« PreviousContinue »
ary; and surely it promises to be more effectual and available. Those whom Providence has placed in such circumstances as to require the assistance of others, should beware of failing in this duty, or of performing it in a listless and cold manner. If
you are subjected to hardships from which your richer brethren are exempted, they are exposed to temptations from which you are exempted. Pray for them that their table, instead of becoming “a snare to them,” may be sanctified, and that they may not have all their good things in their life-time. If you are deficient in making a return for gifts which you have received, you have yourselves to blame. A Christian can never be a bankrupt, for he can always draw on heaven. If you cannot pay your debts of gratitude yourselves, you can by means of prayer transfer them to one who is able to discharge them. Access to “ the throne of grace” is a precious privilege to all saints, but it is doubly so to the poor; for it enables them to relieve themselves from a load which cannot fail to be oppressive to every feeling mind.
5. Those who are in ability are encouraged by this subject to be kind and compassionate to necessitous and afflicted Christians. By such conduct you draw out their desires to God in your behalf; and the prayers of the righteous in such cases have the force of promises, as their complaints against the cruel and oppressive have the force of curses.
Christians pray for all men, including their enemies; but they do not, and cannot pray for all with the same warmth and confidence. When mentioning his desertion by his brethren at his appearance before Nero, Paul says, “ I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge !” But there is a marked difference between that prayer and this in our text. “ The prayer of a righteous man availeth much" when it is fervent." Your acts of kindness will excite their religious affections, cause them to remember you every time they bow their knees to their heavenly Father, and fill their mouths with new arguments for enforcing their petitions. Falling into their souls, your beneficence will refresh them, open them to the rays of the sun of righteousness, and thus make them send up their fragrance to heaven, like the earth when it has been refreshed by a shower. Their prayers
will be to your alms what the oil and frankincense was to the meat-offering under the law; and both will ascend as "a sweet savour unto the Lord.” *
In fine, you may learn from this subject that deeds of bene. ficence and charity are not meritorious in the sight of God. Those who teach the merit of good works learned it not assuredly either from the doctrine or the prayers of Paul; for when his heart was penetrated most deeply with a sense of the kindness of Onesiphorus, and when he prayed most fervently that he might be rewarded for it, he employed in each petition the plea of mercy. Your “goodness reacheth not unto God but to the saints ;” and shall a few temporal favours which
you have been enabled to do for “the excellent of the earth sume that mighty importance in your eyes as to merit the kingdom of heaven? Guard against legalism as well as anti-nomianism; and, O! beware lest your vessel, fully furnished with every good work, strike on that rock which has proved fatal to the hopes of so many.
“Put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercy, kindness,” but put on also “humbleness of mind.” “ When you have done all, say, We are unprofitable servants, we have done no more than we ought to have done." “God is not unrighteous to forget your
labour of love." Verily you shall have a reward; but then it will be a reward of grace and not of debt. Those who deserve best of their fellow-creatures are most deeply impressed with a sense of their ill-desert in respect of God; and those who are the most faithful “servants of righteousness," instead of claiming "eternal life" as “ wages" due to them, will be most dis posed to receive it as “the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Cherish this disposition, and it will cause you to be not slothful but zealous and diligent followers of them who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises, and thus you shall make your calling and election sure to yourselves. beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”
Lev. ii. ; Philip. iv. 18.
