Christ the Breath of Our Nostrils
I was given the opportunity to preach at my church yesterday (Trinity Church in Minot), in preparation for which, I prepared a "guideline manuscript" -- in other words, I manuscripted the whole sermon, but primarily just to solidify the flow-of-thought, not to read verbatim. I chose my text from Lamentations, a rich, sober, and very beautiful but somewhat obscure passage, that is admittedly more appropriate for Good Friday than Palm Sunday; but in any case, I thought it a fitting prelude to the celebration of Easter Sunday. Following is my manuscript.
This text comes at the conclusion of the fourth chapter of Lamentations, which is a difficult and enigmatical book in some respects, containing five songs of lament over the destruction of the people of God that are nearly unparalleled in their vivid and gruesome presentation of the terrible judgments and miseries that God was pleased to bring upon them, in accordance with what he had first threatened in the books of Moses, of which we can read in Deuteronomy 28:15-68. The exile and captivity of which God had forewarned in many different ways, for many years sending the people prophets to show them their grave and imminent danger, had now been accomplished in very fact; and the writer of this book, who is very likely the prophet Jeremiah, is now detailing and mourning the shocking extent of this promised judgment of exile.
In the chapters preceding this text, we find the singer expressing the bitterness of his soul over the destruction of Jerusalem and her inhabitants; and it seems most particularly distressing to him that all the evils which have befallen his beloved city are the Lord's own doing, and are nothing but the just punishment for her great sins; as when he says, â€œJerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthyâ€ (Lam. 1:8); â€œthe Lord has become like an enemy; he has swallowed Israel upâ€ (Lam. 2:5); and many other such things.
Also, the singer laments the great shame to which Jerusalem has been put: she had been beautiful and glorious; â€œher princes were purer than snow, whiter than milk; their bodies were more ruddy than coral, the beauty of their form was like sapphireâ€ (Lam. 4:7). But â€œnow their face is blacker than soot; they are not recognized in the streets; their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become as dry as woodâ€ (Lam. 4:8). Now, she who had been pure and beautiful is as a menstruous woman (Lam. 1:17), stripped naked before the nations, to her great shame (Lam. 1:8).
There is also much sorrow expressed over this further point, that the nations round about her now mock and deride her, and vex her in her shame and affliction with many cruel taunts. â€œAll who pass along the way clap their hands at you; they hiss and wag their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem: 'Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth?' All your enemies rail against you; they hiss, they gnash their teeth, they cry: 'We have swallowed her! Ah, this is the day we longed for; now we have it; we see it!'â€ (Lam. 2:15-16). And yet, contrary to their prideful taunts, Jeremiah recognizes that in reality â€œThe LORD has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word, which he commanded long agoâ€ (Lam. 2:17).
The dreadful and horrible climax of this description of Jerusalem's calamity is doubtless expressed in that unnatural and almost unthinkable atrocity of Zion's mothers' eating their own infant children, as was prophesied by Moses (Deut. 28:53); at which Jeremiah wonders with much dismay in chapter two verse twenty, and again in the tenth verse of the fourth chapter. In the former passage, he couples this great travesty with the slaying of the priest and the prophet within the sanctuary; and in the latter he expresses his sentiment that, at this deed, â€œthe LORD gave full vent to his wrath; he poured out his hot anger, and he kindled a fire in Zion that consumed its foundationsâ€.
One other feature of these lamentations that we must emphasize before we come to our text is the device by which the prophet frequently personifies Jerusalem, and has her speak of the fullness of God's wrath being exhausted in her; as when he has her say in chapter one, verse eighteen, â€œthe LORD is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word; but hear, all you peoples, and see my suffering; my young women and my young men have gone into captivityâ€ (Lam 1:18). And likewise, the prophet himself pours out his own lament as an expression of the corporate sufferings of the people, when he says, â€œI am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day longâ€(Lam 3:1-3), and so on; and it is very significant that, subsequent to pouring out his personal lament as the embodiment of the people, he derives a glimpse of the hope of God's continued mercy if he submits to his just punishment, gives his cheek to the smiter, and so on (Lam. 3:29-31).
