Page images
[ocr errors]

to man of the doctrine of atonement by the blood of Jesus, as a most signal instance of divine bounty.

Undoubtedly the Gospel, considered merely as a Gospel of peace, deserved to be celebrated with hynıns of joy and thanksgiving-Tothe heathen world the certain knowledge that God would pardon sin on their sincere repentance, was a matter of the highest value. Yet something more than this, is plainly intended in the strong expressions of our Saviour and his apostles. Christians are represented as enjoying advantages, in their possession of evangelical truth, far greater than a bare assurance of the merciful disposition of their heavenly Governor could have conveyed. The key to this must surely be found in the practical power of the doctrine of the cross of Christ upon the hearts and lives of men.

The tracts contained in the book which, in distinction, we term the Bible, unquestionably develope the most singular history and most original system of philosophy ever promulgated. With the history I have no concern at present. The sum of its philosophy, if I understand it rightly, is this: The world--that is, men generally, without noticing degrees—is declared to be ignorant and corrupt; corrupt in ignorance, ignorant because corrupt, and wretched alike in both. This wretchedness is not described as light or transitory; but is depicted in the strongest colours. Bondage, darkness, and death, are the gloomy images by which it is generally represented; and, though a nice accuracy of expression is plainly avoided, there are numerous passages of Scripture which concur with the analogy of natural things, to make it probable that this unhappy state is likely to endure through endless ages, and to become as it advances darker and more desperate.

In order that we may escape from so sad a condition, the Scriptures call upon us to come to God by faith; which, in substance, I understand thus:-Man, trusting in his own strength and wisdom, has gone on from age to age in misery and sin. He neither understands what it is that constitutes happiness, nor could attain to it if he did. He sees not, that to be alienated from God is to be wretched; or if a few among the wisest, perceiving the vanity of earthly things, begin to suspect this, they know so little what God is, or how his favour is to be secured, that their philosophy ends at last in rhapsody and mysticism. The Almighty, pitying his creatures, tells them that they are not only in a very unhappy condition, which they a little (though but a little) suspected; but that they are exceedingly blind and foolish, which, for the most part, they suspected not at all;—that if they would be happy, they must come to Him, and, laying aside for ever their own silly conceits about what is good, learn the way of life and walk in it. This coming to God (or however else we please to express it), and taking his word for our rule of conduct, in the full conviction that it will issue greatly to our advantage; as it is obviously the strongest expression of faith, so it is, I apprehend, what is primarily and principally meant by that word in both Testaments.

Struck with such an invitation, and touched by the preventing grace of God, many are led to inquire more particularly into the nature of that which promises so much. On examination it appears, that what God declares to be needful for happiness is wholly different from all the things which a majority of mankind are pursuing. He does not give us rules for lengthening our existence, fortifying our health, improving our fortunes, or advancing our stations in this life; for quickening or multiplying the common sources or objects of enjoyment: nor even (at least properly, and for their own sake) does he teach us how our affections may become more lively, or our understandings acquire strength and elevation. The word of God, condemning many, and neglecting the residue of these things, calls on all who will listen, to labour assiduously for the attainment of a certain character or nature of mind, which is composed of many particular qualities, and is usually denominated by the term holiness, or some equivalent expression. This character, it is declared, will most nearly assimilate us to God; make us capable here of enjoying a portion of that felicity which he possesses without measure; and, by securing to us his favour, bring us, after this life is ended, to a state far more perfect and glorious, than at present we can either enjoy or conceive.

All this, we see, might have been known without our having any apprehension of the doctrine of a Redeemer; but the value of that doctrine cannot be understood without a just apprehension of the state of things for which it was provided. I speak particularly of the doctrine. The value of redemption as a fact, is quite a different matter from the value of the knowledge of that fact. This is called “the knowledge of salvation-good tidings of great joy.” It is indeed a joyful thing to hear that salvation is attainable; but how much more joyful to be taught the means and furnished with the most pressing motives for attaining it? For the present purpose, salvation and holiness may be considered as the same; and for the promotion of holiness the doctrine of the Atonement is, above all rivalry, most efficient. This we have seen i the great scope of Revelation; this then, must surely constitute the chief

blessedness of evangelical truth. “ He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”—Let us consider the subject a little more nearly.

God is so far removed from our conceptions; the perfection of his character is so awful; we are so niuch under the dominion of sensible objects, and he is so little subjected to the senses; that our imperfect nature seems to require aid in raising itself up to him. We need a stage on which to rest in our ascent. The indistinctness too, with which we conceive an immaterial, eternal, and infinite Being, concurs with his greatness to prevent our affections opening towards him with all that ardour which his excellence and our happiness equally require. Christ is "over all God blessed for ever;” but God (if I may so speak) veiled of his effulgence. Having taken on him the nature of men, he is not ashamed to call them brethren: and as brethren, we on our part can turn towards him with complacency and confidence. In fancy we can even behold him, such as he once was in the days of his flesh; and when we read the tale of his sufferings, we feel all those emotions and sympathies swelling in our bosoms, which attach us so closely to our own kindred. Recollecting what he was, we can think of what he is, without terror; and in his presence, and under his protection, can approach with joy even that awful seat where holiness and justice for ever reside.

Of all the wonderful things which constitute, or are intimately connected with, the dispensation of grace, perhaps there is none of which we have so inadequate a conception as sin, its essential deformity and most fatal tendency. When we talk to a careless liver, of the guilt of his ordinary conversation in the world, and describe sin in the fearful language of the Bible, we seem to him as dreamers. Even the most humble and advanced Christian, finds it difficult to fix in his mind such a sense of the sanctity of God's law, and the terrible profaneness of violating it, as corresponds in any tolerable degree with the measure of these things in holy writ.”. Yet certainly it most nearly concerns us to appreciate them justly. Now it is impossible to conceive any truth so calculated to penetrate us with a just horror of sin in general, and with the deepest confusion for our own offences, as the doctrine of the cross. It stamps upon evil a character of darkness and horror which no tongue can utter: it bears in its amazing mercy the most awful testimony to the majesty and justice of God; and while it pours gladness into the bosom of the penitent, speaks death to the presumptuous rebel.-It is worth observing in this place, that an objection sometimes made to Revelation, on account of the astonishing costliness of the sacrifice which it declares to have been provided as an atonement for guilt, admits of the same reply which may be offered to the common argument against the moral character of God, from the extent and intensity of suffering allowed to prevail in the world:both are calculated to attest visibly, and to all ages, the dreadful consequences of sin. Can it be said that the apprehensions entertained of this by mankind, are generally such, that we can think the evidence has been more than sufficient?

“ In patience possess ye your souls." This was the solemn precept and premonition of Christ himself; of him who, “when he suffered, threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously;"_" who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising

« PreviousContinue »