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manifested in the flesh!” It could have been for no ordinary purpose, for the attainment of no common end, that so illustrious a personage appeared. His own glory is diffused over the system of mediation which he has succeeded in establishing, and attaches to it a character preeminently resplendent.
II. The superior glory of the Christian dispensation consists in the substantial and gracious character of the communications which it makes.
There is nothing more striking than the contrast which exists on these points between the two dispensations here brought into comparison. The institutions of Moses were typical. They possessed no efficacy in themselves for the remission of sin, but were merely the adumbration or outline of that great sacrifice which Christ was to offer for the sin of mankind. Their obscurity is symbolically denoted in the chapter whence my text is taken, by the veil which Moses put upon his face in order to shroud its splendour from the people. To the believing Israelite they became the medium of communication with the true object of faith, but the views which they supplied must have been extremely imperfect and vague. "The law had the shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things." How strangely would our conceptions of the objects of nature be affected, if we were conversant only with their shadows! The beauteous garbs in which they now appear to the eye, would be seen no longer, and some even of their more prominent and striking features would be unrecognized. We might carry with us an undefined and general notion of their form, but all distinctness and accuracy of apprehension would be wanting.
As the dispensation of Moses was typical, so also was it legal. It made known the requirements of God with the utmost precision and certainty, and then left the conscience burdened with a sense of guilt. In its demands it was inflexible, and it left no hope of impunity to the wilful sinner. It was called for by the circumstances of mankind as transgressors of the divine law, but it wore an ominous and an appalling aspect. It held out, indeed, a light, but that light was so feeble and glimmering as only to render more visible the darkness in which men had enveloped themselves. In order that mankind should be prepared for the grateful reception of a Saviour, it was necessary that they should be taught the extent of their guilt, and the evil to which it exposed them.
To this end the economy of Moses was wisely adapted. It was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. “Before faith came we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed."
But the ministration of righteousness presents the very form of truth, and speaks in terms of the tenderest compassion. In the person of the Saviour the types of the law are embodied. The significancy of the Mosaic ritual is taught us in the objects of his mission and the character of his death. Pursuing the course of his eventful history, we learn the import of all which had preceded him. A flood of light is thrown over institutions which had previously been enwrapped in impenetrable gloom. We emerge at once from darkness into day, and discern consistency, and order, and wisdom, where the elements of confusion had appeared to abound. “ The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” It is impossible for us to form any adequate conception of the perplexities which ancient believers experienced when thinking of the hope of Israel. In the sacrifices of their temple, and especially in the blood that was offered on the great day of atonement, they had presented to them the type of that propitiation which was to be offered for the sins of the world ; and it is probable that their faith was sometimes sufficiently strong, to enable them to realize the future incarnation and vicarious sufferings of the promised Messiah. But who can tell the doubts, the painful apprehensions of mistake with which they were occasionally visited! If, in our own day, and amidst the clearness of the Christian revelation, unbelief gains admission to our heart, how much more favourable to its influence must have been the circumstances of the Jewish worshipper!
But now, brethren, Jesus Christ has been set forth crucified amongst you. The period on which the mind of God had from eternity fixed for this event has actually transpired. The fulness of time has arrived, and the appointed Saviour, “made of a woman, made under the law, has redeemed them that were under the law.” As in confirmation of the appearance of the antitype, the types themselves have ceased. Their significancy and use were lost on the coming of that great One, whose sorrows and death they had long foretold. In the appearance of the Messiah, the promises of past times were fulfilled, the predictions of prophets were accomplished; the faithfulness and wisdom of God, in all the previous dispensations of religion, are thus fully established. We see him in the actual performance of his engagements, and discern the traces of a bright and unerring intellect, where intricacy and darkness had appeared to prevail. The reign of mercy is in consequence proclaimed, the purposes of Jehovah are unveiled. Heaven is seen to pity the misery of earth, and the children of men are invited, yea, implored to return to God, and live. The mode in which this compassion is
exhibited, is strikingly adapted to exclude from the human heart every doubt of its reality and extent. Its form is the most substantial that can be imagined ; and the assurance it conveys is more distinct and cheering than patriarchs or prophets had ever anticipated. What can be more glorious than an economy which is replete with such knowledge and grace! To feed the hungry, or to instruct the ignorant, is honourable to man. To develop the principles of moral science, to mark with the precision of truth the privileges of kings and the rights of subjects, has ever been esteemed an ennobling occupation, adapted to invest the individual who engages in it with the truest glory. But what is this compared with the salvation of the human race ? with the recovery from present evil and eternal death, of spirits formed in the image of their Maker, and destined to the inheritance of an everlasting existence? On such a comparison it sinks into utter insignificance, and seems but the effort of a puerile and languid charity. Like the light of the moon, it is lost sight of when the effulgence of the sun is thrown around us.
