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The promulgation of this act of grace was the effect of everlasting love: and also a declaration of the future incarnation of the Son of God; which incarnation was, in the first ages of the church, prefigured by various types and shadows, * but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. In the eternal covenant of grace, all things were settled and provided for the redemption of man. 'God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.' The divine Redeemer foresaw the wretchedness and the ruin to which the members of his mystical body would be exposed, in consequence of sin; and in order to rescue them from this ruin and that wretchedness, he voluntarily sanctified himself —or in other words—' gave himself an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet smelling savour.' He most cheerfully engaged us a substitute for the guilty, and undertook to redeem from death and all its consequences, the many sons he was appointed to bring to glory.
In a compact so characteristick of the Father of mercies, it appears, from scriptural representation, to have been stipulated, that the Son of his bosom should take the nature of man into union with his divine person; 'that he should, in that nature, bear the sins of many— be numbered with transgressors—make his soul an offering for sin—finish transgression, make an end of sins—make reconciliation for iniquity, and bring in everlasting righteousness:' and, as a reward for the work he was to perform as Mediator, his eternal Father promised, 'that he should see his seed; should prolong his days; should see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; and that the pleasure of the Lord should prosper in his bands.' In consequence of his own engagement and of this promise, the compassionate Saviour saith, 'Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.'
To accomplish the astonishing work of redemption, the Son of God must become incarnate; assume the nature that had sinned, and in that nature make complete reparation to the law which his people had grossly violated: for, without reparation, no sinner could be saved. As a transgressor, he must inevitably have perished; or the divine law have relinquished its claim on him as a debtor; which, in the very nature of the case, was impossible. No law, human or divine, founded in justice, and given as a rule of moral conduct, can dispense with a breach of its commands. Were a desperate assassin to plunge a dagger into the bosom of his most inveterate enemy, the law of his country would demand his life, as an atonement for the crime: it could not do otherwise. It is allowed, indeed, that the murderous villain might escape the penalty of death, by the intervention of a pardon; but for this pardon he would not be indebted to the benignity of the law, but to the unjust interposition of his prince. The law would remain invariably the same: it must ever view him as a notorious transgressor; and unless its require
ments be granted, or its violated honours amply restored, oppose all his efforts to obtain liberty or to preserve life.
Now thus it stands with sinful man, respecting the great Governour of heaven and of earth. The divine law, which was given as a rule of conduct, has been broken in a thousand instances; and its language to the candidate for eternal happiness, on the ground of human worthiness is, Pay me that thou owest! —' Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.' This demand is founded in equity, and can neither be evaded nor complied with by the culprit: he lies under an arrest of justice; and unless the demands of the claimant be answered by the sinner, or his substitute, he must remain perpetually a debtor, and feel the weight of its sentence forever. 'Without an adequate atonement,' says the ingenious Blacklock, 'no sinner can possibly escape the hands, or elude the awards of justice. But such a compensation can by no means be given, if the delinquent's capacities of suffering be limited, or his station and character of no higher importance than those of his brethren; for the malignity of moral evil is too diffuse and permanent to be cured by any exemplary punishment, whose duration and extent are circumscribed. Even penitence itself cannot obliterate the evils which it deplores. Transgressions already past, and recorded in the books of heaven, are not to be reversed by resolutions of future reformation. The purest virtue of which human nature is capable, extends not to the sanctity of those laws which are prescribed for its obedience. Our best actions demand the exertions of mercy and forgiveness: how then can we atone for them that are bad?'
Let it, therefore, be remembered, that on the ground of personal desert, no sinner can be saved. This is absolutely impossible: and the reason is obvious. He has violated the divine precept, and no future conduct, however exemplary and exact, can atone for crimes previously committed. 'The punishment of vice,' says Mr. Jenyns, 'is a debt due to justice, which cannot be remitted without