Christ in the Covenant, Or
The Character and Claims of the Redeemer
by John MacDuff, 1859
In fulfilling the various covenant engagements into which the Redeemer entered when he undertook the arduous and responsible work of redemption — he has laid us under unbounded obligations; and, for the wonders he has wrought — to be lost in silence and never called to mind, would betray the basest ingratitude towards him for all he has done for us men, and for our salvation. But while we thus wrong so incomparable a Benefactor, we also act in direct opposition to our own best interests. The things which concern Him — are those which belong to our present peace and our everlasting well-being; and it is only by regarding his claims, and submitting to his requirements, that we become partakers of those inestimable blessings which he died to procure, and which he is now highly exalted in the heavenly world to bestow.
That there is a proneness even in his own people to forget him, is a truth which cannot be doubted, however much it may be deplored. While he never forgets them, for their names are engraved on his heart as a perpetual memorial — yet they allow the most trifling objects to banish him from their thoughts. Their domestic cares, their worldly engagements, the companions with whom they mingle, the pleasures in which they indulge, the sorrows of which they are the subjects — all operate more or less in this way. And, instead of being helps, they prove to be serious hindrances to that daily communion with the Lord Jesus; in the absence of which there can be no such thing as spiritual prosperity.
The following exercises are intended to furnish some feeble aid to those who are anxious that "thoughts of Christ and things divine" may have a prominent place in their meditations, and a beneficial influence upon their hearts and lives. To such they are humbly commended by the writer, who will esteem himself honored in being permitted to contribute in any measure to so necessary and desirable an end. And may He whose special office it is to bring to remembrance the sayings of Him who spoke as never man spoke, and the doings of Him who acted as never man acted — graciously condescend to bless this little work, and apply the truths it contains with saving power, and accompany them with a sacred unction, to the minds of all its readers!
John MacDuff, August 2, 1859.
The Fullness of Christ
"For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell." Colossians 1:19
No state of mind can be more desirable than that in which we are brought to feel that we are nothing — but that Christ is all in all. An unspeakable mercy it is for us to be stripped of every vestige of self-righteousness, and to be led to trust in Him alone, who is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. While conscious that we are in ourselves wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked — if we only make Him all our salvation and all our desire — we shall be enriched with unsearchable riches, and filled with unspeakable joy. Happy indeed is our lot, if we are of the number of those who can be addressed in the apostle's words, "And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power."
There is nothing more adapted than the consideration of the all-sufficiency of Christ, to remove the depression which often presses heavily upon the spirit of the believer. You mourning ones, who are so prone to write bitter things against yourselves — be persuaded to look to that precious Savior, who is able to do for you exceeding abundantly above all you can ask or think. You feel your needs to be innumerable; but what are they when compared with His inexhaustible fullness? Your sins appear to you to be fearfully aggravated; but what are they when compared with the efficacy of his atoning blood? Over an evil heart of unbelief you bitterly mourn; but as strong as your unbelief may be, what is it when compared with His faithfulness and truth? You frequently lament that you are weaker than a bruised reed; but have you not heard, and even by former experience often known — that in Him, the great Rock of ages, is everlasting strength? You may be inconstant, as changeable as the shifting wind; but amid all that is false and fluctuating in your nature — remember that there is One who is the same yesterday, and today, and forever, and whose love is from everlasting to everlasting.
Would you compare a grain of sand — with some stupendous mountain whose lofty head is lost in the clouds? Would you compare the faint luster of a glowworm — with the burning splendor of the sun's meridian blaze? That, it is true, may be done; but in attempting to compare our exigencies and demerits with the exceeding riches of the Redeemer's grace, and the boundless plenitude which is treasured up in Him — all language fails, and every similitude is unavailing.
How reasonable, then, is the duty to which we are exhorted in those emphatic words, "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice!" If we have needs which he cannot supply, guilt which he cannot cancel, wounds which he cannot heal, fears which he cannot remove, desires which he cannot gratify, enemies which he cannot subdue — we may then yield to hopeless despondency, for our case would be without remedy. But if His ability is infinite, and His compassion is equal to His ability, our sorrow would be turned into joy, and instead of the spirit of heaviness, we would be glad, and that continually, in the garments of praise.
The Omnipotent Voice!
"And when he had thus spoken, he cried with a loud voice: Lazarus, come forth!" John 11:43
"I have laid help upon one that is mighty," was the language of the Eternal Father concerning the blessed Redeemer; and in the records of his wondrous life, we are furnished with the most conclusive proof that such was His character. His power was displayed not merely over the raging elements, and the most inveterate diseases — but over death itself. That formidable enemy was forced to acknowledge the supremacy, and obey the orders of the Son of man.
The most signal triumph which our Lord achieved over the great destroyer, is set forth in the beautiful narrative of which the above words form a part. He had on previous occasions restored the dead to life; but in this case there were circumstances which proclaimed him to be "one that is mighty," in the most emphatic and impressive manner. The ruler's daughter had only recently expired; death had but just made her his prisoner, when He who is the resurrection and the life said, "Little girl, arise;" and her spirit returned, and immediately she arose.
The widow's son, again, was on his way to the grave; the ruthless spoiler was met at the gate of the city; our Lord, however, at once arrested his march, and robbed him of his prey.
But Lazarus had been dead four days! The voracious monster had thus full possession of his victim; the process of decomposition had doubtless commenced; and the sepulcher was firmly secured. Notwithstanding all this, the king of saints overcame the king of terrors; he broke open the enclosure of the grave; and, with a voice which compelled submission, he demanded that his friend should arise.
Around the rocky cave a large multitude was assembled, and what must their feelings have been when the words were uttered, "Lazarus, come forth!" How profound their awe, how intense and thrilling their expectations! But while there was breathless stillness without — a strange commotion is soon heard within. The silence of the tomb is broken; the cold clay begins to move; and he who was dead appeared, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, when Jesus said, "Loose him, and let him go." No wonder that many believed on him there, being overwhelmed with the conviction which the centurion subsequently expressed, "Truly this is the Son of God!"
The contemplation of this amazing scene is peculiarly adapted to impress our minds with the greatness and dignity of the Lord Jesus. To Him who is able to raise the dead — nothing can be impossible. To retain the spirit is altogether beyond human skill; but to restore it after it has taken its mysterious flight, is the exclusive prerogative of Him who has the keys of the invisible world, and is Lord both of the dead and living.
But there is another and still higher life which this glorious Being bestows. He can quicken those who are dead in trespasses and sins, by making them the subjects of a spiritual resurrection, and inspiring them with a hope full of immortality. "He who hears my word," he says, "and believes on him that sent me — has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." And again, "The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live." O Lord! according to this your own promise, send out your voice, and that a mighty voice, that there may be a shaking among the dry bones in the valley of vision. "Come from the four winds, O breath! and breathe upon the slain — that they may live."
But when Christ gives life, he also gives liberty. With the call, "Lazarus, come forth," was connected the command, "Loose him, and let him go." All who are quickened by his grace — are liberated by his Spirit. They are made free from the law of sin and death, and that by the Spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus. Happy those who, though once dead, are now alive; though once the captives of Satan, are now the Lord's free men!
The Weeping Savior
"Jesus wept." John 9:35
In the account given of the wonderful miracle which formed the subject of the previous entry, we have brought before us the two natures which are mysteriously united in the person of Christ. While listening to that majestic utterance, "Lazarus, come forth!" we cannot refrain from saying, "It is the voice of a God, and not of a man;" and yet when we behold his flowing tears, and witness the tender sympathy he manifested, we have as unmistakable indications of real humanity as of absolute and essential divinity.
There is no doubt but that our Lord often wept — for he was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. There are, however, only three seasons expressly referred to, when the tears trickled down his blessed face.
