Page images

is no remission." An animal must be sacrificed at the altar of God.

But is there, then, any assignable fitness in such a sacrifice to propitiate the favour of the Almighty? "Can the blood of bulls and goats take away sin?” Can God, as the great Parent of all, be delighted with the violent death of his own creatures? Or, as a wise and righteous Being, can be impute the guilt of rational offenders to innocent and irrational animals?-With whatever triumph these questions may have been asked, or however coufidently the whole scheme of vicarious sacrifice may have been pronounced absurd and ba: barous, it seems a sufficient answer to such objections to say, that the suppositions on which they are grounded need not be made. Why, for instance, must it be supposed that sacrifices had any virtue in themselves to propitiate or appease the Deity? Let us allow that they had in themselves no more efficacy to take away sin, than the sight of the brazen serpent to cure the wounded and dying. Does this invalidate the ordinance? If God is pleased to appoint sacrifices, as the way in which alone he will dispense pardon to the guilty, who shall forbid him; or who shall say that the mode he has adopted is not the most suitable that could have been devised? Is it for men to question the propriety of this Divine appointment, because the reasons of it may not be evident to them? Shall we presume to charge God with cruelty, as delighting in the blood of his unoffending creatures; or with iniquity and folly, as laying guilt upon the innocent and irrational; because he requires the life of a victim as the condition of forgiving sin? Injustice and cruelty are inconsistent with his nature. “The righteous Lord loveth righteousness." "He is good to all; his mercies are over all his works.” We, it is true, can neither conceive guilt to be transferred to the animal which is offered as a sacrifice, nor see how the expiation is effected. But that it should be so, was the positive ordinance of God. He had prescribed the rite, and had declared that he would accept the victim as an atonement; and therefore the humble and penitent Jew, who observed this ordinance, was accepted, forgiven and saved; while a proud unbeliever, who had rejected the means of mercy because he could not comprehend the manner of its operation, would have been left to perish in his sin.

It will be easily perceived that the instances hitherto given of the mode in which God has dispensed his mercy, are but subordinate parts of a general scheme, and closely connected with the great work of Redemption. All the types and shadows of the Mosaic Law, and the previous Divine dispensations, have their value exceedingly increased, when they are considered as forming, with the Christian scheme, one general system, in which, from the beginning of the world to the end of it, the same general scheme is carried on, and the same principles kept in view. The Jewish and Christian dipensations will thus mutually illustrate and confirm each other. The sacrifices of the Law prepare for the atonement of Christ; and that atonement reflects a dignity and glory upon them, by manifesting their nature and completing their design.

We will, therefore, now turn our attention to the chief mercy of God—the gift of his Son for our redemption; observing the mode in which it is dispensed, and comparing it with those in which his goodness has been formerly displayed, that they may serve to illustrate each other.

We may remark, then, the following particulars.

I. The mercy of God, however dispensed to sinners, arises solely from the benignity of his own nature.

It is not to be considered as moved and excited by the means which they must use to obtain it. These are only the channel of its communication. Thus, in the Jewish æconomy, it was not the sacrifice which moved God's compassion, and inclined him to merey: but, being already disposed to shew mercy to his sinful creatures, he was pleased to appoint a sacrifice as the mode in which they should receive it. By attending to this

