« PreviousContinue »
being able to assign the method in which it shall be done : this point enlarged on. The difference lies not in the nature of faith in one case and in the other, but in the extent of our knowlege in each case. In natural religion, the belief that God will save us, implies that some means will be used for our salvation; under the gospel these means are ascertained, and therefore the faith of a Christian embraces the means as well as the end of this hope. In things which are within our power to do, or to conceive, we can judge of the fitness or unfitness of the means made use of to do them ; but in things beyond our power and conceptions, we have not this judgment. This point beautifully illustrated by examples drawn from the animal and vegetable kingdoms. The application of these examples to our resurrection; in which natural religion throws itself on the unlimited power of God, thereby owning itself no judge of the means for effecting this great work : these the gospel has opened to us: we complain that we see not the natural tendency of them to the end proposed, forgetting that the work itself is mysterious, and therefore that the means must be so too. That the death of Christ should be the life of the world, is a surprising proposition ; but to say that this is not a proper method, without a clear knowlege of the whole dispensation of Providence regarding man, is absurd. The New Testament discovers to us that we are the immediate workmanship of the Son of God, by whom all things were made, which were made ; being created by him and for him. How far this relation between Christ and man rendered it proper that his death should be an expiation for the sins of the world, we are not informed; nor is it expedient for us to be wise above what is written: but something of this sort seems intimated in Scripture : the fall of men was the loss of so many subjects to Christ, their natural Lord under God, in virtue of his having created them : the redeeming of them was the recovering them again, the re-establishing his power over his own works : thus
St. Paul describes the work of our redemption, Col. i. 13.; and in the next verse recites the means used for our deliverance. In confirmation of this doctrine, he subjoins the relation in which Christ stands towards us as our Maker, verses 15-17, and the new relation acquired in virtue of his redemption, verse 18. As we owed to him our first life, so also we owe to him our second. The reason of this dispensation of Providence in the redemption of the gospel is related verses 19-20. The scheme of thought which runs through this passage of Scripture, seems to be this: that as Christ was head of the creation, and made all things, so at the redemption from sin he was made head of this new work also, the giver of life to every believer: for this purpose he made peace by the blood of his cross, and reconciled all things to God, that he might have the pre-eminence. This the Apostle teaches us, and also that the pre-eminence of Christ as head of the church is connected with and related to his pre-eminence as head of the creation. We have therefore reason to believe that the whole transaction of our redemption through Christ, his incarnation, his life on earth, his death on the cross, the sacrifice he offered for sin, and his glorious resurrection, are founded in the most absolute propriety, and the result of infinite wisdom, choosing the fittest means for the end desired. This then is our hope and confidence; that Christ gave himself for us. Let this hope live with us here, that we may live by it for ever.
TITUS, CHAP. II.- VERSE 14.
Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
The expression here made use of, · Who gave himself for us,' is so familiar to the ears of Christians, and is so well understood to relate to the death of Christ, and the offering up himself on the cross for the sins of the whole world, that there is no need to give light to it by alleging parallel places of holy Scripture. The expression is something fuller in St. Paul's first Epistle to Timothy ; • Who gave himself a ransom for all,' ii. 6. As likewise Gal. i. 4. · Who gave himself for our sins ;' but the import and meaning of the words is one and the same.
This doctrine of the gospel, that the death of Christ was an offering made of himself for the sins of the whole world, a price paid for the purchase of mankind, that they might become his,' and, together with him, heirs of glory, and of a kingdom that shall never fail, is that great mystery hid from ages and generations, but now made manifest by the preaching of the Apostles and prophets of Christ Jesus.
But, that we may not mistake, and imagine that, because this mystery is said to be made known' and 'manifest to us, therefore we are intitled to call for the reasons on which this wonderful administration of Providence is founded, it is necessary to observe that the gospel is a revelation of the will and purpose of God. The reasons on which he acted, when he ordained this method of salvation, are not fully revealed to us; nor have we authority to say they ever will be. Under the law we meet with many intimations of God's purpose to save mankind : under the gospel this purpose is opened and pro
claimed to all the world: but neither under the law, nor yet under the gospel, are we instructed in the reasons of this proceeding ; but having life and immortality set before us in God's own way, we are left to embrace them through faith and confidence in his promise, who is able to perform the word which is gone out of his mouth.
And since God has thought fit to offer the gospel as a matter of faith to the world, and has given his word, confirmed by signs and wonders, as a sufficient security for the performance on his part, he acts without commission, who proposes the gospel to the world as a matter of science and knowlege, and the result of mere reason, and pretends to account for the methods of God's wisdom, which are far above and out of his sight. If
you ask how it became necessary for Christ to die, or why God required a sacrifice for those sins, which he might, if he had so pleased, have freely forgiven ? I know but one proper answer for a minister of the gospel to make to these inquiries, that God has not adınitted him into these secret councils, nor sent him to declare them to the world.
We preach the death of Christ a sacrifice and expiation for sin, because appointed by God, who gave his Son to die for the sins of the world: we preach Christ the resurrection and the life, because God hath given him power to raise the dead : we preach Christ the judge of the world, because the Father hath committed all judgment to the Son. If you ask for our evidence, we answer with St. Peter, ' To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins :' Acts x. 43.
We answer with our blessed Saviour, · The works which he did in his Father's name, they bear witness of him :' John x. 25. We answer with St. Paul, “ That God hath given this assurance unto all men, that he will judge the world by Christ, in that he raised Jesus from the dead : Acts xvii. 31.
On this evidence the faith of the gospel stands : the Christian's hope of salvation has no dependence on the speculations of curious inquirers, but rests on this immoveable foundation, • that all the promises of God in Christ are yea, and amen ;' that is, sure, certain, and irrevocable promises.
The death of Christ was, as the holy Scripture teaches, foreordained before the foundation of the world : and since God intended, in the fulness of time, to offer salvation to the world through faith in the sacrifice of his Son, it is reasonable to suppose that the sacrifices before and under the law were introduced and countenanced to prepare the faith of the world to receive the tender of God's mercies, in virtue of the one sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the whole world; that, being accustomed to ask pardon for iniquities by the means of sacrifices, men might be ready and disposed to receive the grace of God, when offered under like conditions.
Sacrifices in the heathen world, as all other parts of religion, were corrupted, and applied to corrupt purposes; but they appear at first in the religious worship of the best and most approved men in the earliest time, and were established as part of God's worship in the church of his own founding among the people of Israel. Had this been a mere piece of superstition and human invention in its original, however we may suppose God to accept graciously the free-will offering of a weak mind, yet it is not to be supposed that he would adopt the superstition, and make it a necessary part of a religion of his own establishment. To avoid this absurd consequence, it must be maintained that the use of sacrifice was introduced by divine precept for the atonement of sins. If sacrifices were introduced by the command of God, they had such virtue as he thought fit to annex to the performance, in consequence of the promise which attended them ; but if they came in any other way, it is impossible to conceive that there was any virtue in them. And since we are taught that the sacrifice offered up by Christ is the only true expiatory sacrifice for the sins of the world, it is manifest that all other sacrifices accepted by God owed their efficacy to the relation they bore to this one sacrifice, through the appointment of him, who gave them for signs and figures of better things to come.
This reasoning on the principles of revelation taught us in the gospel, may show us that the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice is not confined to any particular age or time; that sacrifices in the ancient church of God were figures and representations of this one great sacrifice, as the Eucharist in the Christian church