One was during his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. The people united to honor him as their king; they strewed their garments on the ground before him; and, while waving their palm branches, they cried, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." But all this yielded no gratification to him whom they sought to honor. While they were almost frantic with joy — his spirit was oppressed within him; while they were shouting so heartily — he was bitterly weeping. "And when he came near, he beheld the city, and wept over it!"
Another occasion was when he agonized in the garden of Gethsemane. Not merely did the sweat fall from his body — but tears fell from his eyes. "During His earthly life, He offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the One who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence."
The other instance is the one before us, which in point of time preceded the two former. Let us turn aside, and see this affecting sight! The whole company, it seems, was deeply moved; for we are told that Martha and Mary wept. The Jews also, who came to comfort the two sorrowing sisters, wept; and with peculiar emphasis, in a verse by itself, the shortest in the whole Bible — but not less precious on that account, it is said that "Jesus wept!" Behold the interesting group, the Savior standing in the midst as the most commanding object — all bathed in tears! It was not long, however, before the weeping ceased; or, if it continued, it would be for joy — a joy proportioned to the depth of the previous sorrow!
How pleasing is the thought that we have in Jesus not merely a Being of boundless power and supreme authority — but a living, tender, sympathizing Friend! He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities on the one hand, and of our sorrows on the other — having been in all respects tried and afflicted, even as we are, yet without sin. Should we not, then, be encouraged to look to Him, especially in seasons of distress; and, if we do so, he will be to us, what he has ever been to his people — a very present help in time of need.
"Touched with a sympathy within,
He knows our feeble frame;
He knows what sore temptations mean,
For he has felt the same.
He in the days of feeble flesh
Poured out his cries and tears,
And in his measure feels afresh
What every member bears.
Then, let our humble faith address
His mercy and his power;
We shall obtain delivering grace
In the distressing hour."
The Light of the World
"I am the light of the world! He who follows me shall not walk in darkness — but shall have the light of life." John 8:12
The Lord Jesus was emphatically his own subject — it was of himself that he was speaking continually. Whenever he alluded to the rites of the Jewish economy — it was to show that they typified him, and prefigured his wondrous advent and sacrificial work. When he adverted to the ancient saints, it was in order to proclaim his own superiority above them all. There was Jonah, of whom the people entertained no low opinion as a prophet of the Most High God; but, without any hesitation, the Savior called himself greater than he. Likewise Solomon, who was regarded as the very personification of wisdom, and whose name was hallowed with a reverence which fell but little short of idolatry; but his own preeminence over him — Jesus asserted in the most emphatic manner, saying, "Behold, a greater than Solomon is here!" When he referred to the most glorious objects in nature — it was only in relation to, and as symbols of himself.
Hence the striking language before us, "I am the light of the world" — language which it would have been the highest arrogance for any but a divine person to employ. There are several points of view in which the Redeemer may be regarded as the light of the world.
He is so, in the first place, inasmuch as he is the source of all true happiness. While darkness is an emblem of gloom and sorrow — so is light of joy and pleasure. "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart." Here light and gladness evidently signify the same thing.
That the believer derives all his consolation from Christ, is abundantly evident. In the case of Job, although he lived so many ages before Christ's advent, we have a memorable proof of this. His earthly prospects were blasted; his health, his children, his property, were gone; but in the midst of his multiplied distresses he was not left comfortless. And whence did his joy arise? He tells us in those memorable words, "But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed — yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought!" Job 19:25-27
As the source of all true holiness, as well as happiness — is Jesus the light of the world. Darkness is a well-known emblem of sin, as when the apostle speaks of "the unfruitful works of darkness," with which the followers of the Lamb are to have no fellowship. So, on the other hand, light is emblematic of purity both of heart and life. "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." As regards his adorable nature, his boundless perfections, and the whole of his doings, whether in judgment or mercy — he is essentially and unchangeably holy.
But what follows? "If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."
Without his atoning blood — there would be no holiness in this sinful world! Were it not for the fountain which was opened by him for sin and uncleanness — spiritually defiled would be every individual of our fallen race! "He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."
Light is also an emblem of knowledge; and in this respect our Lord fulfills the title we are considering. He is at once the source and medium of all illumination, scattering the mists of ignorance, and shining into the deepest recesses of the heart. Those who are unenlightened by him — sit in darkness and the shadow of death, ignorant of the things which most vitally concern them. While to such as receive his words, submit to his authority, and tread in his footsteps — the promise is that they "shall have the light of life."
Blessed light! cheering, purifying, illuminating — may I be visited, day after day, with your bright and gracious beams. I shall then be happy even in this valley of tears! Though surrounded by various contaminating influences, I shall be kept unspotted from the world! And whatever I may continue ignorant of, I shall be made wise unto salvation.
King of Kings!
"My heart is moved by a noble theme as I recite my verses to the King; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer!" Psalm 45:1
By none of the Old Testament writers, was the kingly character of the Redeemer more clearly described, or more devoutly celebrated — than by the sweet singer of Israel. In the Psalms we have both his prophetic and priestly functions frequently portrayed; but to his regal office — special prominence is given. It is true that in several cases the immediate reference may be to Solomon, and the glories of his reign; but it is impossible to read many of the glowing representations with which this book abounds, without exclaiming, "Behold, a greater than Solomon is here!"
The life of Christ during his earthly sojourn, notwithstanding the extreme humiliation to which he submitted, and which in a measure disguised his greatness and glory — was after all, if not in form, yet in reality — a truly royal life. We find him constantly speaking and acting, not as a subject — but as a sovereign — a sovereign whose authority was supreme, and whose rights none dared with impunity to dispute. When he called men to attend him as his servants — it mattered not how they might have been engaged — his language was, "Leave all — and follow me!" Whatever he wanted — he demanded, giving no other reason than that the Lord had need of it. If he washed the feet of his disciples, kneeling before them as a slave while performing that menial task; yet at such a moment, while his attitude was so lowly, we hear him saying, "You call me master and Lord, and you say well — for so I am."
Yes, when crucified as a malefactor — how, in that deepest stage of his debasement, was he employed? It was in disposing of seats in his kingdom! And, after he rose from the dead, we behold him in right royal style, commissioning his ambassadors, and sending them forth over the wide world, charging them not to rest until all nations were brought to submit to his scepter! In his name they were to bid every knee to bow to him, and every tongue to confess that he was Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
But it is not merely of the things touching him as king that David speaks — but of those which concern him as a conqueror. "Gird your sword upon your side, O mighty one; clothe yourself with splendor and majesty. In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness; let your right hand display awesome deeds. Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king's enemies; let the nations fall beneath your feet! Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom!" Psalm 45:3-6
Similar is the view presented by the prophet Isaiah, when he inquires, "Who is this who comes from Bozrah, with his clothing stained red? Who is this in royal robes, marching in his great strength? It is I, the Lord, who speak in righteousness, mighty to save."
And so with the representation given by the exiled apostle in the isle of Patmos: "I saw," he says, "Heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns; and he had on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords." On each of these occasions he appeared as a triumphant warrior marching in all the stateliness and pomp of conquest, and returning with the many trophies which he had righteously won.
O glorious King! put forth your great power, and reign sole monarch over all kindreds and tribes! O mighty Victor! advance in your bloodless and beneficent career, from conquering — still to conquer, until the predicted voices will be heard shouting from the skies, that the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and that he shall reign forever and ever!
But while your wide and lasting dominions, according to the sure word of inspiration, are to increase and multiply — let your reign be established in this sinful heart of mine, and all my powers be brought in unreserved subjection to your lawful and loving sway!
"Great King of grace! my soul subdue,
I would be led in triumph too,
A willing captive to my Lord,
And sing the victories of his word."