remark, we shall perceive the fallacy of certain objections to the doctrine of atoneinent, which suppose an indisposition to mercy in God, and that he was moved to pity us only by the sufferings of our Redeemer. But, on the contrary, the mercy was spontaneous and free. Before the foundations of the world were laid, he foresaw the misery of man, and, in compassion for his ruined state, bad determined to redeem him. He it was who contrived the plan of our salvation; who revealed it by various intimations to the early fathers of the world; who selected a race of men, and instituted a peculiar æconomy amongst them, to preserve the expectation of it, and to prepare for its completion; and who, at length, “in the fullness of time," sent his Son to accomplish and promulgate it. But we have seen that it has pleased him on various occasions, to appoint a special ordinance, as the means of communicating his mercies. When he exempted the Israelites from the death of the first-born in Egypt, it was by means of the sprinkling of blood upon the lintels of their houses. When he healed those who had been bitten by serpents, it was through their looking to the brazen serpent. Under the Law, sin was pardoned on the offering of sacrifices; and, under the Christian dispensation, by faith in the great Atonement. In none of these cases is the grace of God diminished by the mode of its communication. It is rather magnified, in consequence of the fuller illustration which it receives. His goodness to the Israelites was surely the same, whether he healed them by requiring that they should look at the brazen serpent, or by an unconditional exertion of his power. And the ordinance had, at least, this advantage, that the miracle appeared greater, when thus contrasted with the total inefficiency of the means. Nor is it less an evidence of his mercy to us, that he has saved us through faith in a Redeemer than if he had pardoned and restored us without any propitiation. Yet when we contemplate the ransom which he was pleased to provide, and believe, as we ought, that thero is a suitableness in the provision; it undoubtedly gires us a view, both of our guilt, and of the greatness of his mercy towards us, which we could never otherwise have obtained. We know, in fact, that all those lofty conceptions of the love of God to sinners, and those rapturous emotions of gratitude on account of it, which we often observe in the writings of the early Christians, have been formed and raised by this very consideration. It was this view of the great atonement of Him, "who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet took upon him the form of a servant and humbled himself even to the death of the cross,” which taught them to "comprehend the length and breadth, and depth, and height of that love which passeth kuowledge,” and “constrained them to live, not to themselves, but to him who died for them.” The same view bas animated and sustained the noble army of martyrs, in all the conflicts and trials through which they fought their way to heaven. It has been matter of admiration and praise to the redeemed in all ages, and will be the theme of their song, when they shall appear before God in Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. Thus has he commended his mercy to us, by the medium of its communication. It is a measure whereby we may take the dimensions of that mercy, which without it would have been immeasurable and inconceivable.

II. God having provided a particular way in which he will manifest his grace, that way derives its efficacy from his appointment. We are not merely to consider the virtue of the ordinance in itself to procure our pardon, but its efficacy as the mode which he has ordained for that purpose. There was little, or rather no virtue, in the blood upon the door-post, to save the first born of the Israelites; in the sound of the rams' horns, to throw down the walls of Jericho; in the cruse of salt, to cure the bitter water; in the blood of victims, to take away sin; in the stream of Jordan, to cure the leprosy of Naaman; in the bunch of figs, to heal the sickness of

Hezekiah. All these things were, in themselves, without efficacy; but God bad appointed them as means by which to convey his mercy and goodness to men: therefore they were efficacious: and the less they had in themselves of power, the more clearly did they prove the agency of the Almighty. Hence also the death of Christ derives its sovereign virtue. It is "the power of God to salvation to them that believe." It was the appointed ordinance by which he had determined to grant remission of sin through the riches of his own grace. “Sacrifice and offering (says David, in the person our Lord,) thou wouldest not. These, though for a time required as types of the true Propitiation, were not the means wbich thou hadst ordained to take

away sin—"but a body hast thou prepared me”-I must be made flesh to die for sinners. We are not therefore to conceive, that the death of Christ effects our salvation, merely by the motives which it supplies, or the affections which it produces. It does indeed excite the warmest affections, and supply us with the most cogent motives to repentance and to all holy obedience. But its saving efficacy consists in God's having appointed it to be the means of the remission of our sins. Even as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so was the Son of man lifted up, what whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The wounded Israelites looked up to the brazen serpent, and in the act of beholding were cured. The penitent sinner looks by faith to Christ lifted up upon the cross; and in the same way, by the grace of God bestowed upon him in believing, his sin is pardoned, and his soul saved.

III. We may remark, that the method in which God dispenses his mercy does not supersede the necessity of repentance.

The Israelites had repented ere God commanded the brazen serpent to be made. The Jews who brought the sacrifice to the temple, were supposed to repent of their sins, and to humble themselves for it; and without VOL. 11.


« PreviousContinue »