Now, in all of these features of the chapters leading up to our text, we are led to see the chastisement and punishment of the people of Israel, in her afore promised exile, as an earnest and type of the greater suffering and exile of the Christ, who after the casting off of all the rest becomes the final remnant of the people, the only remaining true Israel; even as the prophet Isaiah suggested in chapter 6, verses 9-13. When Jeremiah speaks of the suffering of Jerusalem as the sufferings of one person, who speaks as the embodiment of God's people, he is prefiguring the sufferings of Christ; and most especially when he speaks of God's punishments as being corporately expressed in his own person, and deriving the hope of mercy and relief thereby, he is setting himself forth as a type of Christ. Ultimately, it is the Messiah who would see affliction under the rod of God's wrath; it is he who, when he offered himself up as a sacrifice for our sins, would be brought into darkness without any light; for at that time, in the middle of the day, God dimmed the sun and cast him off from his presence, making him to endure the horrors of utter darkness; but in all those things, he was suffering as the proxy of the people, and all the corporate sufferings and punishments that they deserved were summed up in him.
Thus, although Israel in her exile was made to endure punishment, shame, and reproach, her Christ would be made to undergo greater punishment, bearing the full measure of the wrath of God; and he would know greater shame, and be reproached with crueler taunts. And yet, even when his enemies rejoiced at his downfall, he would willingly submit his cheek to their blows, knowing that, behind their fierce rage, the Lord was accomplishing his eternal plan; which is also what the apostles later recognized, confessing that â€œthere were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take placeâ€ (Act 4:27-28), a passage parallel to Lamentations 2:15-17, which we have already quoted.
In this light, the shocking climax of the horrors of exiled Jerusalem, viz., the mothers' eating their own children, takes on a poignant messianic significance. In all of their trials and afflictions, God's people had been taught to hope in a coming Seed, who would deliver them and atone for all their sins. Thus, when the mothers of Zion become so hopeless that they eat the fruit of their own flesh, they are cutting themselves off from any hope they have in the coming Messiah; it is as if they are saying, â€œthe afflictions we must bear are too great; let us consume our Seed, for we have no hope in his coming and saving usâ€. So the prophet compares this vile act to the killing of the priest and the prophet in the sanctuary; they whom God had given to plead for his people and bring them back to himself have been rejected and destroyed; and in fact, even the Messiah himself they are ready to cut off and destroy. Thus, the act of eating their children is a work of flagrant rejection of God's promised Christ, and looks ahead to when the people would consume their promised Seed indeed; which is why Jeremiah, when he speaks of it the second time, says that in this act, the Lord has given full vent to his wrath, pouring out the fire of his anger exhaustively, discovering even the foundations of the Holy City (Lam. 4:10-11). Truly, when God's people finally rejected and consumed their Messiah, who was their promised Seed, God's wrath was fully and finally poured out upon the proxy of the people, his own anointed Servant.
So then, in the bitter complaint of the prophet we find it hinted at that the Christ would be the final, culminative example of one who should be made to endure atrocities at the hands of those who ought to love him; and he is also held forth in type as the ultimate example of one should be made to undergo the full extent of God's wrath as the representative of the people, and who should submit himself to this end most willingly, and in doing so should find a hope of their eternal salvation through the mercy and faithfulness of God.
Now we have come to our text, and in it we find the first explicit prophecy of the Christ in the book, although he had been foreshadowed before, as we have already demonstrated; for that phrase â€œthe Anointed of the Lord,â€ employs the Hebrew word â€œMashiakh,â€ from which we get our word â€œMessiah,â€ which is quite the same as the Greek word â€œChristâ€. It has sometimes been suggested that the person referred to by this term is King Josiah, the anointed king of Israel, which is unlikely because he was killed by Pharaoh Necho, and not taken captive, as is suggested here; and furthermore, his death came before the Babylonian Captivity and all of the horrors that the prophet has been describing.
