« PreviousContinue »
ing fact, that the voices of all nations, of all tongues rude or polished, have proclaimed a hell. No heathen religion but had its hell, and warned its followers of a place beyond the grave where vice shall meet the doom which it escaped on earth. And in their pictures of the damned, where we see avarice forced to drink molten gold, and eternal vultures tearing at the heart of lust and cruelty, what, again, is the voice of nature but an echo of words we do well to take heed to, Be sure your sin will find you out?
4. Such also is the doctrine that man cannot save himself. In what country, or in what age of heathenism does man appear standing up erect before his God, demanding justice? In none. All her temples had vicarious sacrifices and atoning altars, at which man is on his knees, a suppliant for the mercy of the gods. The very Pagans had more sense than some of us. Glimmering as was the light of nature, they saw things more clearly than to be satisfied with themselves. They never believed that, through their own merits, they could be their own saviours. Hence their costly offerings; their hecatombs of victims; the painful and horrid sacrifices by which they sought to propitiate an angry God. They gave the fruit of their body for the sin of their soul; and, to the shame of those of us who will take no trouble for salvation, and grudge the smallest tax for the cause of Christ, they hesitated at nothing by which they could hope to avert heaven's wrath, and win its favor. The voice of that cromlech stone, which still stands on our moors, the centre of the Druid's gray, lonely, mystic circle, and on whose sloping surface I have traced the channel which, when human victims lay bound on this altar, drained off the
blood of beautiful maiden, or grim captive of the fightthe voice of those tears the Indian mother sheds, as she plucks the sweet babe from her throbbing bosom to fling it into the Jumna or Ganges' sacred stream—the voice of those ruined temples which, silent now, once resounded with the groans of expiring victims, what are these, again, but an imperfect echo of the words, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us ?
5. Such also is the doctrine that the soul survives the stroke of death. Our spiritual, ethereal essence had its symbol in the heaven-ascending flame which the heathen carved upon their tombs; and their hopes of immortality were expressed, as well by the lamp they lighted amid the gloom of the sepulchre, as by the evergreen garlands that crowned the monuments of their dead. This hope has been a star that shone in every sky; a flower that bloomed in the poorest soil ; a flame that burned in the coldest bosom. Immortality! that made heroes of cowards. It imparted to weakness a giant's strength. It made the courage of the bravest warrior burn high in the day of battle. It nerves yonder unbending savage to endure, without a groan to gratify his captors or disgrace his tribe, the tortures of fire and stake. Why do these weeping Greeks approach the dead man, as he lies on his bier for burial, and open his mouth to put in an oholus ? The coin is passage-money for the surly ferryman who rows the ghosts over Styx's stream. And why, in that forest grave, around which plumed and painted warriors stand unmoved and immovable as statues, do they bury, with the body of the Indian chief, his canoe and bow and arrow ? He goes to follow the chase, and hunt the deer in the spectre land where the Great Spirit lives, and the spirits of his fathers have gone before him. How easy it is to trace in these customs and beliefs, a sort of rude copy of the words, Life and immortality, I shall not die, but live.
6. Although I cannot say that the doctrine of a resurrection is to be placed in the same class with these universal fixed beliefs that so remarkably illustrate the harmony between the sacred Scriptures and the voice of nature, yet may not the hope of a resurrection have sometimes shot, like a bright meteor, across the midnight darkness of heathen grief ? That doctrine did, indeed, astonish the Athenians; and its novelty and apparent absurdity led them to pronounce Paul a babbler. And to the eye of sense, no doubt the tomb looks dark as blackest midnight; nor can the fondest wishes detect a sign of life slumbering in the cold ashes of the grave. Yet may not the feelings which prompt to such tender care of the lifeless body, to lay it out so decently, to bury it with funeral honors, to build it a tomb, more keenly to resent dishonor done to the relics of the dead than any done to the persons of the living, have suggested the idea of a resurrection ? Might not grief have thus given birth to the blissful thought, that after a lung night, the sun that had set would rise again ; and that the long winter would be followed by a spring, when, like the beautirul flowers that have hid their heads in the ground, the dead would leave their graves to live and bloom anew ?
No such truth might be hidden, as one of the ancient mysteries in the heathen legends of the Phænix that sprung from its ashes into new life ; yet there are things in nature which suggest a resurrection of the dead. Such is the well-known analogy presented by the changes which many creatures undergo. The insect, at first a creeping worm, crawls on the earth, its home the ground, or some humble plant or decaying matter, which feeds its voracious appetite. The time of its first change arrives. It weaves itself a shroud ; it makes itself a coffin ; and under the soil, in some cranny of the wall, in a convenient fissure of rock or tree, as in a catacomb, it finds a quiet grave. There, shrouded, and coffined, and buried, and to all appearance dead, it lies till its appointed change. The hour arrives. It bursts these cerements; and a pure, winged, beautiful creature, it leaves them, to roam henceforth in sunny skies, and find its bed in the soft bosom, and its food in the nectar of odorous flowers. Why should not that change, or the analogy which Paul found also in following nature, have suggested to the heathen what they illustrate to us—a resurrection ? He saw our grave in the furrow of the plough ; our burial in the corn dropped into the soil ; our decay in the change undergone by the seed; and our resurrection, when, bursting its sheath and pushing aside the clod, it rises green and beautiful, to wave its head in summer days, high above the ground that was once its grave. That which thou sowest, he says, is not quickened, except it die ; and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption ; it is raised in incorruption : it is sown in dishonor ; it is raised in glory : it is sown in weakness ; it is raised in power : it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.
Different, differing much from these, the doctrine of God incarnate is one which nature nowhere teaches us ; neither by analogy, nor reason, nor intuition, nor conscience. Our proofs of this doctrine, therefore, must be sought for in Scripture, and all our ideas concerning it drawn thence. This mystery, which angels desired to look into, is one to be approached with the faith of a little child whom his father has taken out beneath the starry sky, to tell the wondering boy that these little, bright, twinkling lights are suns big and blazing as our own. A mystery this, to be approached with the deepest gratitude by those, whom to save from unutterable woe, the great God veiled his glory, and became a man to die. Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness : God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
Now, in illustration of this doctrine I remark
II. That the word of God, both here and elsewhere, attributes the work of creation to Jesus Christ.
Our Lord has been sometimes connected with creation more in beautiful fancies than by plain strong facts. There is a flower, for example, one of the most complex, yet most beautiful in nature, which the piety of other days associated with the sufferings and deep love of Calvary. In the form and arrangement of its parts it presents such a remarkable resemblance to the cross and the nails of our Lord's torture, encircled by a halo of floral glory, that, as if it had been originally made to anticipate and afterwards left to commemorate our Redeemer's sufferings, it has received the name of the passion-flower. And I remember how, in sweet wooded dell or on the brown heather hill, we