Had the children of men been informed of the general fact merely, that the Son of God would, in a future age, descend from the throne of his glory, his coming might reasonably have been anticipated with apprehension and dread. A knowledge of human character would have awakened the inquiry whether his appearance would not be indicative of wrath, and the utterance of his lips as the messenger of eternal death. Had the question been proposed, “What will he do with these wicked men?” the answer returned would probably have been, “ He will miserably destroy them.” But in such an anticipation we should have reasoned in accordance with the procedure of man, rather than with the ways of God; for “the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us, full of grace and truth." He came not to destroy, but to save, and with a benevolence to which no parallel is found in the history of the universe, he submitted, as the means of our delivery, to sufferings which language cannot describe, nor the human mind conceive.
As there are periods in the history of nations when events of more than ordinary interest have occurred, so it has been with the universe at large. On these eras the eye of the intelligent creation is fixed, and from a consideration of their nature and influence they learn much of the character and ways of God. Amongst these, the period of the Redeemer's advent is most conspicuous, and will ever continue to attract the regard and to minister to the wisdom and piety of all beholders. At present we see not its glory. We rank it with other memorable times. Our eye passes over the record of its' transactions, without conveying to our judgment an adequate view of its character. We may be less sensibly affected by its occurrences, than we are by the events of some other times. So slight is the interest which the human heart takes in the most important proceedings of the Deity, that the course of human affairs was not stayed for a moment, even by the incarnation of the Son of God, the appearance in human flesh of him who laid “the foundation of the earth, and spread abroad the heavens as a tent to dwell in." It might have been imagined that the attention of men would have been arrested by so singular an occurrence; that the prince would have descended from his throne, the warrior have stopped in the midst of his victories, and the wise man have turned from the speculations of philosophy in order to behold so strange a sight. But far different was the case. The affairs of the world moved on in their ordinary course; and little did the great, the ambitious, or the wise, imagine that there was one just entered on human life, before whose resistless progress principalities and powers would be compelled to fall. But to the purer inhabitants of heaven, this event must have appeared in its proper character. They sympathized with the benevolence it evinced, and anticipated with emotions of astonishment and joy, the results to which it was to lead. An angel announced it to the shepherds of Bethlehem, and a multitude of the heavenly host sang on its account, “ Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good-will toward men.” How illustrious, then, the glory of our holy religion! It partakes not of the earthliness and obscurity of human excellence, but is derived from an assemblage of qualities, which nothing but the inspiration of the Almighty could communicate, or the hand of God combine.
III. The superiority of the Christian dispensation consists in the universality of its design, and the perpetuity of its duration.
All human perfection is relative. It has respect to some end, and consists in an adaptation to it. What is perfect in reference to one class of circumstances, may be incomplete and partial in relation to another. The same agency will be regarded as weak or powerful, inefficient or effective, according to the object in connexion with which we estimate it. Thus it was with the Mosaic economy. Springing from the immediate interposition of God, it was invested with a character worthy of its divine Author, and was obviously destined to the accomplishment of some important design. Whatever this design may have been, our confidence in the wisdom and power of the Almighty will serve to convince us that it was fully attained. As his measures are formed in perfect knowledge of all the circumstances of the case which they respect, so his power precludes the possibility of any external force succeeding in its opposition to his will. “ There is none to stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?"
But though perfect, in reference to that for which it was designed, the economy of Moses was utterly unfit for universal diffusion. Its provisions were too limited, its institutions too national, its whole character too earthly, to qualify it for conveying to the human family at large, the blessings of forgiveness and eternal life. It was adapted to sever the Israelites from all other nations. By the peculiarity of the rites which it enjoined, God sought to preserve them from the idolatry of their neighbours, and to set a mark upon them as a people whom he had chosen for himself. The principal rites of their religion were performed at Jerusalem, whither the worshippers were required frequently to repair. Indeed the whole complexion of the system elearly shews that it was not adapted to the condition and wants of the human race, that it was never in the contemplation of its Author to make it the religion of the world. From this want of universal adaptation results its limited duration. It was a means, not an end; a temporary expedient, adapted to the moral infancy of the human
It was designed to prepare the way for the coming of the Messenger of the Covenant, by awakening, through the medium of significant symbols, the expectation of mankind. When, however, it had accomplished that purpose, it was no longer needed, and the smoke of its incense, and the blood of its victims, in consequence, ceased to be acceptable to God.
But the Christian economy is at once universal and everlasting. It is adapted to man under all the varieties of his social and political condition. It is not adjusted to the peculiarities of any one people, but contemplates the removal of our common and universally pervading depravity. It addresses us as the subjects of sin, and the heirs of misery; and the remedy which it offers is susceptible of unlimited application. The provision which it announces is commensurate with human want, and the overtures it makes are addressed indiscriminately to every child of man. In the atonement of Christ, it has supplied a means of forgiveness, to the efficacy of which no limits can be assigned. Unlike the expedients of the children of men, its virtue can never be exhausted. Ten thousand times ten thousand have already secured an interest in it, and are now rejoicing in the presence of their reconciled Father. But it still continues as efficacious as at the first, and will ultimately become an object of faith to a multitude exceeding the powers of human calculation. The