Another supposition is that the person referred to is King Zedekiah, which is a likelier possibility, but also probably to be rejected, first of all because he was a very wicked ruler, and not apt to be spoken of in such commending terms; and in fact, it is not likely that any human would be spoken of in so exalted a way, as the very breath of God's people, under whose shadow they hope to dwell in peace. The image of covering his people as with a shadow is often used of God himself, as in Psalm 91:1, or else prophesied of the Messiah, as in Isaiah 32:2; but it is not customarily used of any mere man. In addition, the daughter of Zion here says that she had hoped to live in the shadow of this Christ among the nations; if Zedekiah were in mind, it is likelier that she would have expressed her hope to remain in Jerusalem, and those who had already been taken captive to return to Jerusalem, and there to live in his shadow. But the primary consideration against seeing this expression as referring to Zedekiah is what is said in consequence of his capture, viz., that the announcement will be made to Zion, â€œThe punishment of your iniquity is accomplished,â€ and, â€œhe will keep you in exile no longerâ€. The taking of Israel's last annointed king, as great a calamity as that was, was still not sufficient to guarantee effects of such magnitude. So then, if it refers to Zedekiah in any sense, it is only as a type of Christ, inasmuch as he occupied the throne of David and was a seed of David; but it is better to see this as a direct prophecy of Christ, even as the Church father Theodoret, and others, have understood it.
We have given an account of the context and flow-of-thought leading to this text; now, we will examine it more closely; and in particular I propose to treat, first, of the great sufferings of the Christ; second, of the precious unity between the Christ and his saints; third, of the unexpected and paradoxical results of the Christ's sufferings; and fourth, I will make specific application of these truths.
I.The great sufferings of the Christ
In the verses leading up to our text we see that the people of God are put to a twofold opposition: on the one hand, they are pursued by the hosts of Babylon, whom the prophet represents as swifter than the eagles, and ready to ambush and consume them on the mountains or in the wilderness, that is, all around and in every place, leaving no hope of escape (Lam. 4:19). But this is not the only enemy of Jerusalem; for Jeremiah here speaks also of the sins of the prophets and priests, who shed the blood of the righteous in their midst, and destroy the remnant of the people (Lam. 4:13). Their garments, which ought to have been sanctified by the blood of the sacrifice, are instead defiled by the blood of the righteous, whom they have wickedly put to death; and in the same way their children, when they ought to have found salvation in the blood of Christ, who is the true righteous remnant, instead put him to an open shame, and stored up for themselves wrath!
This twofold opposition is fully borne out in the fulfillment of the prophecy of our text: for when Christ was put to death on a cross, the whole world conspired against him: Pontius Pilate and the soldiers of Rome stretched forth their hands against him, and so too did the Pharisees and priests of his own people. Christ was opposed and persecuted by everyone under the face of heaven; he was set against by the kingdoms of this world, but also, by his own people, who should have loved him. The Pharisees conspired against him, the Roman soldiers were quick to shed his blood, and his own disciples forsook him and fled.
In truth, the people of Israel and Rome, conspiring together, dug a pit for the Lord's Messiah, to fulfill this prophecy; even as he elsewhere laments, â€œwithout cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my lifeâ€ (Psalm 35:7); so Christ was persecuted by his own people and the whole world without any cause of evil within himself.
But the pit into which the Christ was cast was all the more grievous in that, ultimately, it was the Lord's own pit, and not merely that of the people; Pontius Pilate and the Jews put forth their wicked hands to do only that which the Lord had decreed to take place (Acts 4:27-28); and so, in another place, Christ laments the pit into which he was cast all the more grievously, recognizing that it was God's own work: â€œYou have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escapeâ€ (Psa 88:6-8).
The pit into which it was prophesied that the Christ should be cast is dark and cruel, not just because it holds in its depths the fierce rage of the whole world; but most of all because of this, that it is a place where God's favorable presence is cut off. The pit is a place of exile and captivity, and when the Lord's Anointed was taken into its bitter depths, he was separated from his Father and his God. It was then that he could utter, as foreshadowed by the Daughter of Zion, â€œ'Look, O LORD, and see, for I am despised. Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the LORD inflicted on the day of his fierce anger. From on high he sent fire; into my bones he made it descend; he spread a net for my feet; he turned me back; he has left me stunned, faint all the day long'â€ (Lam 1:11-13). The pit he was taken in was bitter because it was dug by his own people; but ah, how much more bitter is it that the net was spread for his feet by his own God? So dark and heavy was that evil place that the vast strength our dear Lord, which was great and admirable, and never faltered in the face of the fiercest foes, utterly forsook him when he was cast into its depths, and the only groan he could make was that ringing cry of dereliction, â€œMy God, my God, why have you forsaken me?â€.
