« AnteriorContinuar »
who should bruise the serpent's head, defeat his policy, destroy his power, and repair the mischiefs he had introduced by sin. MESSIAH fulfilled this promise. And when he had finished all that was appointed for him on earth, as the second Adam, the head and representative of his people, he ascended on high, and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. As an illustrious proof to the universe, that God is reconciled: that there is forgiveness with him for sinners who implore his mercy; one in our nature, and on our behalf, has taken possession of the kingdom. The series of texts in this part of the Oratorio recalls this subject frequently to our thoughts; nor can we think of it too often. It is the foundation of our hopes, the source of our sublimest joys, and the sufficient, the only sufficient, answer to all the suggestions by which guilt, fear, unbelief, and Satan, fight against our peace. Surrounded as we are with enemies and difficulties, we plead, against every accusation and threatening, that our Head is in heaven; we have an Advocate with the Father, a High Priest upon the throne, who, because he ever liveth to make intercession, is able to save to the uttermost. This is all our plea, nor do we desire any other. His ascension on high is a sure pledge that his servants shall follow him.* And even at present, by faith they ascend and are seated with him in the heavenly places. They behold invisibles with the eye of their mind; they realize the glorious scene, from which they are separated by the veil of flesh and blood. They know that, even now, day and night, day without night, myriads of golden harps and happy voices resound his praise. The babe of Bethlehem, the Man who once hung dead and forsaken upon the cross, is now the Lord of glory. In the thought of his glory they greatly rejoice, because they love him, and because they expect shortly to be with him.
II. Thou hast led captivity captive.' The expression is emphatical. He has conquered and triumphed over all the powers which held us in captivity, so that captivity itself is taken captive. The spirit and force of it is destroyed; and his people, when released by him and walking in his ways, have no more to apprehend from those whose captives they were, than a conqueror has to fear from a prisoner in chains. The energy of the phrase is not unlike that of the apostle, which we are hereafter to consider, death is swallowed up in victory.' Man by nature is a captive, in a state of confinement and bondage, from which he cannot escape by any address or effort of his own.
He is a captive to sin; a sinful state is a state of bondage; and this, notwithstanding the sinner is a willing captive, speaks
* John, xii. 26.
+ Eph. ii. 6.
swelling words of vanity, and boasts of liberty, while he is the servant, the slave of corruption. Conscience sometimes remonstrates, fills him with fears and forebodings, which make him struggle to be free. And there are many sins, which, besides being offences against the law of God, are directly contrary to the sinner's present interest and welfare; and would be so upon his own plan, and if he was wholly his own master, and had no account to render of his conduct. Persons enslaved to habits of lewdness or drunkenness, need not be told from the pulpit that the courses they pursue are injurious to their health, their business, or substance, their reputation and their peace. They know it and feel it, without a monitor. There are seasons, when the ill consequences they bring upon themselves make them sick of the drudgery, and excite some efforts towards a reform. But in vain. The next return of temptation bears down all their resolutions like a torrent; and, after every attempt to amend, they usually become worse than before. For none can escape, unless the Sou makes them free. His grace can overcome the most obstinate habits of licentiousness, and implant the contrary habits of purity and temperance. But they who are not delivered by him must die in chains.
III. Thou hast received gifts, even for the rebellious.' To bestow gifts upon the miserable, is bounty; but to bestow them upon rebels, is grace. The greatness of the gifts, contrasted with the characters of those who receive them, displays the exceeding riches of the Redeemer's grace. He came to save not the unhappy only, but the ungodly. He gives pardon, peace, and eternal life, to his enemies; whose minds are so entirely alienated from him, that until he makes them willing, in the day of his power, their minds are determined against accepting any favour from him. They live long in contempt of the law and authority of God; and though justly obnoxious to his displeasure, while left to themselves, they despise and reject the proposals of his mercy. If they sometimes acknowledge themselves to be sinners, they still presume that they are able to procure his favour by their own performances. They strangely imagine they have a sufficient ground of hope, so long as it appears to themselves that they are not altogether so bad as others. And when, by the Gospel, the Lord treats them as sinners already justly condemned by the tenour of his holy laws, and informs them of the exigency of their case; that nothing less than the resources of his infinite wisdom, and the most extensive exertion of his unspeakable love, can possibly save them from destruction; the pride of their hearts rises against his declarations. His wisdom, in their view, is folly; and his love provokes their enmity and scorn.
He says of MESSIAH, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him ;' but the language of their hearts is, We will not have him to reign over us. They revile and oppose the messengers of his grace, account them enemies, charge them as troublers of their peace, and as those who turn the world upside down and, when not restrained by the providence of God, inflict upon them, besides, reproaches, stripes, imprisonment, tortures, and death. If their dearest friends, and those who are connected with them by the nearest ties of relation, submit to the testimony of God, and yield themselves to the appointed Saviour, they are treated as apostates from the general opinion. This defection from the common cause, is often sufficient to cancel the strongest obligations, to dissolve the closest intimacy, to raise a person foes in his own household, and to excite envy, batred, and malice, in those who once professed esteem and love. Can the spirit of rebellion rise higher than when they who have insulted the authority, defied the power, and resisted the government and will of the great God, proceed at length to trample upon his tenders of reconciliation, and to affront him in that concern which, of all others, is dearest to him, the glory of his grace in the person of his Son? Yet this is no exaggerated representation. Such is the disposition of the heart of man towards God; such were some of us; and such, I fear, some of us are to this hour. I do not say, that this enmity of the carnal mind acts, in every person who is subject to the grace of God, with equal rage and violence. In a land of light, liberty, and civilization, like ours, a variety of circumstances may concur to set bounds to its exercise; education, a natural gentleness of temper, and even interest, may keep it within the limits of decorum, especially towards some individuals; but I affirm, or rather the Scripture declares that enmity against God, a disaffection to his Gospel no less than to his law, and a dislike to those who profess and obey the truth, are principles deeply rooted in our nature, as fallen; and however they may seem dormant in some persons for a season, would operate vigorously, if circumstances were so to alter as to afford a fair occasion. For as, of old, 'he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit,'t even so it is now. And it is still as true as in the apostles' days, that' all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall,' in one degree or form or other, suffer persecution' from those who will not.
