« AnteriorContinuar »
is a new way of managing the topick of authorities. When in the ardour of controversy a man alleges such an argument as this, he is seldom perhaps aware how little he is himself in earnest in it, how nugatory it would appear to him in any other but that particular instance wherein it happens to serve his purpose—how absurd, were it once turned against him. That acute writer who would expunge the doctrine of an immaterial soul and its immortality from the creed of a Christian, because many who were destitute of the assistances of ravelation were brought by the mere light of nature to believe it, does not, I am well persuaded, the less firmly believe the being and the providence of God, because in that belief he happens to concur with Socrates and Plato.
Let us, however, turn to a meditation more adapted to this holy season. Let the pious Christian in every thing look up to God, with full assurance of faith, as to the first mover and cause of all things, the director of all events, the vigilant guardian and omnipotent protector of the virtuous: but let him no less firmly believe, that the morality of his actions is his own, that he is free to stand and free to fall, that if he fall, the blame is with himself, in liis own foolish choice; God is blameless.
According to this, state of things, in which every thing is subject to the wise control of God and human actions, and even the liberty of human actions are constituent parts of the wonderful, complex scheme of Providence—according to this state of things, so evidently implied in our Saviour's prediction of his sufferings, every thing fell out in exact agreement, not only with this prediction, but also with the ancient predictions of the Jewish prophets, and with the still more ancient types of the Mosaick law; and yet every thing was brought about by the ordinary operation of second causes, and in great part by the free agency of man. At the season of the passover, our blessed Lord, whose present condition of humanity imposed upon him an implicit obedience to the positive precepts of the Mosaick law, (which law was not yet abolished,) was carried by motives of devotion to Jerusalem. The chief priests and scribes assembled with the elders in the hail of Caiaphas the high-priest, to concert the safest measures of destroying him. These men, in consideration of their worldly interests, had reason to dread the success of our Saviour's doctrine. There was nothing against which he had waged more constant war, than that system of hypocrisy and superstition by which they had disfigured the true religion, and had enslaved the minds of the simple multitude. He had studiously improved r-very occasion of insisting upon the futility of their traditions, the vanity of their ceremonies, the insincerity of their devotion—of exposing their ignorance, their pride, their ambition, their avnrice. Motives of interest and revenge suggested the resolution, in this infernal assembly, of seizing the holy Jesus, and of putting him to death. A party of their officers and servants was sent immediately to execute the first part of the horrid purpose. Motives of avarice had prevailed upon the sordid mind of Judas
Vol. I—No. I. H
to conspire with his master's enemies against his life. For a paltry bribe of something less than four pounds—for the sum that the law appointed for damages to the owner of a slave who had been killed accidentally by another man's ox, he conducts the officers of the great council to the accustomed place of our Lord's retirement, where Jesus was at this time withdrawn to prepare himself, by prayer and meditation, against that trying hour which he knew to be approaching.
Let us once more recur to the words of our Lord's prediction, —instructive words, upon which ~we never can too deeply meditate. He must go—he must suffer—he must be killed. Whence, and what was this necessity? Assuredly no absolute necessity originally seated in the nature of the thing, that the Son of God should suffer;—he might have left the miserable race of man to perish in their sins. The Son is in all things, but in nothing more than in love and mercy, the express image of the Father. Notwithstanding all that man could plead in extenuation of his transgression, (and somewhat he had to plead,—the frailty of his nature, the subtilty of the tempter,) yet the purposes of God's moral government rendered it unfit to pardon sin without intercession and atonement. Compassion instigates the Son of God to pay the forfeit, of our crimes, and to satisfy, in his own person, the Eternal Father's justice. Impelled by this necessity, incited by commiseration of our fallen state, he lays aside the glory "which he had with the Father before the world began." In the Virgin's womb he clothes himself with flesh; and, together with that mortal clothing, he assumes man's perfect nature,—a nature subject to our wants and to our pains, not insensible to our enjoyments, susceptible, as appeared in many actions of his life, of our social attachments, and though pure from the stain of sin, not exempt from the feeling of temptation. When his hour draws near, this human nature shrinks under the apprehension of pain;—he foresees the accumulated horrour of his approaching sufferings,—he foresees it with distress and agony. Where is the wise disputer of the world who says that pain and affliction are not evils?—who, sufficient to himself, indifferent to things external, boasts that he would be unmoved in calamity, at ease in torment? Bring him to Gethsemane: there shall he see a just man and perfect—a man whose conscience reproaches him with no vice or folly; a man whose life hath been piety and love, unaffected piety, disinterested love; a man in whose ample mind are hidden all the treasures of knowledge; a man assuredly entitled to every comfort which the consciousness of perfection, of perfect •virtue and of perfect wisdom, can bestow,—he shall see this wise, this good, this perfect man, this man in union with Divinity, overwhelmed with grief and tribulation. "Surely he bears our griefs, he carries our sorrows, he undergoes the chastisement of our peace." See his mortified looks, his troubled gestures! See the bloody sweat! strange symptom of the unuttered pangs that rend his righteous heart. See him prostrate on the earth in anxious supplication. Humble thyself, O vain philosophy! dismiss thy arrogant maxims: learn from this affecting spectacle a better wisdom than thine own; learn it of him who brought it from above. Say not that affliction is not an evil: say that it is to be borne with humility, as the punishment of sin; to be endured with fortitude, as the instrument of good; to be accepted with thankfulness, as the discipline of God, whereby he trains his sons to virtue, and fits the virtuous for glory; but confess that it is that which the most perfect natures do the most abhor, that which it is the wisdom of man, with due submission to the dispensations of Providence, to shun.