We see as well, that this pit is not just a place where all the schemes of his enemies and his own people come together, a place where he is opposed by the devil, betrayed by his kindred, and forsaken by his followers; and it is not just a place where God exiles him away from his presence, and hides his face; it is furthermore a place of punishment, a place where God's wrath is fully exhausted; negatively, God there abandoned his Christ; positively, he poured out upon him the terror of his fury. This we see in verse twenty-two where Jeremiah says that, through the Christ's being taken in the pit, the punishment of the Daughter of Zion is accomplished. In the same manner, the prophet Isaiah says of the Christ that he would carry our iniquities and so endure the chastisement and the punishment that they deserve; he would bear the sins of his straying people, and because of that, it would please the Lord to crush him (Isaiah 53); but when God exiles the Son of his love, he will therefore exile the Daughter of Zion no longer. When he makes him to drink the cup of his wrath, the cup will pass away from her, and he shall henceforth only say to her, â€œThe punishment of your iniquity is accomplishedâ€.
So then, the pit into which Christ would be cast is a fierce and cruel one indeed; but it is all the more grievous that, when he should be made to undergo this great calamity, when he should more require the comfort of his friends and brothers than ever before, instead, his own brother would rejoice and be glad at his sorrow. The Christ is seen here as the true Israel of God, and it is Israel's brother, Edom, who rejoices at his misery. So in the previous chapter the prophet, speaking as a type of Christ, says, â€œI have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day longâ€ (Lam 3:14). And so also, when this prophecy is fulfilled, the evangelist notes that, â€œthose who passed by derided him, wagging their headsâ€ (Mat. 27:39); and more to the point, Christ himself says of his coming hour of sorrow that â€œthe world will rejoiceâ€ (John 16:20). In this way, when he is undergoing the most terrible trial of all the ages, the people around him rejoice and laugh, and do not pity him at all.
II. The precious unity between Christ and the saints
Although the world all rejoices at the calamity of Christ, when he is taken in their pit, the saints, who are here called the Daughter of Zion, are of a different spirit, and they mourn and sorrow greatly. They see him as the breath of their nostrils, which is to say, their very life, and they despair of their own lives when he is taken in the pit. Furthermore, they have hoped in him as the shadow beneath which they could live at peace, even though scattered among the nations: but now that he is taken, who will shelter them from the ravages of the world and the searing heat of persecution and affliction? So Jesus, when he says that the world will rejoice at his great sufferings, tells the disciples that they will mourn and weep (John 16:20); which in fact they do most sorrowfully.
We will notice first of all that the Daughter of Zion, who here stands for the true Church, is united to Christ by faith in his sheltering provision, and so fervently trusts in him that she feels the pain and despair of any sorrow which he himself has to go through. Here, the saints trust in Christ as a sheltering shadow: even though they have been exiled and scattered among the nations, they still hope that he will be with them and protect them from any evil which should fall upon them. They have learned that the true promised land is not their home in Jerusalem; they have looked beyond that, and yearn for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10). Their true promised land is anywhere that God will dwell with them, and shelter them from the blast of the storm; and so, their true promised land is only the Christ of the Lord, and when he is with them, they are in their promised land, even though they should be scattered among the nations.
This representation of the Christ as a sheltering shade is very similar to the prophecy of Isaiah 32:1-2: â€œBehold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. [And a man] will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary landâ€ (Isa 32:1-2 â€“ modified from the ESV to the literal Hebrew at the beginning of verse two). The sense seems to be that, to the saints who are weary of their struggle through this life, vexed by the scorching rays of their guilt and sin, or hard-pressed by the hot opposition of their enemies, Christ is a delightful shade to them, and offers them sweet refreshment in all of their struggles. By faith in Christ, the saints had hoped to find rest from their toilsome labors, afflictions, persecutions, and the terrors of their guilty consciences; they cast their hope altogether on him, so that they see their own future utterly bound up in his faithfulness and provision. Thus, when he is taken in the pit of the enemies, it is as if they are taken there with him; they have an emotional unity with him, and sorrow at his own sorrow. And they have staked their hopes on a unity of their futures, so that, when he is cast down into the pit, their own security is then utterly destroyed.