Thus men are characterized in the word of God, rebels and enemies, having a neck of iron,' to denote their obstinacy; 'a brow of brass,' to express their insolence and presumption; * Luke, xix. 14.
† Gal. iv. 29.
2 Tim iii. 12.
Isa. xlviii. 4.
and a heart of stone,** insensible to the soft methods of persuasion; incapable of receiving tender, kind, and generous impressions, though they are wooed and besought by the consideration of the mercies of God, of the dying agonies of MESSIAH; unless that mighty power be displayed in their favour which brought forth streams of water froin the rock in the wilderness.
MESSIAH died, arose and ascended on high, that he might receive gifts for rebels of this spirit, and disposition. The one grand gift I shall specify, is, indeed, comprehensive of every other good, the gift of the Holy Spirit. He said to his sorrowing disciples, It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.'t Soon after his ascension this promise was fulfilled. The disciples were filled with the Holy spirit ;'‡ and the people who had slain the Lord, were pricked to the heart, repented of their sins, received faith in him whom they had pierced, and experienced joy and peace in believing.
That the Gospel is preached upon earth by a succession of ministers called and furnished for that service, and that the Gospel, when preached, is not rejected by all, as it is by many, is wholly to be ascribed to the agency of the Holy Spirit, whose office and covenant engagement it is to convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment,' and to glorify MESSIAH. He opens the eyes of the understanding, subdues the stubborn will, softens, or rather removes, the heart of stone, and gives a feeling, tender heart, a heart of flesh. Then the rebels relent and sue for mercy; then they obtain faith repentance, remission, a full and free salvation, and all the gifts which MESSIAH has received for them.
IV. His ultimate design in favour of rebellious men, the great final cause of his mediation, and particularly of his bestowing on them the gift of the Holy Spirit, is that the Lord God may dwell among them.' Man was created in the image of God, who formed him for himself. But he sinned and was forsaken. God withdrew his light and love from him, and man sunk into darkness and misery. Sin and Satan took possession of the heart which was originally designed to be the temple of the living God. But the Lord had a merciful purpose, to return in a way worthy of his perfections. Without him, the souls of men, and the whole human race, as to their proper happiness, are like what the earth would be without the sun, dark, cold, fruitless, and comfortless. But the knowledge of MESSIAH, like the sun, enlightens the world
and the heart.
Ezek. xxxvi. 26. + John, xvi. 7.
Acts, ii. 4—37. & John, xvi. 8.
When, in the day of his power, by the revelation of his light and love, he destroys the dominion of sin, and dispossesses Satan, he reclaims his own, and takes possession for himself. The heart, sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, and anointed with the holy unction, becomes a consecrated temple of the Holy Ghost. This persuasion, though now, by many who have not renounced the name of Christian, deemed the essence of enthusiasm, was once essential to Christianity; so that the apostle speaks of it as an obvious, incontrovertible fact, with which no true Christian could be unacquainted: 'Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost ?'* Again, he speaks of Christ dwelling in the heart: Christ in you the hope of glory.'‡ And in another place, 'Ye are the temple of the living God, as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them ;' agreeably to his promise by the prophets. He liveth in them, as the principle of their life, wisdom, and power; therefore the apostle says, 'I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.' There is a mutual indwelling between the Lord and his people. They in him, as the branch in the vine; and he in them, as the sap in the branch. He in them, as in his temples; they in him, as in their strong tower of defence. And from hence, we infer the duration of their life of grace; that it shall continue and spring up into everlasting life; since it is properly not their own, but his; and since he has said, Because I live, ye shall live also.'
He dwells likewise among his people in their collective capacity. His whole church, comprising all the members of his mystical body, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,' form a building fitly framed together, a palace, a holy temple for the Lord, the great King. He dwelleth likewise in every particular society who walk by his rule, and adorn the profession of his truth by a conversation becoming the Gospel. He is a wall of fire round about' them, and a 'glory in the midst of them.' When they meet together in his name, he is there. He walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks. It is his presence that gives life and efficacy to all his ordinances, and communicates a power to his word, by which the minds of his worshipping people are enlightened, strengthened, healed, and comforted. Here he manifests himself to them, as he does not unto the world; and they can adopt the words of the Psalmist, A day in thy courts is better than a thousand.' To his presence they owe their peace and increase, their union and protection. And if he withdraws, Ichabod, may be written upon their solemn assem
* 1 Cor. vi. 19. Gal. ii. 20.
+ Eph. iii. 17. Zech. ii. 5. 10.
Col. i. 27.
§ 2 Cor. vi. 16.