Imagini ale paginilor









THE sacred writers, when speaking of the death of Christ, use a language so peculiar and extraordinary, that it seems difficult for an ingenuous mind to mistake their meaning. They not only appear to entertain the same view of that great subject, but, for the most part, they use the same figures of speech, and the same language. This bespeaks great uniformity of sentiment, and great exactness of expression, and proves, at least, that whatever their notions were, they were all agreed upon them. It proves also, I think, that those notions were common at the time they wrote, and were well understood by their readers; for as their object was to deliver a clear and satisfactory account of the doctrines they taught, they would express themselves in a style intelligible to all their converts, and incapable of mistake or easy perversion. They had to propound

[ocr errors]

to them the necessity and the object of the death of Christ. This was the key or corner-stone of the revelation they professed to preach.

His death was not merely to be insisted upon by way of example, and as a matter of historical fact, but the cause and the consequence of it were to be explained and made manifest, so that all who embraced the religion of Jesus, might understand the principles on which it stood.

It is to be observed, that at the time when they exercised their public ministry, every nation, Gentile as well as Jew, professed some religion, and the basis of all worship was sin, misery, and helplessness. Men felt themselves liable to divine wrath. Their frailties were too visible, their transgressions too frequent and afflicting, to admit of their remaining ignorant of this great truth. They were universally of opinion that repentance could not do away guilt, for, in addition to repentance, they every where adopted sacrifice. The very use of the rite of sacrifice plainly declared the insufficiency of repentance of itself, for why should they have had recourse to bloody offerings, if the verbal expression of their sorrow had been sufficient without any sign of a more significant nature? This sign, being always the accompaniment of the most devout religious services, was a full demonstration that they deemed it to be absolutely necessary.

What then could such a rite mean, but that the victim took part in the offerer's appeal for mercy; that, somehow, it was made the propitiation for him; and that by it he was to have an interest with his God. The offering he supposed to be acceptable to the Supreme Being in such a way, that, without it, he could not procure the grace and pardon he desired. But it could not be acceptable unless it altered the condition of the offerer, by removing from him that which interposed between him and the Divinity, and rendering him an object more meet for the heavenly favour. If he tendered it in sacrifice for his sins, it must have been presumed to bear those sins or remove them from him, or in what way could it be an instrument of reconciliation, or recommend him to the being he addressed ?— There is, therefore, the plainest evidence from the reason of the thing, that the very nature of animal sacrifices shows, for the most part, a strong conviction of guilt, and obviously implies that those sacrifices were viewed by the offerers in the light of an atonement. They might not understand atonement in the full and efficacious sense in which we do, as a complete substitution of one victim for another,-a satisfaction made for sin; but it will be sufficient for our purpose, if they considered the death of an animal as admitting them to a more immediate intercourse with the object of their adoration, and procuring for them that favour which they could not otherwise obtain.

The doctrine of atonement, or reconciliation by the blood of others, being thus regarded as established principle of religion, at the time when the Gospel was first preached, accounts to us for the uniformity of the language of the Apostles, and the


more easy reception by the world of what they taught respecting Christ's death.

The ground on which they had to tread was already broken for them. They preached a doctrine somewhat conformable to existing usages, for the common practice of mankind bore to it a figurative allusion. If sacrifice had been a new and unheard-of doctrine, what a time it must have taken to have explained to men the true meaning and intent of such a rite, and how repugnant they would have felt it to be to their natural notions of its propriety and efficacy. We see, then, the wisdom of God in preparing the world, through all ages, for the peculiar mode of reconciliation which he meant to adopt, and how important it was to the success of the Gospel, that the religious institutions then in being should all conduce to render the death of his Son an intelligible article of faith.

Having considered the state of the world previously to the death of Jesus, let us now go on to examine the light in which that great event is set forth by the Apostles. Their language, I have said, is peculiar and extraordinary. They uniformly speak of it as having an efficacy quite its own,—different to that of all other sacrifices,—and meritorious in the fullest sense. They describe it in a great variety of forms, as an offering for sin and an atonement, and as having produced such an effect upon the divine will, as to exonerate man from the wrath to which he was before liable, to take away the whole consequence of his guilt, and to place him in a situation with respect to God, the same as if he had never transgressed. Hear the Apostle St. Paul, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him ;" that is, made him an offering for sin, that we might become righteous in the sight of God by him. As Christ was perfectly holy and innocent, he could not be made sin, or receive in any sense the absolute stain of sin, otherwise than by becoming the victim on whom transgression was laid. So it is expressly set forth in the Epistle to the Romans, “God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin,that is, a sacrifice for sin, “ condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of God might be fulfilled in us.” So likewise in Hebrews, “ Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation :” that is, without a sin-offering.

Christ, therefore, was a propitiatory victim, and his death a real oblation and satisfaction to God for the sins of the whole world. The sacred writers represent it as having completed that which all other sacrifices for sin were meant to prefigure and express. “Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins."

6. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus," " for his blood cleanseth us from all sin.” “Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might

[ocr errors]
« ÎnapoiContinuați »