But further than this, the saints saw their Christ, not just as the shelter through any scorching wind of opposition from the world or their own sins, but as their very life, as the breath of their nostrils. There are many precious images in the scriptures of the unity between Christ and his people: he is called their life, and it is said of them that their life is hid with him (Col. 3:3-4); he is called their bridegroom (John 3:28-29), who is made of one flesh with his bride, and their head, of which they are his body (Eph. 1:22-23); but nowhere in the scriptures do we find a more compelling and beautiful image of this unity than we find in these words here, that the Lord's Christ is the breath of our nostrils.
In this image, we learn that the lives of the saints are so bound up with Christ, that he is the vital and essential principle operative within them, giving them the ability to do any good thing or retain any lively affection for God and his word. Without Christ, we are utterly dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1); but when he is united to us, we become alive, but our new life is really his life, and we can only live and bring forth fruit through the power of his life flowing through us, much as the branches can only give fruit by their vital connection with the vine (John 15:1-8). How exactly Christ fulfilled the essence of this description when he came to earth for our salvation may be seen in the gospel of John, when he breathes on his disciples and tells them, â€œReceive the Holy Spiritâ€ (John 20:22). So the very life of Christ is dwelling in us, Christ himself is in us by his Spirit, and he has become our spiritual life, the very breath of our nostrils.
Now, this lively image of the unity of Christ and his saints means that, when he was taken in the pit of the enemy, in one sense, so were they. When their very breath was cut off, they died; for who can live without the breath of his nostrils? And so they were in great terror, and sorrowed to see Christ go down into the pit, for they knew that, as they were united by so vital a principle, if he died, they would die too. Thus, in fulfillment of this prophecy, that Christ, the breath of his people's nostrils, would be taken in the pit of the enemy, Christ not only died on the cross, but in dying, his people died with him. So Paul declares to the Galatian believers, â€œI have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for meâ€ (Gal 2:20).
III. The unexpected and paradoxical results of the Christ's sufferings
Throughout the book of Lamentations, and now especially in this climactic prophecy of the Christ, it is a deeply sorrowful message and expectation that the prophet holds forth to the people: they will know defeat, sorrow, pain, and travail; their enemies will triumph over them, and mock and deride them; they will be ashamed and exposed; they will experience the wrath and punishment of God; and now, the prophecy is given that even the Christ, in whom they hoped they would be sheltered, who is indeed the very breath of their nostrils, would himself be taken in the pit of the enemy. A more bitter message could not possibly be given. There have been glimpses of hope and mercy in a few places before this, most notably in the middle part of chapter three; but now, is not all that hope cut off with the taking of Christ into the pit?
And yet, the very stroke of this unthinkable and scandalous defeat, by a brilliant paradox, becomes an unimaginable victory: Christ would be taken in the nets of the enemy, his people would sorrow and despair, and his enemies would rejoice and be glad; but in consequence of this event, the people whose breath is Christ will be comforted with full and final forgiveness, and their enemies will be made to drink the same cup of wrath that the Christ has drunk, and undergo the same punishment for sin that Christ had undergone in the place of his people, who were so inextricably united to him in life that they became united to him in his death. Thus the prophet says, â€œRejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom â€“ but to you also the cup will passâ€. That is, â€œLaugh and mock now; but the day will come when you will laugh no longer, for you will know the same fate that you rejoiced to put the Christ to.â€
The paradox and irony is complete: Christ's enemies rejoiced at his sorrow; but now Christ's people will rejoice at their eternal destruction (Rev. 19:1-3); Christ's enemies mocked at his ordeal; but now he will mock at them and hold them in derision (Prov. 1:25-26; Psalm 2:4); they stretched out their wicked hands against him; now, he will stretch out his righteous rod and crush them (Psalm 2:9); they took him in their pit; now, he will cast them down into a pit of eternal suffering (Psalm 55:23); they saw him drink the bitter cup of God's wrath, and gave him only vinegar and gall in their spite (Mat. 27:34); now, the cup will pass to them, and they will be drunk with God's fury; they put him to shame and reproach; now, he will make them strip themselves bare and wallow in their shame; they falsely accused him of sin (Mat. 26:60-61); now, he will uncover their sins, and punish them fully.
