Page images
PDF
EPUB

without any satisfaction at all; or accept any that he thought fit, how mean and worthless soever in itself. For who shall presume to limit the Supreme Governor's prerogative, or prescribe to the goodness and wisdom of a Being infinite in every perfection ? But the meaning is, that according to the scheme upon which God all along had acted, and considering him in the quality of a lawgiver and a judge, a nobler compensation was necessary; and, for the blood of beasts to have been accepted, instead of the punishment due for the sins of men, had been extremely incongruous; and such a method of remission, as the end and measures of government could not have been answered by

The design of every wise governor is to retain men in their duty, by enacting such laws as may be a rule for their obedience, and by enforcing those laws with such punishments as shall render the breach of them terrible and exemplary, that so others may be deterred from doing the like; that they who have already offended, may be afraid to do so again ; and that a just reverence for the constitution may be preserved and maintained.

To these purposes Almighty God, having made man immortal, gave him a law, the transgression whereof he threatened with death, of which we all have naturally the utmost abhorrence and dread. That law being broken by our first parents, they, and, in them, human nature, became obnoxious to the curse. To preserve his workmanship in so noble a part of the creation from perishing, it pleased God to accept of a vicarious punishment. But, since God still continues to govern us by laws, it was expedient this should be such a one as still to serve the ends above mentioned. Now, that does not appear possible to be done by admitting the death of beasts, but is effectually done by receiving the death of Christ, as an expiation for the guilt and punishment of sinners.

For, what apprehension of divine vengeance, what terror, what example, can there be in the death of a brute? This cannot be of any great consequence to us, or stir any very tender passion in us. To see a creature die, when devoted to a holy use, will not much affect them, who every day kill the like for their own sustenance and refreshment. To purchase a pardon at so cheap a rate would rather render men licentious, and encourage their wickedness, and expose their laws and governor to contempt, than ever produce reformation of manners, or any sort of reverence for such an institution. For, when assaulted by temptations, all who allow themselves leisure to think on such occasions, will presently set to computing the damage like to follow by unlawful compliances ; and if it be found, upon balancing the account, that a bullock or a sheep is all the loss they have to fear, few sins bid so low as not to gain them over. Nor is the affront to the majesty of God likely to be esteemed great, or the honour for his ordinances worth any very nice regard, when so poor a reparation is taken up with, and the quarrel compounded without any personal pain, and at so despicably slight expense.

On the contrary, God, by accepting no less a compensation for the sins of men than the death and passion of his own innocent and beloved Son, hath given us the clearest idea of the heinousness of sin, and the fierceness of his anger against it. And by the dismal circumstances of that passion, he hath rendered the punishment of it most exemplary, hath awakened our fears, and put us upon our guard against that ruin and misery, which must needs be insupportable to the guilty, when the weight of his wrath lay so heavy upon one, who had none of their remorse and despair to sink him. For, how shall sinners be able to endure, to all eternity, the unrelenting strokes of that provoked justice, which he, who had no fault to reproach himself with, found so hard to be borne for a few hours only? And greater right was done to his laws and his honour by God, in bruising this excellent Person so sorely, than if cach transgressor and affronter of them had actually perished for his own iniquities. For what are millions of us in comparison of him ? And how could God secure a respect to his laws, like that which results from a ransom so inestimably precious, and the high terms upon which alone he was content, that we should be retrieved from everlasting destruction.

But besides, there is, in all this dispensation, an exact congruity observed, which could not be in any other sacrifices. Human nature had sinned; and was it not fit that human nature should suffer ? Beasts are nothing to us; but Jesus, in condescending to become one of us, gave us thereby a part and interest in all he did and suffered. Here was equity as well as condescension; that the same nature which suffered in him, should receive in us the benefit of his sufferings. Nos does it appear, how that benefit could ever accrue to us, from the sufferings of any nature inferior to our own. For death being ordained the punishment of sin, the effect of remission of sin must be immortal life. And could the death of any creature, not immortal itself, procure for us a right to immortality ? No: the sacrifice that takes away sin, must not only die, but live again ; must be able to give itself immortality, before we can be immortal by virtue of it. And this proves, that such sacrifice must at least be man, must be an innocent man, must indeed be much more than man-must be God, as well as man. For the scripture is express, that God ‘only hath immortality.' And it is evident to common sense, that a being, which itself hath not immortality, cannot give it to others.

