Page images

self saw,

historians, renders it impossible for us to decide, whether the darkness overspread the land of Judea only, or involved all the rest of our heinisphere.

Neither do we deem it of importance to dwell on an examination of the monuments supposed to be found in antiquity respecting the truth of the prodigy of which we have been speaking. Among those which are transmitted to us on this subject, there is one which bears visible marks of forgery. I speak of the testimony of Dionysius, falsely denominated the Areopagite, who affirms that he him

in Egypt, the darkness mentioned by the evangelists, which drew from him this exclamation : Assuredly, either the God of Nature is suffering, or the frame of the universe is going to be destroyed. The learned have so clearly demonstrated that the author of this book is an impostor, who, though he did not live till the fourth century, would nevertheless pass for the Dionysius who was converted to Christianity by the preaching of St. Paul on Mars-hill, Acts xvii. 34. that this author, transfixed with a thousand wounds, is fallen, never to rise again.

Much more dependance is, undoubtedly, to be placed on what is said by Phlegon, surnamed the Trallian, the emperor Adrian's freedman. He had composed a history of the Olympiads, some fragments only of which have reached us: but Eusebius, the historian, has preserved the following passage from it: In the fourth year of the two hundred and second Olympiad, there was an eclipse of the sun, much greater than any one which had ever before been observed. The night was so dark at noon-day, that the stars were perceptible ; and there were such violent earthquakes in Bithynia, that the greatest part of the city of Nicea was swallowed up by it. These are the words of Eu

sebius : but the inquiries to which they might lead, could not be prosecuted in an exercise like the present, and they would encroach on that time which we destine to subjects of much higher importance.

(2) The evangelist tells us in the second place, that the vuil of the temple was rent in twain, from the top to the bottom. There were two vails in the temple at Jerusalem : that which was suspended over the door that separated the holy place from the exterior of the temple, which Josephus calls a Babylonian hunging, embroidered curiously with gold, purple, scarlet, and fine flax. There was also a vail over the door which separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies. The expression in the text, the vail, described in Exodus xxvi. 31. and denoted the vail by way of excellence, makes it presumable that the second is here meant.

(3) The evangelist relates, that the graves were opened ; and many bodies of saints which slept, arose, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. This has induced interpreters to institute an inquiry, Who those dead persons were ? It is pretended by some that they were the ancient prophets; others, with a greater air of probability, maintain that they were persons lately deceased, and well known to those to whom they appeared. But how is it possible to form a fixed opinion, when we are left so entirely in the dark?

(4) Our last remark relates to the interpretation affixed to the Syriac words which Jesus Christ pronounced : Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani ; and which St. Mark gives in the Chaldaic form. The evangelist tells us, that some of those who heard Jesus Christ thus express himself, said, that he called for Elias. The persons who entertained this idea, could not be the Roman soldiers who assisted at the execution. By what means should they have

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

known any thing of Elias? They were not the Jews who inhabited Jerusalem and Judea : How could they have been acquainted with their native language? They must have been, on the one, hand, Jews instructed in the traditions of their na. tion, and who, on the other, did not understand the language spoken at Jerusalem. Now this description applies exactly to those of the Jews who were denominated Hellenists, that is to say Greeks: they were of Jewish extraction, and had scattered themselves over the different regions of Greece.

But whence, it will be said, did they derive the strange idea, that Jesus Christ called for Elias? I answer, that it was not only from the resemblance in sound between the words Eli and Elias, but from another tradition of the Jews. It was founded on those words of the prophet Malachi: behold, I will send you Elijah, the prophet.... and he shall turn the heart of the father's to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, ch. iv. 6. an oracle which presents no difficulty to the Christian, whom Jesus Christ has instructed to consider it as accomplished in the person of John Baptist. But the Jews understood it in the literal sense: they believed that Elias was still upon Mount Carmel, and was one day to re-appear. The coming of this prophet is still, next to the appearance of the Messiah, the object of their fondlest hope. It is Elias, as they will have it, who shall turn the heart of the fathers unto the children, and the hearts of the children unto their fathers. It is Elias who shall prepare the way of the Messiah, who shall be his forerunner, and who shall anoint him with the holy oil. It is Elias who shall answer all their enquiries, and resolve all their difficulties. It is Elias, who, by his prayers, shall obtain the resurrection of the just. It is Elias, who shall do for the Jews of

the dispersion what Moses did for the Israelites enslaved in Egypt: he shall march at their head, and conduct them into Canaan. These are all expressions of the Rabbins, whose names I suppress, as also the lists of the works from which we extract the passages just now quoted. Here we conclude our proposed commentary on the words, and now proceed,


II. To direct your attention to the great object exhibited in the text, Jesus Christ expiring on the

We shall derive from the words read, six ideas of the death of Jesus Christ. 1. The death of Christ is an expiatory sacrifice, in which the victim was charged with the sins of a whole world. 2. It is the body of all the shadows, the truth of all the types, the accomplishment of all the predictions of the ancient dispensation, respecting the Messiah.

3. It is, on the part of the Jewish nation, a crime, which the blackest colors are incapable of depicting, which has kindled the wrath of heaven, and armed universal nature against them. 4. It presents a system of morality in every virtue is retraced, and every motive that can animate us to the practice of it is displayed. 5. It presents a mystery which reason cannot unfold, but whose truth and importance all the difficulties which reason may urge are unable to repair. 6. Finally, it is the triumph of the Redeemer over the tomb.

1. The deaih of Jesus Christ is an expiatory sacrifice, offered up to the divine justice. Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani : my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? This is the only proof which we shall at present produce in support of the doctrine of the atonement. It is undoubtedly, difficult to determine, with precision, what were, at that

moment, the dispositions of the Saviour of the world. In general, we must carefully separate from them every idea of distrust, of murmuring, of despair. We must carefully separate every thing injurious to the immaculate purity from which Jesus Christ never deviated, and to that complete submission which he constantly expressed to the will of his heavenly Father. We here have a victim not dragged reluctantly to the altar, but voluntarily advancing to it; and the same love which carried him thither, supported him during the whole sacrifice. These complainings, therefore of Jesus Christ, afford us convincing reasons to conclude, that his death was of a nature altogether extraordinary.

Of this you will become perfectly sensible, if you attend to the two following reflections; (1) that no one ever appeared so deeply overwhelmed, at the thought of death, as Jesus Christ: (2) that no person ought to have met deai h with so much constancy as he, if he underwent a mere ordinary death.

(1) No one ever appeared so deeply overwhelmed, at the thought of death, as Jesus Christ. Recollect in what strong terms the sacred authors represent the awful conflict which he endured in the garden of Gethsemane. They tell us of his mortal sorrow : my soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death, Matt

. xxvi. 38. They speak of his agony; being in an agony, says St. Luke, xxii. 44. They speak of his fears: he was heard in that he feared: they speak of his cries and tears; he offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, Heb. v. 7. They speak of the prodigious effect which the fear of death produced upon his body; his sweat was as it were drops of blood falling down to the ground. They even

« PreviousContinue »