« PreviousContinue »
In whom we have redemption tL-ough his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.—Colossians i. 14.
No place touches us with a more melancholy sense of the fleeting nature of earthly glory, than an old deserted castle. All is gone but the main keep. Stoutly battling with time, as one not easily subdued, it stands erect in its ruin amid the grass-green mounds, that, like graves of the past, show where other buildings once have stood. Gray with moss, or mantled with ivy, the strong thick walls are slowly mouldering; and there is deep desolation in these silent courts. No step but our own treads the floor that in other days shook to the dancers' feet; nor sound is heard in halls which once rung with music, and sweet voices, and merry laughter, but the moaning wind, which seems to wail for the wreck around it; or the sudden rush and flapping of some startled bird that flies at our intrusion from her lonely nest. If happily an empty chain hangs rusting in the dungeon where captives once had pined how cold the hearth around whose roaring fires in long winter nights many a tale was told, and many a bright group had gathered, and the mother nursed her babe, and the father told his rapt and listening boys of stirring scenes in flood and field! In the grass-grown court below, where once they had mustered gay for the bridal, or grim for battle, the sheep are quietly feeding. And here on the battlement some pine, or birch, or mountain ash, rooted in a crevice and fed by decay, lifts its stunted form, where the banner of an ancient house floated proudly in days of old, or spread itself out, defiant, as the fight raged around the beleagured walls, and the war-cry of assailants without was answered by the cheers of gallant men within. Now all is changed—the stage a ruin, spectators and actors gone. They sleep in the grave ; their loves, and wars, their fears, and joys, and sorrows—where ours, too, soon shall be—buried in its cold oblivion.
"Their memory and their name is gone,
And, greatest change of all, the heirs of those who reared that massy pile, and rode helmed to battle with a thousand vassals at their back, have sunk amid the wrecks of fortune. Fallen into meanness and obscurity, as humble rustics, they now, perhaps, plough the lands which once their fathers held.
Such changes have happened in our country. But changes corresponding to these never happened in ancient Israel. It was there, as in the heavens above us, whose luminaries, after a certain period of time has elapsed, always return to the same place in the firmament, and the same relative position to each other. The sun, for instance—although changing his place daily—shall rise and set, twelve months from this date, at the same hour, and appear at his meridian in the same spot as to-day. Corresponding to that, or like the revolution of a wheel, which restores every spoke to its former place, society—whatever change meanwhile took place in personal liberty or hereditary property—returned among the old Hebrews to the very same state in which it was at the commencement of those fifty years, whose close brought in the jubilee. "Then," said Moses, "shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and he shall return every man unto his family."
In consequence either of his crimes or his misfortunes, the Hebrew was occasionally obliged to part with his paternal estate. His was sometimes a still greater calamity, for not only was his property sold, but his liberty. He became the bond servant of some more fortunate brother. So matters stood till the fiftieth year arrived and the jubilee was blown. At that trumpet sound, how fondly anticipated! how gladly heard! the fetters fall from his limbs, and the slave of yesterday is to-day a freeman. At that trumpet sound the beggar doffs his rags, the weary laborer throws down his tools. Marriage bells never rang so merry as that blessed peal; it has changed the serf into a freeholder, a man of substance and position. And, as blown with the breath of liberty, trumpet replied to trumpet, and the sound of the jubilee, rising from valley to mountain, echoed among the rocky hills, and spread itself over the land from beyond Jordan's bank to the shores of the sea, from the roots of snowy Lebanon to the burning desert, every man bade adieu to beggary, and wandering and exile. Like parted streams, divided families were reunited; long alienated possessions were restored to their original owners, and amid universal rejoicings, feastings, mirth, music and dances, every man returned to spend the rest of his days in his father's house, and when he died to mingle his own with ancestral dust. What a singular institution! As a civil arrangement, acting as a check both on excessive wealth and on excessive poverty, it was without a parallel in any ancient or modern nation. But it was more—it was a symbolical institution. More than in many respects a great social blessing, it had a deep, holy, spiritual meaning. Celebrated on the great day of atonement—that day when the goat, typical of Jesus, bore away the sins of the people—it was the symbol of a better restitution, and a better redemption; and was, in fact, a striking, very beautiful, most benignant figure of the redemption which we have through the blood of Christ, even the forgiveness of sins.
Before turning your attention to the redemption, of which that jubilee was such a remarkable figure, let me, by way of warning, remark:
I. Our redemption is not, like that of the Hebrews, a simple matter of time.
Every fifty years, and in certain cases every seven years, redeemed the Hebrew, and restored him to the enjoyment of his property. "If thy brother," said God, " an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years, then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty." Thus, time set free the Hebrew slave, and as its finger moved over the face of the sundial, pointed him onwards to freedom. Everywhere, and in its most ordinary course, time works many changes, the young grow old, and raven locks grow gray; the poor rise into wealth, while the rich sink into poverty; old families disappear, and new ones start up like mushrooms. And, constantly changing the condition of society, as he turns the wheel of fortune, Time is altering the form even of this great globe itself. The proudest mountains are bending before his sceptre, and yielding to his silent but resistless sway. Nor is there a tiny stream that trickles over the rock, and often hid under the broad fern, and nodding grasses, and wild flowers that grow on its narrow banks, betrays itself only by the gentle murmur with which it descends to join the river that receives its tribute, and rolls it onward to the ocean, but—teaching us in the highest matters not to despise the day of small things —is wearing down the mountain and filling up the sea. Through the agencies of heat and cold, dews and rains, summer showers and winter snows, Time is remodelling the features of our world, and—perhaps in that symbolizing the onward progress and future condition of society—reducing its various inequalities to one great common level.
But amid these changes shall years change, as a matter of course, the condition of a sinner? Shall they redeem him, for instance, from his slavery, or even relax the chains of sin? In the course of time you will grow older, but not of necessity better. On the contrary, while the Hebrew slave was, by every year and day he lived, brought nearer to redemption, and could say, on such a day and at such an hour I shall be free, it is a solemn and awful fact, that the longer you live in sin, the more distant, more difficult, more hopeless does your salvation become. "The last state of that man is worse than the first." Let us not flatter ourselves with the very common hope, I shall grow