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MATT. xxvii. 45--53.
Now, from the sixth hour, there was darkness over all the land,
unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani ? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straight-way one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled
it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave drink. The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the vail of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom ; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened ;
bor dies of saints, which slept, arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unte many.
E are going to set before you, this day, my
Christian friends, the concluding scene of the most dreadful spectacle that ever the sun beheld. On beholding the order, the preparations, and the approaching completion of the sacrifice of Isaac, the soul is thrown into astonishment. A father binding his own son with cords, extending him upon a funeral-pile, raising up an armed right
hand to pierce his bosom ; and all this by the command of heaven! What a prodigy! At such a sight reason murmurs, faith is staggered, and Providence seems to labor under an indelible imputation. But a seasonable and happy interposition dissipates all this darkness. An angel descends from heaven, a voice pierces the yielding air: Abraham, Abraham ; lay not thy hand upon the lad; for now I know that thou feurest Cod; seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me, Gen. xxii. 12. And this revolution silences the murmurings of reason, re-establishes our faith, and vindicates the ways of Providence,
A greater than Isaac, my brethren, a greater than Abraham, is here. This sacrifice must be completed; this victim must die; this burnt-offering must be reduced to ashes. In the preceding chapters you have seen the command given, the scaffold erected, the arm extended, to smite the devoted Jesus. You are going to behold him expire; no victim substituted in his room; no revocation of the decree; and instead of inquiring like Isaac: behold the fire and the woode; but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering ? ver. 7. he saith, Lo, I come ; .... to do thy will, O my God, Psa. xl. 7, 8. Jesus expires: the dead leave their tombs : the sun withdraws his light : nature is convulsed at sight of her Creator dying upon a cross : and the Son of God's love, before he utters his last sigh, gives a free course to his complaints, and makes an astonished world re-echo those mournful sounds ; my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? ver. 46.
And you, Christians, what are you to become at beholding this spectacle; and what effects are these objects to produce, that shall be in any proportion to their magnitude ? With whatever suc
Cess our happiest addresses to you may be crowned, your actions must ever fall short of your obligations and engagements. It is possible, however, that on certain points, we may have commendation only to bestow. When restitution is the theme, some one, perhaps, conscience-struck, some Zaccheus, is induced to restore fourfold. When the doctrine of reconciliation and forgiveness is preached, some one, smitten to the heart, is, it may be, disposed to open his arms to an estranged brother. But what fruit can this discourse produce, capable of, I do not say, fulfilling your obligations, but that shall bear any manner of proportion to them? Were your hearts, henceforward, to burn with the purest and most ardent affection: were your eyes to become a living fountain of tears: were every particle of your frame to serve as a several victim to penitence: were this vaulted roof to cleave assunder: were the dead, deposited in these tombs, to start up into life: What would there be in all this that is not absorbed of the objects which we are going to display?
Come, and clothe yourselves in mourning, with the rest of nature. Come, with the Centurion, and recognize your Redeemer and your God, and let the sentiments which severally occupy all these hearts and minds, unite in this one: 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, Gal. ji. 20. Amen.
That you may derive from the words which we have read, the fruit which the Holy Spirit presents to us in them, we shall, 1. attempt some elucida, tion of the letter of the text: and then, 2. endear.
deavor to penetrate into the spirit of it, and dive to the bottom of the mysteries which it contains.
I. We begin with attempting some elucidation of the letter of the text. And,
1. Our first remark turns on the time which the evangelist assigns to the first events which he is here relating : from the sixth hour, says he, there was darkness unto the ninth hour : and about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and so on. Respecting which it is to be observed, that the Jews'computed the hours of the day from sunrising. The first from sun-rising was called one hour; the second two, and so of the rest : from the sixth hour to the ninth hour ; in other words, from noon till three of the clock afternoon.
But what merits a more particular attention, is this : that the evangelists appear here to vary in their testimony : at least St. Mark tells us, chap. xy. 25. that part of the events which the other evangelists say took place about the ninth hour, happened at the third hour. A single remark will resolve this difficulty. The Jews employed another method in computing time, besides that which we have indicated. They divided the day into four intervals. The first comprehended the space from the first to the third hour of the day inclusively : the second, from the end of the third hour of the day to the sixth : and so of the rest. This mode of computation, if certain doctors are to be credited, took its rise from the custom which was observed in the temple, of presenting prayers and sacrifices at the third, the sixth, and the ninth hour. Now the Jews sometimes denominated the whole of this first interval, which contained three hours of the day, one hour, or the first hour. The second interval they denominated tro, or the second hour,
which contained the second three hours, and so of the rest. This remark solves the apparent difficulty which we pointed out. Some of the evangelists have followed the first mode of computation, and others have adopted the second. The ninth hour, in the style of St. Matthew, and the third hour, in the style of St. Mark, denote one and the same season of the day ; because the one computes the hours elapsed from sun-rising, and the other that third interval of three hours, which commenced precisely at the ninth hour.
2. Our second remark, will lead us into an examination of certain questions started, relative to the prodigies recorded by our evangelist. It is said,
(1) That there was darkness over all the land. It appears from astronomical calculation, and from the very nature of solar eclipses, which are occasioned by the interposition of the body of the moon between us and the orb of day, which can take place only at the change, whereas it was then at the full, being the fourteenth day of the month of March ; it appears, I say, from these considerations, that this darkness was not an eclipse properly so called, but an obscuration effected by a special interference of Providence, which we are unable clearly to explain.
If we are incapable of assigning the cause, we are equally incapable of determining the extent of this wonderful appearance. The expression in the original, there was darkness over all the land, or, according to St. Luke's phraseology, over all the earth, ch. xxiii. 44. which presents at first to the mind an idea of the whole globe, frequently restricted in scripture, sometimes to the land of Judea, sometimes to the whole Roman empire; and this ambiguity, joined to the silence of the sacred