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his punishment, especially when contrasted with the deficiency of the evidence on which he was condemn. ed, might, indeed, be supposed likely to excite some degree of sympathy in the spectators; but certainly the probability was, that his life and death, his guilt or his innocence, would soon cease to be an object of interest, and that every vestige of his existence would, in the course of a very few years, perish from the earth.
As the interest which this event, considered in itself, was calculated to excite, was but slight and tran. sitory, so nothing could be more unlikely than that it should be followed with any important or permanent effects. Had he been a favourite of the Jewish people, and sacrificed to the jealousy of the Roman government, his violent death might perhaps have occasioned a rebellion, which must, however, have terminated in the chains of servitude being rivetted more strongly on that turbulent and unhappy nation. But when He who was crucified was the object equally of hatred to the Jews, and of contempt to the Romans, what was to have been expected but that his few followers should be speedily dispersed, and his name and pretensions soon lost for ever amid “the wreck of things which were ?"
Yet, my brethren, this event, so apparently trivial and inconsiderable, formed the grand and concluding action in a scene the most interesting and important which ever was, which ever will be, which ever can be exhibited on earth. Amid apparent meanness, there was zeal grandeur; amid seeming insignificance, there was infinite importance. That Jesus who on the cross yielded up his Spirit, was the only-begotten Son of God in human nature. That life which he there voluntarily laid down, was the ransom of men innumerable. Heaven, earth, and hell, felt the Saviour's dying groan. From that event, consequences infinitely numerous, immensely important, and unspeakably interesting, have flowed. Revolutions in this world, deeply affecting the present and the immortal interests of mankind, have been its result; while among its conse quences in the invisible state, faith beholds a guilty elect world restored to the favour of its Creator, the rights of the divine government vindicated, the everlasting covenant ratified, and the gates of paradise set open.
While thrones the most ancient and stable have been crumbled into dust, and their proud possessors forgotten among men; while the renown of the warrior, and the statesman, the philosopher, and the poet, has passed away, the death of Jesus on a cross is not merely remembered, but remembered with the deepest interest and the profoundest veneration : And now, at the distance of nearly two thousand years since this deeease was accomplished in Palestine, we, the inhabitants of a remote district in a distant island of the sea, have met together to celebrate a religious rite instituted for its commemoration, and thus to testify our sense of its importance, and our wish that it may be held in everlasting remembrance.
How then, my brethren, can we employ, in a manner more appropriate and agreeable, the moments which are to elapse, before we, according to our Redeemer's institution, commemorate his dying love in the holy supper, than in attentively and devoutly considering those circumstances which rendered the death of Christ Jesus so transcendently important and interesting? The most important of these are summed up in the following proposition. When Jesus yielded up the ghost, an expiatory sacrifice was offered up to God for the sins of men,--the most satisfactory evidence was given of the divinity of his mission, and the truth of his doctrines, and a most impressive and exemplary exhibition of active and passive virtue was presented to the world. In other words, Jesus died as a sacrifice, as a martyr, and as an example. To these three views of that most important event, the commemoration of which is the principal design of our present assembling, your attention shall be successively directed in the sequel of the discourse.
I. When Jesus yielded up the ghost, he offered himself as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of men.
The universal guilt and depravity of mankind are attested by observation, experience, and scripture. The general appearances of things evince a disorder in the intelligent creation of God, which could have originated only in a violation of those laws which he had enjoined, and by a careful observance of which alone it could be preserved in its primeval harmony and beauty. Every man who has reflected at all on the work. ings of his own mind, will readily acknowledge he is a sinner,--conscious of guilt, and afraid of punishment; and the explicit declaration of Scripture is, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
In these circumstances, without doubt, the most important objects of inquiry which can engage the attention of the human mind are, the practicability of restoration to the divine favour, and, on the supposition of such a restoration being practicable, the mode in which this most desirable object is to be gained. Now, it is a curious fact in the history of the human mind, and seems scarcely accountable but on the hypothesis of a primitive revelation, fragments of which have been preserved among all nations--that mankind of all countries and ages, and in every various stage of civilization, have agreed in the general outline of their sentiments on these important subjects, notwithstanding the great diversity which prevails in their manner of filling up that outline. There seems to be an universal persuasion, that the Divinity, though offended, may be propitiated; that repentance and reformation are of themselves inefficacious for this purpose, and that it can only be effected through means of an atoning sacrifice, that is, by substituting some person or thing in the room of the offender, and devoting the victim to the destruction to which the sinner was doomed.
But, while the unenlightened nations seem deeply to have felt the necessity of offering, in some form or other, satisfaction to the offended justice of heaven, they were totally in the dark respecting what was necessary to constitute an acceptable sacrifice. The lives of the brutal creation were lavishly squandered to obtain the remission of human guilt; and not unfrequently, under the influence of a gloomy superstition, which extinguishes all sense of the more amiable attributes of Deity, in a dread of his vengeance, have the most sacred principles of our nature been outraged, the circumstances of tender age and near relationship disregarded, and the altars of the Divinity stained with the blood of innocent infants, to expiate the crimes of their guilty parents. At the recital of these horrid rites, humanity shudders and weeps ; while reason plainly perceives their inutility, and laments the infatuation of minkind in endeavouring to atone for one crime, by the commission of another still more foul. Yet, however absurd and criminal the mode of expression, it is easy to recognize, in these rites, the general principle of the inefficacy of repentance, and the necessity of sacrifice.
The same principles are plainly taught in the Scriptural revelation. The whole of the Mosaic ritual
proceeds on the principle, that, in order to render the Deity propitious to man, satisfaction, in some form, must be made to his law and justice; and an inspired
interpreter of these institutions informs us, that they were intended to teach, that “without shedding of blood, there is no remission,”
The Mosaic sacrifices, though of divine appointment, and though efficacious for the purpose for which they were instituted, were altogether incapable of making an expiation for moral guilt. Enlightened reason can trace no connection between the shedding of the blood of an irrational animal, and the remission of the guilt of a human transgressor, and readily ac. knowledges the truth of the apostle's declaration, that “it was not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin." Indeed, the only way of accounting for their institution, in a consistency
the divine wisdom, is by supposing (and the New Testament Scriptures fully authorise the supposition) that they were intended to keep constantly before the mind the doctrine of the necessity of atonement in or. der to pardon; and to prefigure that great propitiatory sacrifice, which, “in the end of the age,” was to expiate the sins of mankind.
Now, that sacrifice, which unenlightened reason perceived to be necessary, but sought in vain to obtain, that sacrifice, of which all the legal atonements were merely figures, is to be found in that course of obedience and suffering, which Christ Jesus terminated on the cross when he yielded up the ghost. Accordingly, when we say that Christ offered himself an atoning sacrifice, we mean that, in consequence of his sustaining the sufferings and death which guilty man deserved, it became consistent with the divine moral character and government to pardon and save those in whose stead the Saviour suffered and died.
No man can read the Scriptures, with any degree of attention, without noticing the close connection which