« AnteriorContinuar »
replete with moral congruity, and satisfies every demand of the understanding and of the heart,
Ninthly. If the principle of substitution be at all admitted in the operations of criminal law, it is too obvious to require proof that it should be introduced very sparingly, only on very rare occasions, and never be allowed to subside into a settled course. So many circumstances, we have already seen, must concur to render it fit, that the attempt to make it a matter of frequent and ordinary occurrence would be preposterous to the utmost degree. It requires some great crisis to justify its introduction, some extraordinary combination of difficulties obstructing the natural course of justice; it requires, that while the letter of the law is dispensed with, its spirit be fully adhered to: so that instead of tending to weaken the motives to obedience, it shall present a salutary monition, a moral and edifying spectacle.
Considerations such as these are more than enough to show that such a method of procedure must be of rare occurrence; and that to this circumstance, whenever it does occur, its utility must in a great measure be ascribed.
The substitution of Christ in the room of a guilty race receives all the advantage as an impressive spectacle which it is possible to derive from this circumstance. He once suffered from the beginning of the world; nor have we the least reason to suppose any similar transaction has occurred on the theatre of the universe, or will ever occur again in the annals of eternity. It stands amid the lapse of ages, and the waste of worlds, a single and solitary monument.
From numerous intimations in sacred writ, we are compelled to believe that in the comprehension of its design, and the extent of its consequences, affecting every order of being, it leaves no room for a counterpart or parallel; that it is, so to speak, the master-piece of infinite goodness and wisdom, intended to exhibit the riches of divine grace as an object for the eternal contemplation of the highest intelligences. To the intent, that now unto principalities and powers, in heavenly places, is the language of Paul, might be made known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.
Though the mystery of the cross may be considered as primarily terminating itself on the restoration of the human race to order and happiness, we cannot doubt for a moment of its extending its reflected lustre much farther, of its forming a new epoch in the moral administration of the Deity, and giving birth to a new order of things in the heavenly world.
Nothing is more certain than that Christianity is a system which is at present but partially developed, in condescension probably to our very limited faculties, which are incapable of comprehending it in its full extent.
Be this as it may, the dignity of our Lord's person, the design of his sacrifice, together with the avowed purpose of the Father to gather together in him all things that are in heaven or in earth, conspire to place it beyond all doubt that the substitution of Christ is a unique event. With the praises due to Him that loved us, and washed us from
our sins in his own blood, none will have merit to share; nor will the emotions of gratitude, which his matchless achievements inspire, ever be dissipated and impaired by being distributed among many objects. The name of Jesus will remain eternally distinguished from every other, as the name to which every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, or things on earth.
Tenthly. Once more, whenever the expedient of vicarious suffering is adopted, a publication of the design of that transaction becomes as indispensably necessary as of the transaction itself; since none of the effects which it is intended to produce can be realized but in proportion as that is understood. Viewed in itself, and considered apart from this, it would seem the height of injustice, and in the room of improving would give a violent shock to our moral sentiments. Punishment inflicted on the offending party speaks for itself, and when ordained by law impresses the spectator with an instantaneous conviction of its justice and propriety.
With vicarious punishment it is just the reverse. It is a spectacle so far removed from the usual course of events, that nothing can reconcile the mind to it but a clear exposure of its origin and design, and the peculiar circumstances of the crisis which determined its adoption.
Hence we see the infinite importance of the doctrine of the cross, that not merely the fact of our Lord's death and sufferings should be announced, but that their object and purpose, as a great moral expedient, should be published to all nations. In vain would the apostles have proclaimed every where the fact, that Jesus of Nazareth, a person of spotless innocence, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and rose again the third day, had they suppressed the mysterious design, the moral aspect of those stupendous transactions.