When the prophet here says that the cup will pass to Edom, he means the cup which Christ himself had just been made to drink, which the prophets speak of as containing the undiluted wrath of God (e.g. Jer. 25:15-17). The full fury of God's wrath was poured out upon Christ at the cross, and it was so fierce that infinite Greatness staggered beneath the load of it, and was borne down even to the grave â€“ ah, what will become of wretched, mortal sinners who must bear that same load? How fearful will be their terrible end, how bitter the cup they will have to drink!
When Christ's enemies drink this cup of God's wrath, they will become drunk, and strip themselves bare. This means that the shame and guilt of their sin will be fully exposed; they will be found out, the wicked depths of their hearts will be on display for all to see, they will have no more fig leaves of filthy good works or arrogant self-deception to hide behind. Their sins will be fully uncovered.
But ah, how different is the end of the people of Christ! They mourned at his being taken into the pit; he was their life, the breath of their nostrils, the shade in whom they delighted to rest; and so, because of their precious unity, when he drank of the cup of God's wrath, they too drank it with him; when he went into the pit, they went there too; and when he rose again, they rose with him, and were henceforth free from the wrath of God. There is no more bitter cup for them to drink, for he has drunk it all; there is nothing further which can cut them off from God's presence or separate them from his love, because he has gone into exile and returned, and they, because they are united with him, because he is the breath of their nostrils, have returned from exile as well, and will never again be driven from Eden. Their punishment is accomplished and their exile is over.
Consolation: I would first console those who are experiencing any difficulty, sorrow, or assault on their faith, with the precious truth of the unity of Christ and his saints. What do you fear, O trembling saint? Is it the opposition of the enemy, the betrayal of friends, the cruel rejection of family, because of your love and devotion to Christ? But he is the breath of your nostrils, and they can no more overcome you than all the enemies of the world could overcome Christ. The devil, Rome, the Sanhedrin â€“ all the powers of the earth conspired against the Christ, and could not overcome him â€“ so who can finally defeat you? What shame can they heap up against you that will not someday be turned to joy? What reproach can they cast against you which he has not already borne? You have seen his blessed end, and know what awaits those who submit to suffering and do not return evil for evil; then take courage, and press on! He will truly be a shadow for you, he has gone up again out of the pit, never to return; and you may find in him rest for your weary, troubled, and battered soul.
Or perhaps you do not fear the scorn and shame of family members who have rejected you, nor the cruelties of the world who hates Christ; maybe instead you fear that your sin is too great for you to bear, that your iniquities will finally weigh you down and overcome you. But Christ is the breath of your nostrils, he has gone down into the pit of God's wrath and returned victorious! Take heart, struggling sinner, ashamed and weeping. The words of the prophet are for you: â€œThe punishment of your iniquity is accomplishedâ€! Do you think that Christ did not suffer enough for your forgiveness? Or do you suppose that the Father was not pleased with his sacrifice? Do you consider him unjust, to punish you twice for your sins, once in your union with Christ and once alone? Do you doubt that his dwelling in your heart by faith, and more, his being the very breath of your nostrils, is not a near enough unity with him to assure yourself of a share in his reward?
But maybe you feel that God is far off, that he has closed the heavens against your cries. Poor, despairing soul, God may allow you to go through desert times of sorrow and loneliness, but still he is with you, still he is the very breath of your nostrils. If you have life at all, it is his own presence within you, he is nearer than your breath. Christ has gone through exile from the Father, and now he has come back into his presence forevermore; so what exile do you fear any longer? What can separate you from the Father, when your life is hid with Christ on high? I urge you to take comfort from the words of his prayer in your behalf: â€œI do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved meâ€ (Joh 17:20-23).
