« AnteriorContinuar »
sinned while in a state of probation, are made happy, they receive precisely what was promised to the righteous; nothing more than happiness, being promised to the latter. Now, if the matter were left here, would not an observing spectator of God's proceedings, on being told, that virtue is an object of divine approbation, and vice of the divine displeasure, immediately reply, “How does this appear? Two beings, we see, are put on their trial for happiness, on condition of obedience: but he, who disobeys, receives the same treatment, as the other."
Or, suppose two beings in a state of trial disobey their Creator. The one repents, and is rewarded; the other does not repent, and is punished. In the latter case, i.e. when the impenitent is punished, the divine law and the divine proceedings express precisely the same thing, viz. hatred of sin. In the former case, the expressions of the two are of completely opposite.
That the consideration of repentance does not legally jusm tify this difference, will be evident, when we consider the necessary extent of divine requirements. These are nothing less, than unfailing moral rectitude. If it be suitable, that Deity should demand of his creatures conformity, in any instance, to that, which is morally right; such conformity, may, with propriety, be demanded in all instances. In deed, i here would be undeniable inconsistency, were not the demand universal. You cannot easily suppose any thing, more dishonorable to the supreme law giver, than that he should tolerate particular violations of law, on condition the remainder should be kept. If intelligent creatures con form to the law, it is no more than their duty: it cannot, of course, have the slighest influence, strictly speaking, in making amends for crimes. It is not the less true, that I violated the law yesterday, because I have kept it to day; there, on that account, less demerit and turpitude in yester day's offence. Penitence is only the feelings of an obedient heart, in view of its past delinquency. The only difference, therefore, between the repenting and unrepenting
transgressor, is, that the disobedience in one case, is contin. ued longer, than in the other. But the law, with equal clear- . ness, denounces punishment against both.
By what has been said, thus much at least, I conceive, has been made to appear, that there is not an obvious propriety in forgiving sin without atonement; and that, according to the best views, which we can entertain on the subject, it was necessary, if grace were exercised towards sinners, that such exercise of grace should be accompanied with some expression of the divine will and character, comporting with that expression, which is made in the divine law: something, which might prevent the subjects of God's moral government from imagining, that his hatred of sin is less, than his law represents.
A sentiment, similar to this, was found in the first edition of Dr Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, clothed in that powerful language, which he had so much at his como mand. “ If we consult,” said he, “our natural sentiments, we are apt to fear, lest before the holiness of God, vice should appear more worthy of punishment, than the weakness and imperfection of human nature can ever seem to be of reward. Man, when about to appear before a Being of infinite perfection, can feel but little confidence in his own merit, or in the imperfect propriety of his own conduct. In the presence of his fellow creatures, he may often justly elevate himself, and may often have reason to think highly of his own character and conduct, compared to the still greater imperfection of theirs. But the case
But the case is quite different, when about to appear before his infinite Creator. To such a being, he can scarcely imagine, that his littleness and weakness should ever seem to be the proper object, either of esteem or reward. But he can easily conceive, how the numberless violations of duty, of which he has been guilty, should render him the object of aversion and punishment. Neither can he see any reason, why the divine indignation should not be let loose, without any restraint, upon so vile an insect, as he is sensible that he himself must appear to be. If he
would still hope for happiness, he is conscious that he cannot demand it from the justice, but that he must entreat it from the mercy of God. Repentance, sorrow, humiliation, contrition, at the thought of his past conduct, are, upon this account, the sentiments which become him, and seem to be the only means, which he has left for appeasing that wrath, which be knows, he has justly provoked. He even distrusts the efficacy of all these, and naturally fears, lest the wisdom of God, should not, like the weakness of man, he prevailed upon to spare the crime, by the most importunate lamentations of the criminal. Some other intercession, some other sacrifice, some other atonement, he imagines must be made for him, beyond what he himself is capable of making, before the purity of the divine justice can be reconciled to his manifest offences.”
