« PreviousContinue »
crew of the enemies of Christ, as it forinerly had swallowed Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, (Num. xvi. 31.) It reminded them of the Lord Jesus's pathetic speech to the women of Jerusalem, when he was led up Mount Golgotha; in which he had predicted to the Jewish nation such calamitous times, that in their despair they would say to the mountains, Fall on us! and to the hills, Cover us!
But, at the same time, this rending of the rocks was an emblem of the conversation of the Gentiles. For, by the preaching of the cross, the very hardest hearts, hearts obdurate as a rock were rent and made contrite; and of this, the first specimen was seen in the Roman Centurion and the rest, who stood watching Jesus by the cross, (Matt. xxvii. 54.)
Here may a true believer say, alas! my heart has by nature all the hardness of a rock; may it more and more be rent by the salutary impressions of God's holy spirit, that he may find admittance therein.--And as I see about me so many other flinty hearts, on which the powerful arrows of thy word make no impression, oh my Saviour, be merciful likewise to them; and may they by the power of thy death be also rent and bruised !
The fourth prodigy that fell out at our Saviour's death was the opening of the graves : 'And the graves were opened. The sepulchres of the opulent Jews were mostly hewn in rocks ; so that when the rocks were rent from each other, many graves also were opened. However, this was absolutely a distinct miracle from the former. For the divine omnipotence, which had displayed itself by rending the rocks also wrought on particular places where certain saints were buried, and opened their graves.
With this opening of the sepulchres another mir. acle was connected; which properly came to pass on the morning, when our Saviour arose from the dead, For, by the power of Christ, many bodies of saints who slept arose, and came out of their graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.' (Matt. xxvii. 52, 53.) Who these saints were, whose graves thus opened, is only a matter of probable conjecture. They are supposed to be, in in general, such devout persons as, in their life-time, had waited for the coming of the Messiah, and had wished to see his days; and now their wishes were accomplished even in their death. This honor may have been conferred, in the first place, on the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, the two last of whom had, at their death, left a particular charge, that their bones should not be buried in Egypt, where they died, but in the land of Canaan, (Gen. xlvii. 29,30. l. 24, 25.)
Next to these, this favour may be conferred on some of the Prophets, who had prophesied of the Messiah, and whose sepulchres the Jews had hitherto beautified. Lastly, among these Saints who arose, there might be some who were lately departed, as Simeon, Hannah, Zechariah, John the baptist, &c. who must have been known by those to whom they appeared. These graves were now opened by the death of our blessed Lord, as a proof of the truth of what he had before asserted, saying, (John v. 28.) “The hour is coming, in the which all that are in their graves shall hear the voice (of the Son of God.] St. Matthew says, that these Saints came out of the graves, and made their appearance to many in Jerusalem after our Saviour's resurrection. Therefore, it is probable, that they were not restored to life till the morning when Christ rose from the dead, who was to be the first fruits of them that slept, (1 Cor. xv. 20.) and are to rise to life everlasting. It is therefore supposed by some learned men, that these Saints were restored to life in the instant when Christ expired on the cross, and when there graves were opened they came out of them ; but that it was not till after Christ rose from the dead, that they went into the holy city and appeared unto many, as witnesses of the resurrection.
This miraculous opening of the graves is, on one side, a reproach to the Jews for having put Him to. death, whose coming all the Saints of their own nation had so ardently longed for. But, on the other hand, believers may be convinced by it, that Jesus Christ has , not only put an end to the bondage of the law, and brought the prisoners out, of the pit, (Gal. iii. 23. Zach. ix. 11.) but that he has likewise, by his death, destroyed the power of death and hell, (Heb. ii. 14.) that, one day, he will again open the graves of all Saints departed under the old and new covenant; and that he will bring them forth alive, glorify them and introduce them into the heavenly Jerusalem.