The Fiery Trial
"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness — to be tempted of the devil." Matthew 4:1
The covenant engagements into which Christ entered, when He undertook the work of redemption — embraced various particulars, upon the fulfillment of which, the whole undertaking depended. One of the chief was that He should assume our nature — become bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh; and after being found in fashion as a man, it was necessary for Him to endure the most extreme sufferings, as well as render stainless obedience to the requirements of that holy law which we had violated and dishonored.
In the accomplishment of this great work, our blessed Lord had much to contend with. He had to encounter the constant opposition of men; but he had other and far more formidable adversaries, who were bent upon frustrating the gracious purpose which He came from Heaven to fulfill. No sooner had He entered upon His public ministry, than He was attacked by the prince of darkness; and as such mighty issues were at stake, it cannot be uninteresting for us to contemplate the circumstances connected with that memorable struggle.
There is something particularly instructive in what is stated concerning the period when the great foe assaulted the Son of man. "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness — to be tempted of the devil." He had just been formally set apart for His glorious undertaking, on which occasion the most decisive tokens of the approbation of His heavenly Father were given Him. The heavens were opened; the Divine Spirit, descending like a dove, rested upon Him; and a voice from the excellent glory proclaimed, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!" Thus His baptism — was immediately followed by His temptation; that scene of honor — was followed by one of fiery trial and deep abasement.
We are here taught the important truth, that when any special favor has been conferred upon us from above — we should be prepared to expect more determined opposition from Satan than ordinary. It was so with the great Head, and such has been the case with the people of God in all ages.
There was Noah, a man of vigorous faith, a preacher of righteousness, whose light shone so brightly in the midst of a profane and scoffing generation. When was he tempted to the commission of that sin of drunkenness, which has been in every age the prolific source of innumerable evils? It was immediately after the signal proof he had received of the Lord's loving-kindness and tender mercy — a proof unexampled in all the annals of time; for while the devastating flood was brought upon the world of the ungodly, he and his household were preserved from so fearful a doom.
There was Lot, in like manner. When was he tempted to the combined crimes of drunkenness and incest? It was immediately after his escape from the shower of fire and brimstone which fell upon guilty Sodom.
When was David led to the commission of murder and adultery? It was just after his enemies were conquered on every side, and when peace was established throughout his dominions.
When was Hezekiah tempted to indulge in pride, and vain confidence, and presumptuous boasting? It was instantly after the miraculous deliverance he had received, by being restored from the borders of the grave, and whereby his days were lengthened for the period of fifteen years.
So with the apostle Paul. The messenger of Satan was sent to buffet him — but when? It was after he had been highly distinguished with visions and revelations from the Lord. These instances, and many others of a similar nature, justify us in adopting the language of John Newton, who observes, "There are critical times of danger to the people of God, and they are generally after any special service has been rendered, or any peculiar honor has been received. Satan is like a common pickpocket, who does not attack a man when going to the bank to receive money — but he watches for him when returning home with his pockets full!"
Of the devices of this artful foe, the Redeemer was well aware. Let us not be ignorant of his wiles — but seek to be ever on our guard, lest he should gain advantage over us. Many mighty ones has he overcome, turning their strength into weakness, and their beauty into deformity! And, if we are left to ourselves — we shall surely fall. Blessed Jesus! uphold us by Your own almighty power, and grant that in the evil day of trial and temptation, we may come off victorious.
The Tempter Foiled!
"The tempter came to him and said: If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread!
Jesus answered: It is written — Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God!" Matthew 4:3-4
While in the wilderness, the Savior fasted for the long space of forty days and forty nights. Such a period — almost six weeks — would have appeared to us an age of agony; and, unless divinely sustained, we could not possibly have endured such protracted abstinence. This is one of the many instances in which the example of our Lord soars far above all human imitation. For us to attempt such a thing — would be nothing less than a kind of sacred suicide; although superstition has before now urged its deluded votaries to do so, by seeking to induce them to resemble Him who is separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.
The first temptation with which Satan assailed the Redeemer was peculiarly suitable to the circumstances in which He was now placed. After His long fasting, He was oppressed with hunger — and the tempter suggested that He should convert some of the stones which were scattered about in that rocky and desolate region, into bread — for the purpose of accomplishing thereby two important objects; namely, the supply of His own pressing needs, and to afford a proof of His miraculous power as the Son of God.
The cunning craftiness of the great foe is to be seen in the construction of this temptation. It was so arranged that he seems to have imagined that he was sure of his victim either way, whether the request was complied with or refused. If the miracle be not wrought — how can He support His pretensions as the promised Messiah? While, on the other hand, if it is performed, and that at the suggestion of Satan — would He not betray His ignorance of the person who accosted Him, and the design he entertained? But, notwithstanding his artfulness, he was grievously mistaken; the wisdom of the serpent was turned into folly, and his counsel, like that of Ahitophel, was completely confounded!
The Savior's reply was exceedingly simple and appropriate. "It is written — Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God!"
The whole passage from which these words were taken, reads thus: "He humbled you, causing you to hunger — and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known — to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." Moses was appealing to the Israelites as witnesses of the power and faithfulness of God, who had supplied them with manna for forty years; and his object was to show that men are not dependent for their subsistence upon ordinary food exclusively — but upon whatever the Almighty may appoint.
When Christ, therefore, was requested to turn stones into bread, He implies, by adducing the above instance, that there was no occasion to have recourse to such an extraordinary expedient — inasmuch as God had other means for the support of His children. The chosen tribes were nourished by angel's food while wandering in a desolate land; and such was our Lord's assurance of the unlimited resources, and such was His confidence in the watchful care of His heavenly Father — that He would support Him, were it necessary, in a similar way. Thus it is "not by bread alone" that men live — but "by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God;" that is, through any other medium, or by means of any other substance — which He shall please to appoint, and to which He shall graciously add His blessing. In this temptation, the special object of Satan was to produce in the Savior's mind a spirit of distrust, and to lead Him to employ unauthorized means for His relief.
Perhaps you, reader, have been assailed by him in like manner, as has been the case with many, especially such as have been in straitened circumstances. But what precious promises are contained in God's word, which are intended to strengthen your heart, and by the belief of which you will be enabled to resist all the incitements of the evil one? Is it not written, "Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing!" Is it not written, "Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper!"
Whenever, therefore, the enemy attempts to assault your faith, let your language be, "Trust God, I ought — trust God, I will! Though He slays me — yet will I trust in Him!"
The Path of Duty
"Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 'If you are the Son of God,' he said, 'throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'
Jesus answered him, 'It is also written: You must not tempt the Lord your God!'" Matthew 4:5-7
When one method of temptation fails — then Satan tries another. He has many different arrows in his quiver — as the tempted saints of God know full well! And, in his attacks upon the Son of God, he showed that he was not lacking in varied expedients, if by any means he might gain advantage over him. Having been unsuccessful in attempting to generate a spirit of distrust — he was planning what could be done in connection with the opposite feeling of presumption.
The scene of this temptation was one of the pinnacles of the temple, probably that of Solomon's porch, which overlooked an immense precipice between six and seven hundred feet in depth. Speaking of this prodigious elevation, the Jewish historian says that no one could look down from it without becoming giddy. After having conducted the Savior to this solemn eminence, Satan made the impious proposal that, in order to prove his sonship, he should throw himself from the top to the bottom. "If you are the Son of God — throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone!"
Inasmuch as our Lord resisted the former proposal by quoting from the sacred writings, the cunning adversary seems to have thought that he could not do better than follow his example. But if we compare the original Old Testament passage — we find a material difference, in consequence of an important omission, one sentence being altogether left out. As recorded in the 91st Psalm, the words are, "If you make the Most High your dwelling — even the Lord, who is my refuge — then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to protect you in all your ways!"