Exhortation: To you who are not so downcast and despairing of your sin, but tending to become complacent in your daily lives, I have the following exhortation: remember always to abide in Christ, and to purify your hearts and manner of walk in light of your union with him! If Christ is your very breath, how can you perform anything acceptable to God apart from him? Labor to know him more, to rest in his strength, to mine out the depths of his love. Without the joyful service that comes from delighting in the fellowship of Christ, your labor is nothing. But if you love him and dwell in his joy, will you not purify your heart? If the Spirit of God dwells within you, how can you defile his Temple with the sins of your past? If you are united with Christ, will you make your body one flesh with a prostitute? But all they who do not flee from sin are attempting to bring together the Spirit of Christ with the devil and his immoral works, although the two have no harmony or concord (1 Cor. 6:15-17; 2 Cor. 6:14-18). Will you make the grace of Christ a pretext for sin? On the contrary, if we have died to sin with Christ, the breath of our nostrils, how can we live in it any longer (Rom. 6:1-11)? So then, the doctrine of our precious unity with Christ should stir us up to follow his example and walk in his steps of righteousness.
But more particularly, I would encourage you to be very jealous of any opportunity given you to endure evil for righteousness' sake, without resisting, but with joy and love in your heart. Christ overcame all his enemies and won your salvation when he was persecuted because he was good, and did not resist, but gave up his body to be broken; now, how will you show the sweet savor of Christ to all those around you, unless you do the same thing? The Church throughout most of her history has had more opportunity to display Christ through a life of joyful suffering than we have today; and so we should not be complacent, but guard and make good use of whatever occasion we have. In your workplace, when your boss or co-workers always give you the most difficult jobs, because they know that you are the only one who will not complain or stand up for your rights, then rejoice at the opportunity to submit to unjust treatment because you are good, because in so doing you will have a chance to portray the beauty of Christ, who lives in you as the breath of your nostrils. Who knows but that, seeing you accept unjust treatment day after day with a joyful heart and no complaint, one of your workers may ask a reason of the hope that is in you? In your marriages, strive to accept any spirit of complaint or bitterness with a gentle, loving spirit that offers no retaliation. Who knows whether you will win your spouse, if unsaved, or else build up your spouse in the Lord by the example of Christ within you. It is doubtful that a single day will pass in which you will not have opportunity to put this principle into practice; make use of it! Christ loved you, and so he gave his cheek to the smiters, to win your salvation; now love him, and give your own cheek to the smiters so that he might enter the reward of his sufferings, which is a people called out of darkness into light, who will sing his praises forever.
Expostulation: Perhaps there are some here who are not willing to suffer, who do not care for the toilsome labor of fighting sin and the flesh, and who would rather have the passing delights of the world than the very presence of Christ. To you, I cannot express my plea earnestly enough, or give too strong a warning; if Christ does not dwell in you, then your end is altogether hopeless. The cup of God's wrath shook the Almighty Savior to the core, it broke his heart, it cast him for a time into death and hell; and will you drink it alone? You say, â€œI don't care for the life of the Christian, it is a life of hardship and self-denial, it requires unconditional love and forgiveness of even the most outrageous of crimesâ€; yes, but in all these things, if Christ is dwelling within us, we are more than conquerors, we rejoice to follow in his steps, we are sure of victory and reward. Our enemies may be fierce and our sin and guilt may weigh us down and bring us to the brink of despair, but they can no more finally overcome us than they can overcome Christ himself, who is the breath of our nostrils. But if you say you do not want the life of a Christian because you do not want the hardships, know of a certainty that you will someday drink the full measure of wrath, shame, punishment, and pain; would you rather undergo that fearful cup alone, or with Christ strengthening you and supplying you with his own life? Would you rather fight against the devil, with Christ's strengthening hand, or fight against God with no one to help you? Would you rather die to yourself for a time and live to Christ for all eternity, or live to yourself now and die an eternal death of torment, exiled from his life-giving presence? Do you doubt that God would put you to torment? Look to the cross, where he was pleased to put his own Son to torment for sins, and look to the lives of Christians everywhere who, although indwelt by the Spirit of Christ himself, he is pleased to bring through many trials and tribulations; and do you doubt that he will have the heart to put you to shame and torment? Your life is fleeting and uncertain if Christ is not your breath, and it may be cut off at any time, and you will be plunged into the fiery chasm of God's eternal wrath. Flee to Christ at once, or you will be left utterly without hope!