In view of these considerations, and of the acknowledged fact that God does, in some way or other, pardon offenders, there is, to say the least, a degree of probability, that measures have been taken of the nature described. I now ask your attention to an undeniable fact, viz. the
. death of Jesus Christ, by whom the worlds were made, and in whom dwelt the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
Judging from the language, both of the prophets and evangelists, it would seem, that his sufferings on this occasion were unusual in their severity. The prophet Isaiah uses the following language, “ He was oppressed and af.
, flicted: It pleased the Lord to bruise him, and put him to griet."
In the twenty second Psalm, are many passages, which are by no means applicable to David. To Christ, they apply with exactness; and this application is made by himself, and by the evangelists, who record bis sufferings." They
• pierced my hands and my feet: they parted my garments and cast lots upon my vesture. I am poured out like water; and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far
from helping me, and from the words of my roaring.” From the history, which we have of our Saviour, it appears, that he was emphatically a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Immediately before his death, he is represented, as passing through a scene of suffering, of which, on ordinary principles, no satisfactory account can be given. On the night of his crucifixion, when he had supped with his disciples, he withdrew from them," and kneeled down and pray ed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done. And there appeared unto him an angel, strengthening him. And, being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood, falling down to the ground.” On this occasion, he said to his disciples, My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death.
Such extreme agitation of mind appears surprising, whether we consider, that Christ had from the beginning clearly foreseen his own death; or that many persons, both with the aids of religion and without them, have met death with less apparent depression.
Our Lord had, on many occasions, spoken of his own death, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem; he had even mentioned the manner, in which it should be effected. “ As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so also shall the son of man be lifted up."
Many persons, we know, among pagans, Jews and christians, have, with great fortitude, encountered severe sufferings. Not a few have manifested constancy in the midst of tortures. A Jewish mother, and her seven sons, suffered death, for their religion, in the time of Antiochus. To them was applied every species of torture, which could be invented by human malice and ingenuity. All these were insufficient to extort any expressions of perturbation, or even timidity. Stephen, in view of his execution, betrayed no symptoms of distress.
Many of the early christians rather courted, than avoided martydom. Many protestants, in later ages, have anticipated the flames, and endured them, without the appearance of terror.
But, when our Saviour was in the garden of Gethsemane, he was at once depressed and agitated. No language can evince greater agitation, than the words, already quoted from the evangelist. “ Being in an agony, he prayed more earnest. ly: and his sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood, falling down to the ground.” What account is to be given of this er• traordinary fact? Even those, who deny the atonement of the Savior, believe him to have been, at least, a great and good man whom the Father honored with a high commission. Even if nothing more than this were true, it would be extremely difficult to give any rational account of the scene, which the evangelist describes. If there were nothing of an extraordinary nature then in the view of Christ; if his death were connected with nothing of more moment, than the death of other prophets; especially if his sufferings were designed to afford a noble specimen of fortitude ; it is strange, even 10 8 astonishment, that he should have manifested such unspeakable consternation. How came it to pass, that the greatest of all the prophets, who was emphatically styled the son of God, should have suffered with less apparent magnanimity
, than many of his predecessors? How came it, that He, who is head of the christian church, and who, in all things, bath the pre-eminence, did not manifest as little emotion, in view of the cross, as many of his disciples in subsequent ages! No person, I think, will consider this inquiry, as unnatural
, or impertinent. Let us now suppose, that Christ suffered for human offences; and that the pains, which he endured, were to express the divine displeasure against sin; let us suppose, to use the prophet's language, that he made his soul an offering for sin,” and that therefore, it “ pleased the Lord to bruise him, and put him to grief.” On this ground, it will not appear incredible, that his sufferings, should be incomparably greater, than any, which had been previously endured. Nor is it strange, that such sufferings should have produced uncommon effects on our Savior's animal system; and should have extorted from him corresponding expresa sions.