God has promised to protect his people — but only while they are walking in his ways. The path of duty — is the path of safety. So, if we rush heedlessly into temptation — we cannot expect to be kept from evil. The inspired text can be thus twisted, and dragged in for a purpose altogether opposed to its express design — a practice in which the emissaries of the wicked one have largely indulged — wresting the scriptures unto their own destruction, as well as to the ruin of others.
But we may ask, Why did not Satan proceed with the quotation? For the next verse is, "You will trample upon lions and cobras; you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!" Ah! he well knew that this would have touched himself, and so he wisely left it alone. It was a promise, however which was strikingly verified on this occasion; for did not Jesus tread triumphantly upon the old lion, and trample the great serpent under his feet!
As on the former occasion, the Savior's reply was pointed and appropriate, and was taken from the divine oracles. "It is also written: You must not tempt the Lord your God." He takes no notice of Satan's garbled quotation — but meets it at once by one that was accurate and honest; teaching us that however our enemies may misquote and misapply the word of God, this is no reason why we should give up appealing to it as our great standard on all occasions.
The confidence of Christ in his Father's protecting care was such, that he felt there was no necessity to put it to such a trial as this temptation implied. Be it yours, O my soul! to aspire after a similar spirit. While others tempt God, let it be your firm resolve to trust him — and then mercy shall compass you about. The promise is, "He shall call upon me, and I will answer him! I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him."
In every evil day, and under all distressing circumstances, would I call upon your blessed name, O Lord. And since you have never said to the seed of Jacob, Seek me in vain — I have abundant grounds for cherishing the sweet and supporting assurance, that you will be to me what you have been to all your people throughout successive generations — even their refuge and strength, and a very present help in every time of need!
The Impious Proposal!
"Jesus said to him: Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only!' Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended Him!" Matthew 4:10, 11
In his dealings with the Redeemer, the arch-enemy manifested an untiring energy and perseverance. The contrast between his unflagging zeal — and our languor and faint-heartedness — is truly humiliating! A little discourages us — we soon become weary in well-doing. But how indefatigable is our fiendish foe — how fully bent upon the accomplishment of his diabolical designs! His first and second attacks upon the Savior were altogether fruitless; but this did not prevent him from making another trial. It is probable that he reserved what appeared to be the most likely bait until last — with what success we shall soon see.
"Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 'All these things I will give you,' he said, 'if you will bow down and worship me.'" By all the kingdoms here referred to, some understand merely the various provinces of Palestine, it being evident that there was no mountain from which such an unlimited view could be obtained, as the passage in its unqualified signification implies. But it is most probable that nothing more than a visionary representation is intended; for Luke says, "And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, showed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time." Now, as this could not have been done literally, it is most reasonable to conclude that the whole was a mere pictorial exhibition.
Be that, however, as it may — what daring effrontery, what blasphemous insolence, did the words contain, "All these thing I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me!" The foul temptation was for the ever blessed Son of God — to bow in prostrate adoration before the great enemy of God and man! No wonder that the impious proposal should be met by our Lord with burning indignation.
The meekness of the Lamb of God, had hitherto permitted the old dragon to proceed with his suggestions; and, although they were firmly resisted, it was with that holy calmness which he usually displayed. But on this occasion, his tone was altered, his countenance was changed, and the withering rebuke was uttered, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only!"
It is not improbable that the form in which the adversary appeared was that of an angel of light, since it is evident that he can transform himself in such a manner. But if he assumed his fairest form to do his foulest deed — the Savior plucked the mask from his face, and left him to stand in his own native deformity — as a hideous and convicted fiend!
The struggle is now over. The Son of God has gained the victory. The seed of the woman, if he has not yet thoroughly bruised, has inflicted a heavy blow upon, the head of the serpent. Never, probably, did he feel so sorely disappointed; never, we may suppose, was his confidence in his own power and skill so completely shaken; and never had he greater reason for suspecting that his enterprise was altogether hopeless, and that his present discomfiture was a pledge of still more serious and decisive defeats.
But let us rejoice, and that with exceeding joy, in our glorious Conqueror. He came to destroy the great destroyer; to defeat him who, by his artful machinations, had overcome so many. He is now a vanquished foe! And, through the might of our triumphant Lord, we, although feebler in ourselves than the bruised reed, shall be enabled successfully to resist the wiles, and quench all the fiery darts, of the wicked one!
The Sword of the Spirit
"And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Ephesians 6:17
The language of David concerning the sword of Goliath was, "There is none like it!" — and he desired it to be brought unto him. He had on a memorable occasion tested the quality of that famous weapon — and he felt sure of its being yet capable of doing good service, if wielded by an experienced and vigorous hand.
The emphatic words which he employed, can be applied with the strictest truth to the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. There is, truly, none like that; and, since it transcendently surpasses all other instruments, it should be employed with full confidence, and grasped with unfaltering energy, by those who are desirous of warring a good warfare.
As we have seen, this was the sword with which the great Captain of our salvation fought in the wilderness; and if we would be faithful and successful soldiers of Jesus Christ, and appear at length among the hosts above, who are clothed in white robes, and with palms of victory in their hands — let us see to it that we are skillful in using the word of righteousness, that word "which is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."
"By the word of your lips," says David, "I have kept from the paths of the destroyer." "I have written unto you, young men," says John, "because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one." They obtained a glorious conquest, having escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. But how were they made thus strong, and rendered thus successful? It was in consequence of the word of God abiding in them. And of those who are now perfect before the eternal throne, free from all sin and sorrow — it is recorded that they vanquished the great accuser by "the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of his testimony."
"He who would triumph," as one observes, "in the spiritual conflict, must arm himself from this armory, and take the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit. The smooth stones by which even a stripling may pierce the forehead of the giant enemy of God's people, must be collected from this brook. 'It is written!' This is enough to overcome all our foes."
Reader! whenever the enemy of souls endeavors to ensnare you, seek to be prepared, after the example of the blessed Jesus, thus to defend yourself.
Does the father of lies tempt you to follow this present evil world, and to give your heart to its pomps and vanities? Say, it is written, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world; if any man loves the world — the love of the Father is not in him."
Does he tempt you to believe that a little attention to the outward observances of religion is all that is required? Say, it is written, "Except a man is born again — he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
Does he endeavor to persuade you that the service of God is a hard service, that it requires sacrifices incompatible with happiness, and that godliness is identical with gloominess? Say, it is written, "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."
In a word, whatever the temptation, be fortified against it, by recalling some one or more of the sayings which are written; and thus confront the father of lies with those testimonies which are true and faithful altogether.
Blessed Lord! let your word dwell in me richly in all wisdom. Help me to hide it in my heart, that I might not sin against you! Steadfast in the faith, may I successfully resist the roaring lion, who goes about seeking whom he may devour; and thus, when my work and warfare shall cease, may I finish my course with joy, and exult in the anticipation of that glorious recompense which is promised to him that overcomes!
The Carpenter's Son!
"Is not this the carpenter's son?" Matthew 13:55
The Messiah which the carnal Jews expected, was one arrayed in earthly grandeur; and they fondly imagined that all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, would be laid at his feet. Such an anticipation was in substance, the creed of the nation; far, from being confined to a few visionary enthusiasts, it was portrayed in vivid imagery on almost every mind. Not to believe in its approach was infidelity; and not to pray for it was, to a proverb, not to pray at all.
In the fullness of time the long-expected king appeared; but great was their disappointment when they found that he was not such a one as they anticipated — but altogether the reverse. "Is not this the carpenter's son, and are not his mother and brethren with us?" Can one so obscure be our anointed prince, and the deliverer of our nation? Where is his palace? He has nowhere to lay his head. Where is his retinue? He is only followed by a few fishermen, who have left their boats and nets in Galilee. Sooner than submit to him — we will remain in perpetual bondage to the Romans. Away with him — for never shall he reign over us! Thus, when he came unto his own, his own received him not; and the chief cause of this was, the lowliness of his circumstances, and the unworldliness of his claims.