Our Saviour, in the anguish of his soul, but with perfect resignation to the Father's will, prays that, if possible, the cup of bitterness may pass by him. The counsels of God are founded on unerring wisdom; they cannot be reversed or changed. The awful sentence is gone forth, " Without blood there is no remission!" " Awake, O sword! against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts." Love to man, joined with a zeal for the honour and support of the Father's government,—these motives, which first engaged him in the painful work of our redemption, prevail over his human feelings; and, further fortified by a vision from heaven, he determines to meet the malice of his enemies; and when the officers of the Sanhedrim appear with Judas at their head, he summons not those legions of angels which were ever in readiness to attend his call, he puts not forth the powers that resided in him, he commands Iiis attendants to sheathe the swords already drawn in his defence, he repairs the violence that one of them already had committed, and after such rebuke to the traitor, and such expostulations with the officers, as might show them that he knew every particular of the conspiracy, and was aware of all that was intended, he surrenders himself without resistance, thus verifying the ancient prediction, " He was led like a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before the shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth."
The chief priests and elders were unwilling to put him to death by their own authority, lest they should incur the charge of tumult and sedition; for Judca being at this time a Roman province, death could not regularly be inflicted without the permission at least of the Roman governour, and they were desirous rf putting the face of publick justice upon the whole of the transaction. Cool and crafty in their malice, they present him before Pilate, and, urging the complicated charge of blasphemy and sedition^insist upon his death. Pilate well understood that both these accusations were groundless: but he was very unpopular in his province, which he is said to have ruled with a rod of iron. He was given to understand, that if he stood forth as the friend of Jesus, he would himself incur the accusation of traitorous designs. He took the alarm at this. He saw that complaints might be carried to Rome: he well knew the jealous temper of the emperour Tiberius, ever ready to listen to complaints against his provincial governours; cruel and implacable in his resentments: he thought the present opportunity was not to be missed of doing the Jews a pleasure, by throwing away the life, as he conceived, of an inconsiderable, friendless man, who, when once he was gone, would never be inquired after. And from these motives of selfish cunning and guilty fear, Pilate, against the remonstrances of his conscience and the warnings of Heaven, consented to our Saviour's death.
The execution of the Roman governour's sentence fell in. course upon the Roman soldiers, and this ensured that particular kind of death which our Lord had himself predicted; for crucifixion was not the punishment which the Jewish law appointed for the crimes wfterewith Jesus was charged, but it was one which the Romans inflicted upon offenders of the meanest condition, or those who had been guilty of the most atrocious and flagitious crimes. The living body of the sufferer was fastened to two cross pieces of wood, by nails driven through the hands and feet; the feet being nailed to the upright post, and the hands to the two extremities of the transverse beam. In this situation, the miserable objects of this barbarous punishment were left to consume in lingering and dreadful torments; for as none of the parts essential to life was immediately injured, none of the vital actions immediately impeded, and none of the larger blood vessels set open, the death was necessarily slow; and the multitude of nerves that terminate in the hands and feet, giving those parts the nicest sensibility, rendered the sufferings exquisite.
Such was the death to which the unrelenting malice of his enemies consigned the meek and holy Jesus. I must not further pursue the detail of those minute occurrences, in which, though brought about by natural and common causes, the ancient prophecies concerning the circumstances of our Saviour's passion were remarkably fulfilled. It was not till every tittle was fulfilled, that the patient Son of God, as if then and not before at liberty to depart, said, "It is finished!" bowed his anointed head, and rendered up the ghost. Wonderful catastrophe! replete with mysteries; among which the harmony of divine providence and human liberty is not the least. Mechanical causes, governed by a single intellect, could not with more certainty have wrought the predetermined effect: independent beings could not have pursued with greater liberty, than the persons concerned in this horrid transaction, each his separate design. "It is finished!" Holy victim! thy sufferings are finished! Ml is finished, that wicked men were wonderfully destined to contribute towards the general deliverance! What remains, infinite power and infinite mercy shall accomplish. The disciples, those few of them who had the courage to be present at this dismal scene, hang their heads in sorrowful despondency, and seem to have abandoned the hope that this was He who should redeem Israel. But Israel is redeemed. The high sacrifice, appointed before the foundation of the world, typified in all the sacrifices of the law, is now slain, and is accepted. That Jesus who, according to his own prediction, hath expired en the cross, shall, according to his own prediction, be raised again on the third day. He is raised,—he is entered into glory,— he is sitten down for ever at the right hand of the Majesty on high: there he pleads the merit of his blood in behalf of those crying sins that caused it to be shed. Nor does he plead in vain. The final judgment is committed to him; and the greatest of sinners that will but forsake their evil ways, have no reason to fear the severity of a judge, who hath himself been touched with the feeling of our infirmities. On the other hand, let not any deceive themselves with a vain reliance on his merits, who after all that the Son of God hath done and suffered for them, remain impenitent. The sacrifice of the cross was no less a display of the just severity, than of the tender mercy of God. The authority of his government must be maintained. This rendered intercession and atonement necessary for the pardon of sin in the first instance, the most meritorious intercession, the highest atonement. For those " who despise so great salvation," who cannot be reclaimed by the promises and threatenings of the gospel, by the warnings of God's wrath, by the assurances of mercy, by the contemplation of their Saviour's love, for those who cannot be reclaimed by these powerful motives from obstinate courses of wilful vice, there assuredly " remains no more sacrifice for sin, but a certain, fearful looking-for of fiery indignation," which at the last day shall burn with inextinguishable rage against these incorrigible adversaries of God and goodness. Grant, O Lord, that all we who are this day assembled before thee, lamenting our sins and imploring thy mercy, may be permitted, through the intercession of thy Son, to escape the everlasting horrours of that second death!