign of the cross.
There is, furthermore, a great mine of comfort opened here, for such as have settled into heart-sickness over human affairs, and the want of all high movement in them. Some are sick because they hear no thunders, and see no mighty stir in the heavens. If they could see God converting the world by signs, and wonders, and mighty portents, there would seem to be something going on! Nothing could be weaker than such a kind of gospeling. Laying no hold of us by rational evidence, it would only drum us to sleep in the tumults of the senses. And yet they are almost pining to have the world’s dull tedium broken, by some such outward stir; never once recollecting that, while commotion is a profitless noise, real motion is silent. Another class are pining, in the same manner, for some new dispensation to break, that shall displace the rotten hopelessness of the old; some second coming of Christ, some purgation by fire, some literal new heavens. They want a Saviour farther off and not one hid in the world’s bosom, a Saviour in the clouds of heaven, or in some miraculous new city,—just the Saviour that would take us out of our faith and put us into our senses, and set us running to see, instead of resting in love to know. Still another class, who look for no such mock reliefs, are only the more sick, because seeing no good, they have, beside, no hope of any. There seems to be no good reason why the world should continue, for it comes to nothing, losing always in one year, age, or place, what it gained in another—constitutions, laws, liberties, learning, commerce, religion, all swinging tidally, and as certain to go back in the ebb, as to come in at the flow. Why should such a hopeless, always baffling, laboring vanity be kept on foot? Why, my friends, because it is not hopeless! because the grand, all-regenerating, force is already entered into the world, and is working steadily on through all retrocessions and advances alike. Lift up your heads O ye drooping ones! Christ is in the world.! Jesus, Son of God, and word of God’s eternity—he is about us, within us, going through all things, moving onward in all. Leaven does not make a noise when it works, and yet it works! And so the gospel works, the progress goes on, a grand, mighty progress, and there is really no retrocession. No river runs to the sea more certainly or steadily, than the great salvation by man runs to conquest and a kingdom. No reason why the world should continue? That is unbelief. Do the men who are lifted up to such grand heights by the progress of. society think so? No, there is reason enough to them, why the world should continue; they only steal our gospel and millenium, which, if we reclaim, we shall be as jubilant as they, with only so much better right.
Let us also observe the beautiful delicacy of God in his plan of salvation. He is not willing to make it a salvation for man only, as I have said already, but contrives to make it also, as far as possible, a salvation by man. As the seed of the woman goes down, so he contrives to get a force into it that will finally bruise and trample its adversary. If he should do every thing simply as acting upon us, it would make us only underlings to eternity, waste timber of creation, that he has only gathered and stored for the dry-rot of a state of impotence, miscalled felicity. No, he wants to raise a character in us, and, to do this, requires a great hiding of power. He must contrive to put us a doing, in all that is to be done, striving to enter the straight gate, working out our salvation with fear and trembling, as only knowing by faith that he is working at all. And then his word of promise at the end will be—“to him that overcometh.” The beauty, the delicacy, of his work is that he gets the force of it into our own bosom, and lets it work as if it were a part of ourselves. True it is all by Christ, and yet it is by the Christ within—the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. And so, instead of making his mercy a mere pity that kills respect, he makes it a power that lifts into character and everlasting manhood. He becomes a second Adam, a kind of better parentage in the race itself, and we rise by a new derivation that nowise shames our feeling, or shatters our confidence. How beautiful and tender the method! and when we conceive, in addition, that we ourselves are to preach, and live, and illustrate, and perpetuate, and spread, this gospel, having it as a gospel to prevail by man, what shall we feel eternally, but that our very sorrow and shame are ennobled by the grace we partake. And when we shall go home to be with Christ, Christ the faithful witness, and prince of the kings of the earth, what shall we do but confess, in loveliest homage—Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood; raising our finale also to sing, in the glorified majesty of our feeling—And hath made us kings and priests unto God.
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