He was a king, however, notwithstanding his rejection by the Jews, and he came to establish a glorious kingdom. But it was a kingdom not of this world. Hence, it was not the rank of the mighty that he assumed; it was not with such that he mixed, nor was it upon them that he mainly conferred his favors. It was of the poor, despised alike by Pharisees and philosophers, that his kingdom was first composed, and so it has been in a great measure ever since. "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him." 1 Corinthians 1:26-29
Our reformers, our missionaries, our ministers, our Sunday-school teachers — have not the great majority of them been poor? Such were Carey, the translator of the sacred oracles for the millions of India; and Bunyan, the author of that matchless allegory, which has been the charm alike of youth and of age. Let there be no blush on the cheek of pride at the thought, that one was a tinker, and the other a cobbler. In all ages, God has chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to them that love him.
Gracious God! make me a true follower of the meek and lowly Jesus. May I prefer to suffer affliction with your people, however obscure and unknown — rather than possess the richest treasures of this passing world! Make me poor in spirit, whatever my earthly lot may be; then shall I inherit the promised blessing, and be an object of your special regard.
The Turning Point
"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." John 1:12
Believing in Jesus and receiving him, are here set forth as identical acts; and the one expression will be found to throw considerable light upon the other. True faith, while it includes a belief of the testimony of God as contained in his word, is evidently something more than that; it leads the soul to embrace Christ as he is freely offered in the gospel, and to lay hold upon him in all his characters and offices.
Is he a prophet? We are to sit at his feet, and listen, like Mary, to the gracious words which proceed from his lips.
Is he a priest? We are to rely entirely upon the great sacrifice he once offered on the cross; we are to plead the merits of his atoning blood, and earnestly crave an interest in the intercession which he still carries on in Heaven.
Is he a king? We are to give him the throne of our hearts, submit to his authority, rejoice in the security of his government, and ascribe all might and majesty to his adorable name.
Is he a physician? We are to supplicate his aid, place ourselves implicitly in his hands, and comply with the directions he prescribes.
Is he a shepherd? We are to hear his voice, follow him wherever he goes, lodge ourselves in his fold, and look to him alone for protection.
Is he a captain? We are to enter his ranks, unfurl his blood-stained banners, and anticipate through him a final victory over all our foes.
In a word, whatever is the view in which he is set forth in the scriptures, faith has to do with him in that special character.
As a free gift — it receives him;
as a faithful friend — it trusts him;
as a sure support — it leans upon him;
as an infallible guide — it follows him;
as a strong refuge — it flies to him;
as the bread of life — it feeds upon him, as the life and nourishment of the soul.
Thus the Lord Jesus, if we are the subjects of saving
faith, will be . . .
all our salvation,
all our desire,
all our hope,
all our trust,
all our expectation!
Feeling that we are nothing in ourselves — we shall seek to be complete in him, who is the head of all principality and power. So it will ever be with those who possess this precious grace, and properly feel its influence.
"To Him it leads the soul,
When filled with deep distress;
Flees to the fountain of his blood,
And trusts his righteousness.
Jesus it owns as king,
And all-atoning priest;
It claims no merit of its own,
But looks for all in Christ."
Reader, what are your views of the Lord Jesus, and what are your feelings and conduct towards him? The evangelist tells us how he was treated by most of those with whom he had to do in the days of his flesh: "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not." They had no eyes to see his beauty; destitute of all spiritual discernment, they did not appreciate his character, nor submit to his claims. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not."
They were offended with his poverty. The truths which he taught were unpalatable to their carnal minds. Instead of flattering their pride, he reproved their sins and exposed their hypocrisy. And the result was that they would not have him to reign over them. Thus it was with the bulk of that generation; and the consequences which attended their rejection of him were fearful in the extreme. Happily, however, this was not the case with all. "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." Highly favored are you, O my soul! if you are of their number.
Waiting to Be Gracious
"God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." 2 Corinthians 5:19
It is of the greatest importance that we possess proper conceptions of the great Jehovah. As the sun can only be seen by its own light, so it is from God's word alone that we can derive right views of his blessed character. By many he is represented as stern, vindictive, implacable — a Being to be shunned and dreaded, rather than loved and adored. When speaking of death we frequently use the designation, "king of terrors;" but if He with whom we have to do, is really invested with the malignant passions which a certain class ascribe to him, we feel no hesitation in saying that he has a better claim to that title than the object to which it is usually applied.
But where is such a deity to be found? The Bible says, "It is not in me." In no dark or repulsive colors is the Divine Being painted there. On the contrary, we find him yearning with the tenderest compassion over our rebellious race, and making overtures of peace to those who have forfeited every claim to his favor.
God's ways, however, are not as our ways. Sitting aloft upon his imperial throne, he may well have said, 'Let these sinners come to me; the offence was theirs, and the humiliation must be all their own.' But no; he takes the humiliation to himself, and might be supposed to be the injurer, not the injured. Veiling his majesty, and leaving Heaven to seek our door — he stands there, knocks there, waits there; nay, with infinite condescension he goes down, as it were, on his knees, beseeching us, as if it were a favor done to himself, to be reconciled.
Reader, are you reconciled to him? Or, if it is more than you can say, that you have been actually restored to his favor — are you anxious to be brought into that happy state? Of one thing you may be fully assured, that there is no reluctance on God's part to receive returning sinners; whoever has pleasure in their destruction — he has none; He is not willing that any should perish — but that all should come to repentance. What reception did the poor prodigal meet with from his father? No reproaches were cast upon him for his ungrateful desertion and profligate course — but he was embraced with unbounded joy. His humble confession was interrupted by the command, that his tattered rags should be exchanged for the costliest robe; and that, to appease his hunger, a feast of fat things be instantly provided. Beholding thus, as in a looking-glass, the boundless love of Him, who is the Father of mercies and the God of all grace — let us be encouraged to fall at his feet; and then, although we have wandered like the prodigal on the one hand, we shall be welcomed like him on the other.
The Hope of Salvation
"For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?" Romans 8:24
By this expression, we are not to understand that all will be saved who merely hope to go to Heaven. For all, doubtless, hope to be saved in some way or other, and at some time or other. But such is not the truth which we are here taught, nor does it receive the least support from any part of God's word. Far from countenancing such an opinion, the inspired writers remind us again and again, that many whose hopes of Heaven were firm and ardent, are likely, after all, to come short of the promised rest. It is a solemn consideration, that to thousands of persons, who never perhaps doubted for a single moment the safety of their spiritual state — will the Savior have to say from his judgment throne, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of iniquity!"
What, then, is the meaning of the passage? There are two ways in which it may be explained. In the first place, to be saved by hope is for the believer to be kept from sinking, under his various distresses, by means of this important principle. The apostle had just been referring to the sufferings of the saints; not merely was the whole creation traveling in pain — but those who possessed the first-fruits of the Spirit were groaning for deliverance from the bondage of that corruption in which they were still held. But, notwithstanding this, he would not have them to be cast down; and hence they are reminded of the blissful prospects which awaited them, and called upon to rejoice in hope of the glory of God, in the midst of their manifold tribulations.
Or, to be saved by hope, may signify that it is only in this sense that we are saved at present. We have not received the end of our faith, even the full and final salvation of our souls. But we have that in hope; we are looking for it; and before long we expect to possess it. What is said of the first Christian converts seems to confirm this view: "And the Lord added daily to the church such as should he saved." They were then turned from the error of their ways; their sins were pardoned, and consequently their souls were saved. But their complete salvation was yet future, and would not be attained until the second appearing of Jesus Christ.