Here may a devout soul say, O my Saviour, the longer I abide by thy cross, the higher thoughts I entertain of thy sacred Person. The first prodigy after thy death teaches me, that thou art the real High Priest who is entered with his blood into the Holy of Holies. The second and third miracle assure me, that thou art. the author of nature, which here sympathised with thee. The fourth prodigy convinces me that thou art the Prince of life, and the Conqueror of death ; that thou canst demolish the marks of triumph which he has set up among mankind, force his strong prison, deprive him of the spoils, and rescue his captives. Therefore, in the first place, rouse me from my carnal security ; call me forth from the grave of my sins, in which I naturally lie; roll away the stone which shuts it up; and place in my heart a lively hope, that, on the day of thine appearance, when thy enlivening voice shall prevade all the mansions of the dead, and when all the spoils of death shall be torn from him, I also may come forth from my grave, and behold thy refulgent countenance in glory.
II. We come, in the second place, to consider the effect which these miraculous events had on the spectators. Among these spectators were,
First. The Roman Centurion, who commanded the party of soldiers at the crucifixion ofour Lord, and now
stood opposite to the cross with his men watching Jesus. This officer had taken particular notice, that the death of Jesus was followed by such unheard of agitations throughout all Nature, as if it lay in the agonies of death.
Now the effect which the sight of these miracles had on him, as the Evangelist tells us, was as follows :
1. He feared greatly. His heart was also shaken, and inspired with a holy fear of God, whose omnipotent hand was so manifestly visible in these extraordinary phenomena. He began to reflect with horror on what he and his soldiers had been doing; that they had injured a person who, even in his death, had more power than the combined force of all the living, and whose last voice shook the foundations of the earth.
2. “He glorified God.' He praised the God of Israel, and acknowledged that he does great and wonderful things; that he can darken the sun, shake the earth, rend the rocks, open
and cause them to eject the dead ; things infinitely beyond the power of all the heathen deities.
3. He acknowledges the crucified Jesus to be a righteous man, and the Son of God. For, according to St. Luke, he said, “Certainly this was a righteous man;' but according to St. Matthew and Mark, his words were, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God.' In this acknowledgment or confession of Christ, we may observe two degrees of illumination. In the first place, from the extraordinary circumstances attending our Saviour's death, he acknowledges his innocence. He declares that he was a righteous and good man, innocent of all those crimes which had been laid to his charge, and consequently most undeservedly sentenced to, and punished with death. But from this first step, the Spirit of God leads him father; for he also acknowledges the Divine glory of Christ. He asserts that this innocent, righteous Man was, in a particular manner, related to the Deity ; and that he did not only, according to the accusation of the Jews, pretend to
be the Son of God, but that he actually was the Son of the most high God. This he affirms in the strong
est manner : Certainly this was a righteous man; | truly this was the Son of God. Thus God confirms
by this Pagan officer the declaration, which Christ had made before the Sanhedrim, and for which he had been condemned as a blasphemer. As the lips of the Jewish priests, which were 'to keep the knowledge of the Messiah,' (Mal. ii. 7.) foamed out blasphemies against Christ, God caused his glory to be proclaimed by the mouth of a Pagan soldier, for a presage that now he would make Him known among the Gentiles, whom the unbelieving Jews had rejected.
Secondly, The Pagan soldiers, who were under the command of this Centurion, and, in all appearance, had hitherto mocked Christ and insulted him in Pi. late's hall of judgment, were among the spectators. The effect these miracles had on them was, that they also were afraid and terrified; for St. Matthew says, · When the Centurion, and they that were with him watching Jesus, saw the earthquake and those things that were done, they feared greatly.' Hence it is evident, that not only the commanding officer felt such emotions in his heart; but that his example made an impression on the soldiers under his command, whose stony hearts the Almighty likewise rent, and kindled in them a light to discern the innocency and dignity of Jesus. This was not merely the effect of the prodigies which they saw, but likewise of our Saviour's gracious intercession which they had likewise heard, when he cried, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do ;' and which thus began already to be accomplished on Mount Golgotha.
Thirdly, There were Jews among the spectators, the greatest part of whom stood about the cross out of mere curiosity, either reviling Christ or gazing on him. Concerning these St. Luke makes the following observation : And all the people that came together to that sight,' where God so suddenly altered