Such is the Apostle's reasoning, wherein he demonstrates the weakness and inefficacy of the Levitical, and every other sacrifice; and the sufficiency and perfection of Christ's, the evangelical, the only efficacious, the only true one. And how can we enough admire the riches of that grace, which chose this method of making his glory so conspicuous, in every adorable attribute, concerned in this great work! Most truly does the Apostle declare, that Jesus Christ is become to us wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption.' May these kind intentions be accomplished in every soul; and may that God of Peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, make us perfect in every good work.

[DEAN STANHOPE.]

SERMON LIV.

THURSDAY BEFORE EASTER

HEROD ANTIPAS. LUKE xxiii. 8. And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad.

[Text taken from the Gospel for the Day.) The Herod, here mentioned, was surnamed Antipas; he was the son of that Herod, called the Great, who sought the destruction of the infant Saviour. This man possessed only a part of his father's dominions, over which he presided merely as the vicegerent of the Roman emperor, with the title of Tetrarch or King of Galilee. Historians are agreed, that he was a prince of licentious and abandoned conduct; but we shall confine ourselves to those circumstances which the scriptures have recorded.

Herod had divorced his own wife, and joined himself to another by an adulterous and incestuous connexion : he had married the wife of his brother Philip, after having basely seduced her from her husband. John the Baptist, being sent for to Herod's court, probably from motives of curiosity, perceived, and dared not to connive at, the sinful practices of the king. As a bold advocate for God, not having respect to persons,' he brought a heavy charge of guilt against the royal hearer, and reprehended him with fidelity and plainness, for all the evils which he had done.' (Matt. xiv. 3—5; Mark vi. 17-20; Luke iii. 19, 20.]

What was the effect of this honest address ? Reproofs are seldom well received. Those, who possess an exalted station, are apt to spurn with indignation at any restraint, which an inferior, and especially a preacher, may attempt to impose. But resentment, on such occasions, is not confined to kings: we perceive, that many in lower life are incapable of bearing any sharp reprehension. Have we not been displeased with the faithful admonitions of a companion or minister ? and, instead of profiting by the serious counsel, meditated revenge against its author ? But surely, we are our own enemies, when we quarrel with those who, from pure benevolence point out to us all the evils which we have done,' and charge us to relinquish what we cannot lawfully retain.

Herod was enraged, and his officers were immediately commissioned to bind and imprison the Baptist. It is remarked, that he added yet this above all,' as if it were the greatest of all his enormities, that he shut up John in prison. The persecution of God's servants, for the upright and zealous performance of their duty, is an offence . peculiarly heinous; and he whose cause they plead, will avenge the injury. The opposition, as in the case before us, generally arises from the uneasiness which sinners feel upon a bold and unreserved representation of their guilt and danger. Oh that their anger were turned against themselves, and not against their reprover; that they would endeavour, not to silence him, but to reform their own evil conduct !

Yet there were some favourable appearances in Herod ; and it may seem a matter of wonder, that the strong convictions which he felt, were so transient or inefficacious. His adulterous queen was more incensed than he, and, from the first, wished to destroy the Baptist. Probably, she apprehended, that, through the preacher's admonitions, she should lose her influence, and be dismissed with disgrace. She, therefore, urged the king not merely to imprison but to kill him, that they might no longer be troubled with his insolence. To this proposal, however, Herod would not yield an immediate compliance: he was restrained by a powerful impression upon his mind : "he feared John, knowing that he was a just man, and a holy.' This circumstance demands our attention. Such a power very frequently accompanies eminent examples of godliness. Herod was struck with reverence for the man, whom he had cast into a dungeon; and, under the view of John's singular holiness, probably perceived his own baseness, so as to be distressed with painful apprehensions.

The prisoner, it should seem, was not afraid of the king. What have those to dread, who have the Lord Jehovah on their side? They possess a never-failing source of confidence and joy; and may, therefore, exult in defiance of their most violent opposers, though racks and tortures be prepared for their destruction. Be of good courage, you who follow the Lamb, and be not terrified by your adversaries,' whatever strength or authority they may boast of. They themselves perhaps, may be inwardly dismayed, at the very time when they appear most formidable. That furious prince and persecutor, “Saul, was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him;' (1 Sam. xviii. 12.] Only let your enemies perceive in you a consistent and exemplary conduct; and then, however they may affect to reproach, they cannot really despise you. We may appeal to them, if there is not one or another whom they dislike for his religion, and yet cannot look at without a secret awe or terror on their minds, “ knowing bim to be a just man and a holy. At some times it appears, that under this impression, they would relinquish every worldly enjoyment, if they might exchange conditions. Let them yield to their own convictions ; drop their opposition against those, whom in their consciences they believe to be the objects of divine regard ; and cordially join with them in zealous exertions for the cause of God and his truth!

« PreviousContinue »