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Father had said, " He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high;" and man found no way of fulfilling that old prophecy, but to raise him, amid shouts and laughter, naked and bleeding, on the accursed tree. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not."
I know that a nation is not always to be held accountable for the acts of its rulers. A righteous public may have the conscience to disapprove what they have not the power to prevent. But our Lord's death was no act of the government, or simply the act of Pilate, or of the priests and statesmen of the time. It was a great national deed. In that vast assembly which pronounced the verdict, there was certainly not a city, nor village, nor hamlet, nor perhaps even a shepherd's solitary hut among the uplands of Judea, but had its representative. So, when Pilate put the question, it was the voice of the entire country that made itself heard in the unanimous and fatal verdict, " We will not have this man to reign over us "—yesterday we would; to-day we won't; let him die; away with him to the cross. Horrible crime! yet one, alas! in a sense still repeated, often repeated; and for no other reasons than at the first. If Christ would have consented to rule on their terms, the Jews would have made him king. Had he agreed to establish an earthly monarchy, to gratify the nation's thirst for vengeance on their Roman masters, to make Jerusalem the proud capital, and the Jews sole sovereign rulers of a conquered world, they would have revolted to a man. Religion lent its intensity to the burning hatred which they bore against the empire of the Caesars; and, on such conditions, those who crucified him would have fought for him with the resolution which held Jerusalem, till delicate women devoured their children, and men, famished into ghastly skeletons, met the Romans in battle under a canopy of flames, and in the throat of the deadly breach.
Now, to this day, how many would aecept of Jesus as king, would he but consent to their terms—allow them to indulge their lusts, and retain their sins! If, like some eastern princes, who leave the reins of government in other hands, he would rest contented with the shadow of royalty, with the mere name and empty title of a king, many would consent to be his subjects. But be assured that he accepts not the crown, if sin is to retain the sceptre. He requires of all who name his name, that they " depart from iniquity ;" and, with "holiness unto the Lord" written on their foreheads, that they take up their cross, and deny themselves daily, and follow him. On this account he is still practically rejected by thousands—whose profession of religion is a name and shadow. How is that old cruel tragedy repeated day by day within the theatre of many a heart! God says," This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased ;" the preacher brings Jesus forth for acceptance, clothed in purple, and crowned with thorns, and all the tokens of his love upon him, saying, " Behold the man ;" conscience is aroused to a sense of his claims; but these all are clamored down. Stirred up by the devil—the love of the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the pride of life, and all the corrupt passions of our evil nature, rise like that Jewish mob to cry, " We will not have this man to reign over us." Let the fate of these Jews warn you against their sin; for if God did such things in the green tree, what shall he do in the dry? Be assured that, unless you are obeying Christ as a sovereign, you have never
yet known him as a Saviour. Your faith is vain. His
cross and his crown are inseparable.
2. He does not receive the kingdom from his own people.
Some have fought their way onward to a palace, leaving the print of a bloody foot on every step that led them to the throne. And what violence or villainy, or both, have won, despotism holds. I could point to lands where the ambitious adventurer who has seized the throne is a tyrant, and his subjects are crouching slaves—as, indeed, men ever will be, who want the backbone of religion to keep them erect. It is God-fearing piety which makes a man the best subject of a good government, and the most formidable enemy to a bad one. Animated by its lofty hopes, sustained by its enduring spirit, a true Christian is not the man to sell his liberties for a dishonorable peace, nor his birth-right for " a mess of pottage."
Our happy land, in contrast with most other countries, presents an illustrious example of a family crowned, I may say, by the hands of the people— called to the throne by the free voice of a nation. The sceptre, which a female hand sways so well and gracefully over the greatest, freest, empire in the world, was, nigh two hundred years ago, wrenched from the grasp of a poor popish bigot; and his successor was borne to the vacant throne on the arms of a people, who, to their everlasting honor, considered crowned heads less sacred than their liberties and religion.
Ts it by any such act of his people that Christ has been crowned? Is he in this sense a popular monarch, one raised to the throne by the suffrages of the people? No. Here the king elects his subjects—not the subjects their king; and in that, as in many other senses, he who is both our Saviour and our sovereign says, "My kingdom is not of this world." There have been many disputes about the doctrine of election, and these have given birth to many most learned and profound treatises; the combatants on one side maintaining that in election God had respect to the good works which he foresaw men were to do, while their opponents have, as we think more wisely held, that in all cases his choice is as free and sovereign as when, descending on the plains of Damascus, he called in Saul of Tarsus, the greatest persecutor of his church, to be its greatest preacher. It was on this subject that an aged Christian uttered a remarkable saying, which I may apply to the matter in hand. She had listened with patience to a fine-spun and very subtle argument against the doctrine of a free election. She did not attempt to unravel it. She had no skill for that; but broke her way out as through the meshes of a cobweb with this brief reply, '• I believe in the doctrine of a free election; because I know, that if God had not first chosen me, I had never chosen him.
That reply, which was quite satisfactory to her simple piety, and will weigh more with many than a hundred ponderous volumes of theological learning, rests on the depravity of our nature, and applies to our present subject. Aliens by nature to the commonwealth of Israel, and the enemies of God by wicked works, it is absolutely necessary that Christ should first choose you as his subjects, before you can choose him as your king. Hence our catechism says, "Christ executeth the office of a king in subduing us to himself, ruling and defending us, and restraining and conquering all his and our enemies." Thus, Prince of Peace though he be, in the Psalms and elsewhere he is pictured forth as a warrior armed for the battle; a sword girded on his thigh, a bow in his hand, zeal glowing in his eyes, he drives the chariot of the gospel into the thick of his enemies. And as our own nation lately, with prayers for their success, sent off her armies to reduce to obedience a revolted province, God, when sending his Son to our world, addressed him as one about to engage in a similar enterprize: "Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty. And in thy majesty ride prosperously, because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things. Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies; whereby the people fall under thee."
Christ does indeed reign by conquest; but his reign is not therefore one of terror. The very opposite. He reigns, as he conquered, by love. For, although in the first instance his people neither choose him, nor call him to the throne afterwards, what king so well beloved? Enthroned in the heart, he rules them through their affections; nor employs any but that which is at once the softest and strongest, the gentlest and mightiest of all forces, the power of love. He subdues, but it is to save you. He wounds, but it is to heal you. He kills, but it is to make you alive. It was to crown you with glory that he bowed his head to that crown of thorns. Other sovereigns may have rendered good service to the state, and deserved its gratitude; but Christ's is the only throne, filled by a living king, who has this at once most singular and sublime claim on the devoted attachment of his subjects, that he died to save them. "I am he that liveth, and was dead."