Apart from this, it would only have added one more to the humiliating examples of the purest virtue oppressed with calumny, and doomed to a violent, painful, and ignominious death. It might have called forth the tears of sensibility, and there it would have ended, without exerting the slightest influence on the prospects, or changing the destiny of men. But the cross of Christ was not exhibited as a tragic spectacle, adapted to move the commiseration of mankind, and excite their horror at the perfidy, cruelty, and ingratitude which were the human precursors of the means of producing that catastrophe: such emotion it has already occasioned, and will to the end of time; but all this in perfect subordination to a higher order of sentiments arising from the contemplation of his sufferings as the price of our redemption. The matchless expedient which the wisdom of God, prompted by infinite compassion, devised for reconciling the world unto himself, the facts which compose the records of the New Testament, the miracles which illustrated the life of our Saviour, and the prodigies which attended his death, important as they are, viewed as the seals attesting his mission, are only subsidiary; the whole of these, together with the mission itself, owe their importance chiefly to his
In the preceding ages, many intimations were afforded of this mys
tery. Sin had scarcely made its entrance into the world, before the guilty pair were comforted by the promise of a seed of the woman that should bruise the serpent's head. The institution of vicarious sacrifices immediately succeeded, we have every reason to believe, by Divine appointment. The rejection of Cain's offering, and the acceptance of Abel's, demonstrated the necessity of the shedding of blood. A system of figurative rites and ceremonies, intended as silent predictions of the future, in which bloody sacrifices occupied the chief place, were ordained by Moses as shadows of good things to come. The succeeding prophets, in long succession, proclaimed the advent, and depicted the character and sufferings of him that was to come; some with more particularity and perspicuity than others, but each with some trait or colour peculiar to himself; till at length, in the fulness of time, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that he might redeem them that were under the law, that they might receive the adoption of sons.
The doctrine of remission of sins through the blood of that victim which was once offered for the sins of the world, forms the grand peculiarity of the gospel, and was the principal theme of the apostolic ministry, and is still pre-eminently the power of God to salvation. It is inculcated throughout the New Testament in every possible form, it meets us at every turn, and is, in short, the sun and centre of the whole system.
Here, then, we are permitted to explore and contemplate that mysterious wisdom of God which was hidden in the secret of his counsels from preceding ages and generations, but is now made manifest by the preaching of the holy prophets and apostles. Here we behold the Deity in Christ Jesus reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing to them their trespasses. Here we discern the harmony of the divine attributes, as they are exerted and displayed in the astonishing work of man's salvation, the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ, by which saints are changed into the same image from glory to glory. The cordial reception, the inwrought persuasion of this doctrine, cannot fail to purify the heart and renovate the character. The deepest conviction of the evil of sin and the helplessness of the sinner is necessarily involved in the belief of this all-comprehensive truth. For what estimate of the malignity and turpitude of sin must He have formed who does nothing in vain, who saw that nothing would suffice for its expiation short of the precious blood of his only-begotten Son? And how fatal the impotence which required to be extricated from its miseries, to be relieved from its burden at such a cost? To create man nothing was required but a word, He spake, and it was done. But to recover him from the ruin in which sin had involved him, it was necessary for the Eternal Son to become incarnate, and the Lord of life to expire upon a cross. This is the mirror which reflects the true features and lineaments of moral evil, and displays more of its demerit than the most profound contemplation of the law, of the purity of its precepts, or the terror of its sanctions, could have conveyed to any finite mind. In pouring its vials on the head of that innocent and
282 ON THE SUBSTITION OF THE INNOCENT, &c.
adorable victim, it evinced its inflexible severity, its awful majesty, to an extent and in a form never conceived before; and we may well suppose that superior intelligences turn from the contemplation of such a spectacle with a new impression of the great Supreme, as a just God, and yet a Saviour.
He who derives from this doctrine the smallest encouragement to sin has never either felt or understood it as he ought. He has never surveyed it in its most interesting aspect, in its relation to the character of God, the demands of his law, and the immutable rights of his moral administration. He has never, to speak in the language of Scripture, seen the Son in such a manner as to believe on him; and, however he may be persuaded of the death of Christ as a fact, he is a total stranger to the doctrine of Christ crucified.
If the substitution of the Redeemer in the stead of a guilty race is admitted, it is easy to perceive that it is the only foundation of human hope; and that the attempt to combine it with any thing else as the material of justification must necessarily be abortive. Nothing else. can possibly stand in the same order. The merit of the Saviour, arising from his matchless condescension and love, in becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, is of so elevated and transcendent a kind, as to disclaim all association with the imperfections of human virtue as the basis of justification. The price of redemption (to use a scriptural metaphor) has been paid; the justice of God is satisfied; a full and complete atonement has been made. Nothing remains on the part of the penitent sinner but to receive the reconciliation, and with the emotions of humble gratitude to open his heart to that inspiration of love which naturally results from the reception of so great a benefit.
The habitual contemplation of the cross of Christ will be found the most effectual expedient for weakening the power of corruption, resisting the seductions of the world, and rising progressively into the image of God and the Redeemer.
It will at the same time lay the deepest foundation for humility. He who ascribes his salvation to this source will be exempted from every temptation to exalt himself; and while he rejoices in the ample provision made for the pardon of his sins and the relief of his miseries, he will join with the utmost ardour in the song of the redeemed,To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and made us kings and priests unto God and his Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.