« PreviousContinue »
the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Of what importance it is to“ patient continuánce in well-doing,” that Christians should learn constancy under afflictions; and of what efficacy the example of a suffering Saviour was believed by the apostles to be, for working such a temper in their disciples; the Epistles of the New Testament every where attest." Through faith and patience ye inherit the promises.” “We are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast to the end." "Ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” “It is better that ye suffer for well-doing, than for evil doing; for Christ also hath once suffered for sips, the just for the unjust.” “Forasmuch as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind." "Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings.” It is not indeed, accurate to define virtue, as some have done, the sacrificing of a present for a future greater good: virtue must ever be essentially the same; and the day will assuredly come, to every true servant of God, when holiness will be the most delightful of all exercises, unaccompanied even with the appearance of a loss: yet, in our present state, with corrupt heårts in a corrupt world, it cannot be denied that persevering self-denial is at the basis of all moral excellence. We must be ready to abandon much, and endure much, if Heaven is the prize we seek for. -There is another Christian grace, of the highest worth, which is intimately connected with self-denial, and peculiarly taught in the doctrine of the cross-Humility. Can we see the Son of God crucified for our sins, and still in dulge a lofty, self-gratulating spirit? Had our crimes brought afriend, a wife, or child, to an infamous death, should we dare to stalk round the world with a triumphant look, and proud, braggart deportment? In such a case, surely the very worst would hide his face in the dust. But we have crucified the Lord of life: our crimes have brought the ever-blessed Emmanuel to shame and suffering. A just view of the great superiority of moral worth over all other advantages, and such a sense of our own moral unworthiness, as the cross of Christ can alone teach, would effectually deliver us from that over-weening and selfish folly, which even the ablest of men, untaught in the school of Christ, are ever ready to mistake for magnanimity.--It is not, however, the sufferings of our Saviour only, that should cover us with confusion: the recollection that his death is our life; his shame and sorrow, our everlasting joy: these, surely, are thoughts, which, above all others, must empty us of selfishness, draw forth every grateful and generous affection, and bring us to the foot of the cross, in mingled tears and rapture, to join the song of angels;
Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.." Let it be remembered, that pride is a preference of ourselves; love and gratitude, a preference of others. These sentiments, therefore, cannot subsist together; and whatever tends to excite the better feelings, must tend also to expel the worse.
The last Christian grace which I shall notice as wrought more especially by the doctrine of the cross, is Spiritualmindedness; the source and pledge, the fruit and crown, of all. On this, assuredly, it is needless to enlarge. What says the apostle of the Gentiles? “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in
me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Throughout the New Testament, the death of Christ is spoken of as directly emblematic of, and above all other things effectual to produce, that death unto sin, and deadness to the pleasures of this world, which ever accompany a spiritual frame of mind.
We see, then, that the doctrine of the atonement--the knowledge of that great truth, which unknown might have wrought inestimable good for man has a peculiar and most powerful tendency to excite an ardent love of God; a deep detestation of sin; patient self-denial; humility; and spiritual-mindedness. Let it now be considered how large a portion of holiness these graces themselves constitute, and how necessarily they imply or produce the rest, and, if the Scripture account of happiness be true, we shall no longer feel any difficulty in understanding why the apostles have declared a knowledge of Christ crucified, to be so inestimable a blessing. We must also recollect, that the evangelical truths are admirably calculated to awaken the most animated feelings and affections of the heart; in doing which, they not only open the deepest fountains of satisfaction, but communicate a power and energy to the soul, which makes the attainment of the most perfect graces of holiness almost as delightful as their exercise.
The doctrine of the atonement is, I am persuaded, acknowledged, and its value in some degree felt, by a very large proportion of those who profess any seriousness at all on the subject of religion. It is too cardinal a truth to be overlooked; too comfortable an one to be wilfully neglected. We find, therefore, the satisfaction which Christ has made for sin mentioned by many, with a certain expression of trust and thankfulness, who, on the whole, are living very carelessly, and have exceedingly inadequate notions of the dispensation of grace in its other parts. This doctrine, however, can hardly be well understood, or cordially received, except by those who have known the burthen of sin; who feel their need of a Mediator, and love Christ, not merely as a being perfectly excellent and amiable, but as their Redeemer. This is the nearest relation that subsists between Christ and his people. He has made, he preserves, he guides, protects, and blessés us; but all this he would have done though man had continued upright. To have become the Saviour of a guilty world, its deliverer from bondage and death, invests him with a character far dearer, because far more necessary, to all who can estimate its value. And what but the blindness, the death-sleep of sin, can hide its value from us? We may speculate, if we please, on the moral government of God, and marvel (it is, indeed, very marvellous) that he should have permitted a whole world to be sunk in guilt and ruin. We may estimate, if we will, the palliation which our offences receive from the infirm nature we inherit, and the evil examples that surround us. But, when our philosophy and our moral calculations are exhausted, let memory and conscience speak. Have you loved your Creator and Benefactor with your whole heart? Have you indeed preferred his favour before the pleasures of sense, of reason, of fancy, of ambition, of affection? Have you cordially believed, and acted on the belief, that to serve him with every faculty and every feeling, is true wisdom, and will issue in perfect happiness? Have you been holy and humble, just and pure in every thought
and word and work? Happy, happy they (if any such there be) who can honestly answer, Yes!—but not unhappy those, who knowing their sins, and confessing their unworthiness, have taken refuge in the sanctuary of a Redeemer, from the power and persecution of their enemies. I do not say that they who need a Saviour little, will love him little: that is impossible: but surely those who feel that they need him much, must love him ardently. Let them cherish the holy fervour. It will pour gladness into their hearts. It will purge them of every low thought, every selfish and worldly affection; as the sun, ascending in the rear of darkness, scatters the mists that lie heavy on the earth, and sheds upon every object the same glad and peaceful radiance in which his own glory is for ever enshrined.
There is one common and capital error on this subject, which must not be left unnoticed. Persons who do not live strictly, are very apt to imagine that the Gospel is a mitigated law, and the death of Christ principally effective in softening the rigour, and relaxing the straitness of the old commandment. This is a most fatal misapprehension of the whole matter. So totally is it at variance with the whole tenor of Scripture, that (if it were not presumptuous to speculate on the possible proceedings of God), we might venture to say, if the law of perfect holiness could have allowed of any abatement, Christ had never died. That law, like its Author, is immutable. God is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. “Be ye perfect,” is the precept of both Testaments. It is among the most sublime and characteristic features of revelation, that, even in a scheme of condescension by which sinful beings are to be restored, and some provision therefore of necessity made