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MATTH. XXVII. 51.
46 And the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.” The deaths of some persons who have made a great figure in the world have been represented as attended with wonderful prodigies. Nature has been exhibited as attesting by tempests and inundations, her interest in the warrior's fall, and showing by the strife of elee ments the influence of such events on the moral world. But it is easy to perceive in such narratives the art of a venal flatterer, inventing what might aggrandize the event; or the simplicity of ignorance magnifying an uncommon incident into something supernatural. The swell of the language proves the labour and design of the poet and the historian to give exalted ideas of the scene, and to produce in the minds of strangers and of posterity the deepest interest in the fate of their favourite heroes.
How different is the statement which we have in Scripture of the wonders which were exhibited at the death of Christ! These were grand beyond all that imagination had ever arrayed round the warrior's bier, and they are related with that brevity and simplicity which strike us as the characters of truth. What human genius would have represented in long and pompous descriptions, the Evangelists relate in a few words, and leave it to the majesty of the scene to fill the soul with astonishment and awe.
In contemplating the quaking of the earth, and the rending of the rocks when Jesus died, you behold the importance of that event attested which you are now commemorating. It is an event whose in. fluence is spread over all the ways of God, over all places of his dominion, and over all the ages of etere nity; and while its power to save was proclaimed by all the orders of the blessed, and its power to destroy felt by all the legions of devils, Jehovah intended by this convulsion of nature to direct to it, and to fix on it, the solemn contemplation of all human beings. These were not signs given by nature that all was lost, but stupendous indications that the power of darkness was broken, and that the creature made subject to vanity should be released and renovated. The death of Christ is to you a cause of triumph, and that deserves not the name of a Christian, assem bly, or a Christian heart, where it is forgotten; but while you glory in the cross, you are taught by this incident to mingle with your exultation a holy awe.
Let me call on you, Christians, to adore the power of your God, as displayed in this earthquake. It is he who shakes the earth out of its place, and the pillars thereof tremble, who overturns the mountains, and seals up the stars. Yet think not of him with the slavish dread which forgets or disbelieves his goodness amidst the thunders of his power, for he will bind up the bruised reed, and keep in perfect peace the heart that trusts in him. Remembering your Saviour's death, you can sing in every convulsion of nature, and in every shock of adversity, “God is our refuge and our strength, therefore will not we fear though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” It is a peculiarity of this sign at the death of Christ, that its tokens remain to this day. The darkness passed away before the returning sun, the vail of the temple perished in the flames which consumed that edifice, and the graves
were soon closed on other inhabitants; but the fissures of those rocks which are still visible, are of such a form and size as attest that they must have been produced in some awful conyulsion. These rents have been often contemplated with the eye of curiosity, and superstition hath debased a scene where the Lord « made bare his holy arm;" but let it be your exercise to reflect on it with pious wonder, and to search out the various truths, and changes, and warnings which it was intended to indicate.
This quaking of the earth, and this rending of the rocks, were an awful rebuke to the stupidity and obduracy of the Jews. We are ready to imagine that the humility and beneficence of our Lord would have softened prejudice and enmity into love ; but the stronger his claims were to their affection, the more fiercely did they persecute him, and the more powerfully his sufferings pleaded for their pity, the more vehement was their malice, and the more barbarous their insults. While the most atrocious criminal is pitied by the spectators, while he undergoes the sentence of the law, nought was heard around the cross of our Lord but the language of bitter derision. The supplications of the dying criminal are accompanied in their ascent to heaven by the ejaculations of mule titudes; but the prayers of Jesus were turned to his shame, and the taunts of the base scoffer were the only return which was made to his groans. Now, as if inanimate nature had been endowed with more sene sibility than these men, the earth quaked and the rocks were rent.
Christians, ye are ashamed and grieved on account of the hardness of your hearts, and ye are praying earnestly for a tender and melting spirit. Your complaints and supplications are a proof that you are not utter strangers to pious feeling ; but, conscious of its weakness, and dreading his rebukes, beseech him to touch your hearts with that influence of the cross which softens and purifies. Look to that quaking earth and to these rending rocks, and behold a pledge of that energy which shall surround his table with broken and contrite spirits.
After the Service.
This earthquake was an indication of the utter abolition of the Jewish state and system. The perpetuity of these was the dearest hope of the Jews, and they had seen the injuries done to them by the Romans with indignation and horror. They flattered themselves that Messiah would quickly appear to drive these oppressors from their land, and to make Jerusalem a praise in the earth. It was the idea that our Lord was an enemy to their state and system, which exasperated them against him, and they thought that his death would establish Judah as in the days of old. But at that hour the glory departed from their temple, and there was a voice which cried in the rending of these rocks, “ The kingdom of God is taken from you and given to a nation that shall bear the fruit thereof." The oblation on the cross had rendered their sacrifices unnecessary, their carnal ordinances were to be suce ceeded by a more simple homage, their bells and trumpets by the word of salvation, and their covenant of peculiarity was now utterly disannulled. In vain did they try to uphold what God had doomed to fall. At the appointed moment it tumbled down, and its blind and furious votaries were crushed in its ruins.
There is a time predicted when the Jews shall, by
subjection to Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, be relieved from the curse which has been lying on them for ages. They shall come not to the smoke of ina cense, the blood of bulls and goats, narrow prejudices, and burdensome ceremonies, but to the power of prayer, and to the blood of the Lamb, to expanded charia ty, and to the easy yoke of evangelical obedience.Anticipate this long expected event as a bright triumph to your Lord, and as life from the dead to the Gentile world.
The earthquake was a pledge of the changes which were to be introduced into the Gentile world by the Gospel. It was a most solemn assurance, that every system of doctrine, polity, or worship, which stood in its way, should be broken in pieces. No Pagan temple could resist his fury who had ploughed Zion like a field, no city of defence could withstand his
who had laid Jerusalem in ruins, and no crowd of foes can abide before him who has made the solemn assembly as the high places of the forest.
The rending of these rocks intimated that the water of life was now to flow among the heathen, to refresh fainting multitudes, to wash away the pollutions of the nations, and to make the desert to blossom. How de. lightful is it to behold Jehovah making life to flow from the death of the cross, and bringing everlasting righteousness from the scene of blood! Here we see that though the hearts of Gentile sinners might be ever so hardened, his
grace should make them yield. Hearts sunk in sensuality have been inclined to self-denial, men, shameless and audacious in sin, have wept and trembled in godly sorrow, and sottish idolaters have been led in enlightened piety to the throne of grace.
Rejoice, my friends, in the better state of things which has succeeded the Jewish polity, and pray for