In whatever light we regard the words, one thing is evident — that the special design of the gospel is to inspire sinful man with hope. All its arrangements and provisions have immediate reference to this great and glorious object. For this, the council of peace was entered into in the solitudes of eternity; for this, promises and prophecies were given in the early ages of time; for this, types were ordained and sacrifices instituted; yes, for this the Son of God became incarnate, and closed a life of poverty, reproach, and suffering upon the ignominious cross! Had he not left his heavenly throne, borne the contradiction of sinners, and offered himself to God as our substitute — earth would have been as hopeless a region as that which was prepared for the devil and his angels.
Reader! are you for having, not the hope of the hypocrite and self-deceiver — but a good hope through grace? Then look to Jesus; plead his merits; and place all your confidence in his finished work. He is the foundation which God has laid in Zion, and those who build their hopes upon him as the Rock of Ages, will not be ashamed nor confounded, world without end.
Balm in Gilead
"Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there?" Jeremiah 8:22
Our state as sinners is set forth in various ways by the inspired writers. Sometimes we are represented as captives, being in a worse than Egyptian bondage writers. Sometimes as condemned criminals, having exposed ourselves by the multiplied transgressions we have committed, to the penalties of a righteous law. And we are frequently described as diseased — the subjects of a fearful malady, compared with which all other ailments are trifling in the extreme. Such a view of our spiritual condition, though merely figurative, is yet most appropriate and instructive.
Many qualities belong to sin, while regarded in this light, which demand our serious consideration. Sin is a hereditary disease, not being induced by any outward or accidental circumstances — but entailed upon us as an attribute of our fallen nature. "Behold, I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." Sin is a deceitful disease, often assuming false forms, and flattering its wretched victims with treacherous hopes and expectations. Sin is an inveterate disease, affecting not simply the more remote and less vital parts of our system — but corrupting and preying upon our inmost soul. And it is, above all, a mortal disease, which is sure to terminate, if not removed, in the terrors of eternal damnation.
We may take the case of an individual who has been long afflicted with some grievous bodily complaint. Various means have been tried by the sufferer — but in vain; instead of improving, he continues to get worse and worse. But one day, news is received of a certain physician who has effected the most astonishing cures in innumerable instances of a similar character; one, in short, who never failed in a single instance — but who healed all who applied to him, and did according to his directions. This would be indeed "glad tidings of great joy," and, if believed, a strong desire would be instantly felt to send for him, and the now hopeful patient would be willing to place himself unreservedly in his hands.
Now, such is the glad news which the gospel proclaims to our plague-stricken race. It announces that there is balm in Gilead, and that there is a Physician there; a Physician who can heal all manner of sickness and diseases among the people. And what effect should the news produce? It ought surely to lead those who bear it to make instant application to this wonderful Being, even Jesus, whose boundless power can eradicate the most incorrigible disorder, and whose precious blood cleanses from all sin.
Reader! Are you conscious of your spiritual malady, and longing with ardent desire to be made whole? Repair to His footstool, and there cry, "Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed! Save me, and I shall be saved!" Labor not in the fruitless attempt of seeking for any previous preparation — but go just as you are, with all your broken bones, all your festering bruises, and putrefying sores. "The worse your case is," to quote the language of a living writer, "the higher in one sense may be your assurance of immediate deliverance. Yours is the hope of the maimed and bleeding soldier, whom kind comrades have borne from the deadly trench, and who knows that the worse his wound — the more confidently he can reckon on the surgeon's earliest care."
"Come, you sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of mercy, joined with power —
He is able,
He is willing — doubt no more.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requires,
Is to feel your need of Him;
This He gives you,
'Tis the spirit's rising beam.
Come, you weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry until you're better,
You will never come at all:
Not the righteous,
Sinners, Jesus came to call."
Rejoicing in the Lord
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" Philippians 4:4
It has long been a disputed question, whether happiness or misery predominates in the present world. On the one side it is contended, that when we see men smile we are not in the least surprised — but that tears invariably attract attention as something unusual. On the other hand, it is doubtless true, as the wise man states, that the heart knows its own bitterness; and there may be a large amount of hidden sorrow which altogether escapes public observation. We are also to distinguish between real enjoyment — and that which is fictitious. All is not gold that glitters — and much that is called pleasure is so in name only.
In the absence of true religion, it may he confidently stated, substantial joy is a thing altogether unknown. As the poet observes —
"Joy is a fruit that will not grow
In nature's barren soil;
All we can boast until Christ we know,
Is vanity and toil.
But where the Lord has planted grace,
And made his glories known;
There fruits of heavenly joy and peace
Are found — and there alone."
As the wicked have every reason to mourn — so the Christian has every reason to rejoice. Are his sins forgiven? Does he enjoy His favor, which is life; and His loving-kindness, which is better than life? Does he possess the sweet consciousness that all things shall work together for his good? Has he the assurance, confirmed by the promise, oath, and covenant of the Great Unchangeable, that it shall be well with him, in life, in death, and forever? If so, how reasonable is it for him to rejoice, and that with exceeding joy!
The children of men rejoice in the abundance of their possessions; but what are their treasures when compared with those of the lowest believer? The unsearchable riches of Christ are his portion! In virtue of the union which exists between him and his glorious Head, he is heir of all things. He is entitled to an inheritance ineffably glorious in its nature, unmeasurable in its extent, and endless in its duration.
There are others who aspire after honors and dignities; to obtain a high position among their fellows is the object of their ambition, and the joy of their hearts. But what is all that earth calls great — in comparison with the rank of those who are true followers of the Redeemer, being made by him kings and priests unto God and his Father.
You blessed Jesus! Well may we rejoice in you, if we are only interested in your saving work. You are the boundless source of riches, and honor, and wisdom, and power, and bliss. Without you we are nothing — but having you we have all!
The Heavenly Message
"To you is the word of this salvation sent." Acts 13:26
Some have attempted to assign reasons why fallen men were made the special objects of the Divine favor — rather than the fallen angels. Among others, the following have been suggested with the view of throwing light upon this mysterious subject. It has been contended, in the first place, that man was seduced into a state of rebellion, while Satan sinned of his own will, unprompted by any other party. In the next place, that in the fall of angels the entire body of the heavenly hosts were not involved; but, when man revolted, the whole human race must have perished — had not a remedy been provided. Again, it has been argued that the nature of angels, so much more exalted than ours, rendered their guilt proportionably greater; and that, to rebel in the face of such signal favors, placed them at once and forever beyond the bounds of recovery.
These, and other considerations of a similar character, have been adduced; but it is evidently not for us to pry into the mysteries of the Divine administration, or endeavor to account for those ways which are unsearchable. That the Supreme Being should pass by apostate angels, once the glory of His creative power and skill — and cast the skirts of his pardoning mercy over creatures so insignificant as well as vile; that he should prefer dust and ashes to principalities and powers, and choose vessels of honor from those who were objects of loathing and disgrace: this is an act for which no reason can be given — but the good pleasure of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His own will.
It is thus only with the facts of the case, and not with its causes, that we have to do; for while the latter are past finding out, the leading features of the former are disclosed in a manner the most clear and decided. "We know," to quote the language of an able writer, "that a host of angels, bright and numerous, under a chief of most consummate subtlety and most terrific daring, apostatized from their allegiance, and fell into endless condemnation. They were abandoned to the consequences of that defection in unmitigated wrath. No provision was suggested by which these rebel outcasts might be restored; no movement of recovering mercy has taken place in their favor, from the hour of their being driven out of Heaven until this. There has originated nothing which approaches to a remission of their sentence. Not a fetter has been lightened nor loosed; not a flame has been relaxed nor assuaged. Never has hope descended on the confines of their prison, and it must be an eternal stranger there. They lie under the seal, the brand, the rivet of an inexorable and irreversible doom. No Redeemer, traveling in the greatness of His strength, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save, has espoused their cause, or assumed their nature; no ambassadors of peace have reached them, begging them to be reconciled to God. They are not warned to escape — it were to mock them. Repentance can find no place. Despair sits heavy on every power and feeling. He against whom they have sinned, has forgotten to be gracious, and His mercy is clean gone forever."