When a friend whom we tenderly loved, and to whom we are deeply indebted, has died at a distance from us, we are anxious to have the fullest information respecting the manner and circumstances of his death; and we peruse, with a lively interest, the letters of those who relate what they saw and heard on the melancholy occasion. We wish to know the immediate cause of his death, the degree of pain which he suffered, the treatment he received from his attendants, the conversation which he held with them, his dying sayings, his last words, the day and even the hour of his expiry, and the manner in which the final duty was paid to his earthly remains. All this information respecting the best friend of men has been transmitted to us in the narratives which the four Evangelists wrote of the death of Jesus Christ. His death, indeed, differs widely from that of all other men; it stands by itself, and is altogether peculiar in its causes, and the designs which Providence intended to effect by means of it. “ It is appointed to all men once to die,” and every one dies for himself and not for others; but Christ was once offered 66 to bear the sins of many;" and was “ cut off, but not for himself.” This is the proper light in which that event ought to be viewed; and of such magnitude and interest is it, that it might seem, at first sight, to exclude and banish the thought of every thing else as trivial and unimportant. Christ died for our sins (you may be apt to say), and that is enough for us to know. But, my brethren, it is otherwise. The circumstances of his death were fixed by the divine decree, as well as the event itself; they were revealed before-hand to the prophets; and we are furnished with minute details of them in the historical books of the New Testament. They must therefore have a claim on our devout attention. Nor is this all. It will be found on examination, that they all contribute, in one way or another, to throw light on the grand design of his dying, and to disclose or brighten the displays of the wisdom of God in that unparalleled event. There was not a circumstance of ignominy or pain in his sufferings which did not form an ingredient in that cup of wrath which he drank for us; not a circumstance of alleviation about them which did not enter into the cordial which was needful to support him in the arduous work of achieving our redemption; and it is only in the way of our surveying the whole, that we can attain to a complete and comprehensive acquaintance with the enormity of our own guilt, and with the breadth and length and height and depth of that knowledge-passing love which prompted him to undertake our cause.
Nor is there one of these circumstances which, when rightly viewed, will not help to increase our faith, and to strengthen those feelings with which we ought always to contemplate and remember the Lord's death.
The most important and prominent of these circumstances (if circumstance it can be called), is the kind of death which he suffered—that of the cross. By this we are instructed in the nature and design of his sufferings, agreeably to what was announced before-hand in a divine statute, referred to by the Apostle,—" Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; as it is written, cursed is he that hangeth on a tree.”* This holds true, also, of the circumstances of his crucifixion, whether antecedent, concomitant, or consequent. Convinced of the innocence of the person brought before his tribunal, and yet desirous to gratify the Jews, the Roman governor thought to relieve himself from the embarrassment in which he was involved by releasing Jesus, according to a custom which had been long observed at the annual feast of the Passover. But the chief priests instigated
Gal. iii. 16.
the populace, with loud voices, to demand the crucifixion of Jesus, and the release of Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a notorious felon, who had been guilty of sedition, a crime which rulers are usually inclined to visit with exemplary punishment, and of murder, which banishes sympathy for the criminal from the breasts of all classes of men. The circumstance of such a malefactor being preferred to Jesus, while it showed the malice of the priests and the infatuation of the people, was, at the same time, a proof of the deep degradation of “ Him whom the man despised, and the nation abhorred." Accordingly, it is mentioned by the Apostle Peter, in one of the sermons which he preached to his countrymen after the Resurrection : “ Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you."*
But this was not all the indignity done to him. It was determined that he should be crucified along with two malefactors,—thieves, highwaymen or robbers, as the original word properly signifies. Now, this circumstance, as well as the crucifixion itself, happened according to the prescient and wise appointment of Heaven, and served as an external indication of the character in which he suffered as the surety of sinners. Accordingly, the Evangelist Mark states it as a fulfilment of that scripture which saith, “ He was numbered with the transgressors, and did bear the sins of many."| We might have thought it likely, that the lives of some of his disciples would be sacrificed along with Jesus, and that they would have been the companions of his cross; but this was prevented for wise reasons by Him who “ maketh the wrath of man to praise him.” For the holy hand of God did not extenuate the guilt of his murderers, who acted freely under the influence of their own malice and cruelty, and whose object it was, by this arrangement, to cover him with ignominy. They crucified him with the malefactors, the one on the right hand, and the other on the left, and Jesus in the midst, to intimate that he was the greatest criminal of the three. By this means they excited against him the odium of the populace, who, always
* Acts, iii. 14.
† Mark, xv. 28. Comp. Isa. liii. 12.