But for us a wondrous scheme of salvation has been provided, and to us the word which proclaims that salvation has been sent. He by whom it was wrought out, took not on Him the nature of angels — but the seed of Abraham. He appeared as the Son of man, and He is not ashamed to call us His brethren. In their enraptured strains, the heavenly hosts, while ascribing glory to God in the highest, combined with that ascription, peace on earth, to the exclusion of those dark and desolate provinces in which their fallen comrades are confined.
"Behold, therefore, the goodness and severity of God!" His righteous severity — in leaving one class of offenders to perish; His unspeakable goodness and matchless grace — in sending a Savior for the other class, that they might not perish — but have everlasting life.
We adore You, O Most High God! for having so loved this lower world as to give Your only begotten Son to suffer, bleed, and die, in our stead. We bless and laud You, O Great Redeemer! brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of His person, for having undertaken our cause, and become our ransom.
"Blessings forever on the Lamb,
Who bore the curse for wretched man;
Let angels sound His sacred name,
And every creature say, Amen."
"To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whoever believes in him shall receive remission of sins." Acts 10:43
"The testimony of Jesus," we are told, "is the spirit of prophecy." While the ancient seers, under the guidance of that omniscient Being who sees the end from the beginning, disclosed various wonderful events among the things which should be hereafter, yet the crowning subject of their predictions was the coming of Christ. Other topics occupied merely a subordinate position, and would not have been introduced at all, were they not in some way related to him.
The prophecies which went before concerning the Redeemer, form a conclusive proof of the divinity of his mission, and the consequent authority of his claims. Anything more complete than this department of the Christian evidences, it is hardly possible to conceive. The points of which the Old Testament writers testified are exceedingly numerous, and most of them are remarkably definite and circumstantial.
They gave witness to the place of his birth. "But you Bethlehem Ephratah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall He come forth that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."
The prophecies gave witness to the particular time of his appearance. It was to be before the scepter departed from Judah, or the civil rule should finally cease to be exercised by the Jews. It was to lie during the standing of the second temple, and in seventy prophetic weeks from the issuing of the command concerning the rebuilding of Jerusalem. They gave witness to the spirit which should distinguish him. He was to be humble and unassuming on the one hand, and to be gentle and compassionate on the other. "He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench — he shall bring forth judgment unto truth."
The prophecies gave witness to the reception he would receive. "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief — and we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not."
The prophecies gave witness to his sufferings, and especially to his death. He was not to be stoned, which was the usual Jewish punishment in such cases — but to be hanged on a tree. He was to be pierced — and yet not one of his bones was to be broken. He was to endure the taunts and reproaches of the multitude. He was to have vinegar mingled with gall given him to drink. His garments were to be divided, and lots were to be cast for his coat. He was to be deserted by his disciples, and even forsaken of God. He was to be numbered with transgressors, and to make intercession for the transgressors. As to his burial — he was to make his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death. He was afterwards to rise from the dead, ascend to his native Heaven, and his cause, though violently resisted, was to overcome all opposition, and spread eventually over the whole world.
Now to compare, with an unprejudiced mind, such predictions as these with the actual history of Christ — must surely lead us to say, in the language of Nathaniel, "We have found him, of whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph!" If he is not the promised Messiah, the anointed Savior, the Sent of God — then where shall we find him?
O my soul! with whatever views and feelings this wonderful personage may be regarded by others, do receive him with joy, and make him all your salvation, and all your desire. Whoever believes in Him, shall receive remission of sins; be justified from all things, will never come into condemnation; are now made heirs according to the hope of everlasting life, and before long they will be called to take full possession of the purchased inheritance! Oh, to be of the number of those who believe in him, and that with the heart unto righteousness! May we not be of them who reject the counsel of God, and who thereby bring upon themselves sure destruction — but of them that believe even to the saving of the soul!
The Burial of Christ
"Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and was buried, and rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures." 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4
It was absolutely necessary, that our Savior should not merely die — but also be buried, as appears from several considerations. It was necessary, in the first place, for the fulfillment of prophecy. "And He made his grave with the wicked," says Isaiah, "and with the rich in his death:" or, according to the version of Lowth, "His grave was appointed with the wicked — but with the rich was his tomb." It was the intention of his enemies that he should be interred with the malefactors, as he had been executed with them; but their purpose was defeated by the interposition of Joseph of Arimathea, who went and begged the body, that it might be placed in his own sepulcher, wherein never man was yet laid. He was thus buried according to the Scriptures — those Scriptures which cannot be broken, as this remarkable accomplishment of them clearly shows.
It was also necessary for Jesus to be buried, that there might be no doubt as to the reality of his death. That we should be furnished with the most satisfactory evidence of this great truth, is of the highest importance, as all our hopes depend upon it. It is proved by the fact that the officers did not break his legs, as they did those of the two thieves; by the water and the blood which flowed from his side when pierced with the soldier's spear — but it is especially proved by his burial. Had he been restored to life in a short time after he died, his enemies would be likely to have contended that there had been merely a temporary suspension of animation; but his having lain in the grave for a portion of three days, rendered such a surmise altogether groundless.
Another reason winch rendered it necessary for him to be buried, was in order to complete his humiliation. As there were successive steps in his exaltation, one rising above the other; so in his previous career we find a similar degradation. It was an astonishing stoop for him to assume our nature at all; it was a greater for him to take it in its lowest form; it was still more amazing for him to suffer in our nature; then for him to die, even the ignominious death of the cross! And, as the climax of all, for him to become a tenant of the tomb, and be confined in its gloomy dwellings. Then the words of the 22nd Psalm, the commencement of which he quoted when forsaken by his Father, were literally verified: "My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and you have brought me into the dust of death!" Lower than this he could not go.
But he who died for our sins and was buried — rose again
the third day, according to the Scriptures. The grave was exchanged
for a throne, on which he is now seated as Lord of all. If we go,
therefore, in the exercise of devout meditation, to see the sepulcher, it
must not be to weep there; on the contrary, we have to shout with sacred
He is not here — but he is risen!
Gone beyond the world's control;
Upward from the body's prison,
To the regions of the soul.
Time nor chance can longer bind,
Jesus, monarch of mankind!"
And he will again appear on the clouds of Heaven, with power and great glory, according to the Scriptures. It will be to gather his saints together, and take his ransomed home. But while he will then acknowledge them as his own before assembled worlds, he will recompense tribulation to those who know not God, and who have despised the gracious overtures of the gospel. Reader! are you likely to meet him with joy, and not with grief?
Justification by Faith
"Therefore, being justified by faith — we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 5:1
The doctrine of justification is one of the most vital pertaining to the Christian system; it is in the strictest sense a fundamental article of the faith once delivered to the saints. Far from being a mere speculative point, its influence extends over the entire body of divinity; it runs through the varied branches of spiritual experience, and operates upon every part of practical godliness. Being so inseparably connected with the whole of the essential truths of revelation, their beauty and harmony cannot be perceived while this is misapprehended. Until justification is properly understood and realized, the rest will be enveloped in clouds and darkness. Its importance is such that any mistake as to its nature cannot fail to produce the most serious, if not the most fatal, results. Upon a saving knowledge of it — our everlasting all depends — our present safety, our future expectations; everything relating to our destiny as immortal beings is involved in the inquiry, "How can man be justified with God?"
Human reason was altogether unable to solve this momentous problem: from such a quarter, not a single gleam of light is thrown upon it. To justify the innocent is not impossible, nor is it in general a difficult task; in such a case all that is requisite is to produce satisfactory proof that the alleged charges are unfounded. Again, to pardon the guilty is not impossible; for the prerogative of mercy is possessed by earthly sovereigns, and is frequently exercised by them. But in the gospel we read, not merely of pardoning — but justifying the ungodly; and the question is, how can such characters, whose guilt is undeniable — be treated as righteous by that holy and omniscient Being, whose judgment is always according to truth, and who cannot connive at anything that is evil?
It is in the substitution of the Lord Jesus, that we have this mystery explained. He appeared in the place of the guilty, and endured the penalty to which they were exposed. He died, the just for the unjust, the sinless for the sinful. He who knew no sin, was made a sin-offering for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
After speaking of Abraham as an example of the divine method of justification, the apostle states, "Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." And it is inconsequence of this arrangement — his being delivered not for his own offences — but for ours, that the general inference is drawn: "Therefore, being justified by faith — we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ."
In a subsequent part of the same chapter we are furnished with a striking parallel between our blessed Surety and the common progenitor of our race. "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners — so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." Such is the comparison drawn between the work of the first Adam who ruined us, and that of the second Adam who saves us. We were originally made sinners by a sin which we did not ourselves commit; and, on the same principle, we may now be made righteous by an obedience which we have not personally rendered.
The instrumental means whereby we are made partakers of Christ, and by which the merit of his vicarious undertaking becomes ours — is that of FAITH, or a simple reliance upon his finished work. There, and there only, may my reliance be placed; let me daily and hourly plead what he, my gracious Lord, has done; and renouncing, at once and forever, every self-righteous hope, make him my all in all.
"Jesus, how glorious is your grace,
When in your name we trust;
Our faith receives a righteousness,
That makes the sinner just."
The Friend of the Friendless
"And the poor have the gospel preached unto them." Matthew 11:5
When the official character of Paul was disputed — he made a special appeal to certain converts, saying, "You are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord." In a similar manner we find the great Master, when his claims were either denied or doubted, referring to the seals of his Messiahship, which were of the most conclusive nature.
On this occasion, the proofs adduced were twofold: namely, the miracles he performed, and the peculiarity of his teaching. The blind received their sight, the lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, the dead were raised up; but, it is also added, "and the poor have the gospel preached unto them." Now a deceiver could not have wrought miracles, and he would not have chosen the poor for his associates. To pay special attention to the needy and distressed, from whom no recompense can be expected in return, has certainly never been a prominent characteristic of impostors. But by the class he sought to benefit, as well as the wonderful cures which he wrought — Jesus proved himself to be the promised Messiah.
It is well known that pagan philosophy, in all her diversified and conflicting systems, totally overlooked the poor. She viewed the populace as beneath her notice, and would have regarded her refined speculations as profaned — had they been propounded to the mass of the people. Her genius was too lofty and arrogant to stoop to the people of poverty and obscurity. She had nothing low enough, as she supposed, to meet their vulgar taste. Even the temporal necessities of the lower classes were then almost entirely disregarded.
The Roman empire might have been traversed in her palmiest days, from the Euphrates to the Atlantic — without anything being found in the shape of a hospital or charitable asylum. Monuments of pride, of cruelty, of superstition — were to be met with in abundance; but not one legible record of commiseration for the poor.
Yes, in Judea, during the period of darkness and corruption which immediately preceded the coming of Christ, the state of things was not much better in this respect. "But this people," said the proud Pharisees, evidently referring to the ignorant and more degraded classes among them: "this people, who knows not the law, are cursed!" Such was the contempt with which the poor masses were regarded; they were viewed as objects of the divine displeasure, and were therefore left to live and die uncared for!
But how different were the spirit and conduct of the Lord
Jesus! The poor were the chief objects of his compassionate regard. He
delighted to mingle with them, in order fo console their sorrows, to impart
to them the true riches, to make them wise unto salvation — and thereby
raise them from their debasement, to that moral and spiritual elevation
which befit them as heirs of immortality. He was, emphatically . . .
the helper of the helpless,
the patron of the oppressed,
the friend of publicans and sinners.
Above the door of Plato's school were the words, "Let no one enter here who does not know geometry." But what is the inscription above the portals of the school of Christ?
Whoever is poor,
whoever is friendless,
whoever is ignorant,
whoever is guilty,
whoever is debased,
whoever is wretched —
let him come in hither, and find welcome!
Truly is it said,
"Jesus, your blessings are not few,
Nor is your gospel weak;
Your grace can melt the stubborn Jew,
And bow the aspiring Greek.
Wide as the reach of Satan's rage
Does your salvation flow,
Tis not confined to gender or age,
The lofty or the low.
While grace is offered to the prince,
The poor may take their share;
No mortal has a just pretense
To perish in despair."
Salvation by Grace
"For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God — not of works, lest any man should boast." Ephesians 2:8, 9
It must be acknowledged by all — that salvation is
a blessing of unspeakably importance. It includes . . .
deliverance from condemnation,
freedom from the tyranny of Satan,
the renewal of our corrupt nature,
and the pardon of all our sins.
To be saved is to . . .
be reconciled to our offended Maker,
be made partakers of the divine image,
and adopted into the heavenly family.
It is to have a blessed and certain hope, in
looking forward to the solemn realities of a future state — a hope which . .
all the storms of life,
all the agonies of death,
all the solemn scenes of judgment
— will not be able to destroy!
In a word, to be saved, embraces:
all the ineffable felicities of that region where there is fullness of joy, and pleasures forevermore;
all the treasures of that priceless inheritance — which is reserved in Heaven pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay;
all the honors and glories of that eternal city, whose gates are made of pearls, and whose streets are paved with gold.
But how is this transcendent blessing to be secured? Not by human merit — but by free and sovereign grace alone — if there is any truth clearly revealed in the inspired volume, it is surely this! In almost every page does it appear — line upon line, statement after statement is given, more than sufficient, it might be supposed, to remove all doubt, and silence all caviling.
Let us think of the various streams of those spiritual blessings which are in heavenly places in Christ, and it will be seen how they all proceed from the same source, and are distinguished by the same quality.
There is election — it is an election of grace.
There is the covenant, ordered in all things, and surely, it is a covenant of grace.
There is redemption — it is according to the riches of His grace.
Are we called with an effectual calling? "Who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works — but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began?"
Are we justified? "Being justified freely by His grace."
Are we accepted in the beloved? It is "to the praise of the glory of His grace."
Have we hope in Christ? It is "a good hope through grace."
In a word, it is all of grace — from the commencement of the wondrous plan, framed in the solitudes of eternity before the first seraph was formed — onward to the final consummation, when the headstone will be brought forth with shoutings of "Grace, grace, unto it!"
This blessed doctrine is altogether opposed to a proud and self-confident spirit. The apostle asks, "Where is boasting, then?" And he is at no loss for an answer, his instant response being, "It is excluded!" "By what law?" he further inquires; "of works? Nay; but by the law of faith" which is emphatically the law of grace.
But while this truth is adapted to hide pride from man — it is no less calculated to promote the most fervent gratitude. "Who makes you to differ, and what have you that you did not receive?" Should I not, then, be clothed with the profoundest humility on the one hand — and should I not, on the other hand, always devoutly acknowledge the mighty obligations under which I am laid?
"Oh! to grace how great a debtor,
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let that grace, then, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love:
Here's my heart, oh, take and seal it,
Seal it from your courts above!"
The Needful Knowledge
"Those who are whole need not a physician — but those who are sick." Matthew 9:12
Many reasons may be assigned, why the blessings of salvation are neglected; but ignorance of themselves as lost and ruined sinners is, doubtless, the chief reason. Unless we possess a right knowledge of our state and character before God — we are sure to make light of those gracious provisions which are set before us in the gospel. Thus the statement, "Those who are whole need not a physician — but those who are sick," contains the true solution of all the indifference which is found through the world at large.
Why is the glorious liberty with which the Son of God makes His people free, despised by so many? It is because men are unconscious of their thraldom; they are led captive by the great usurper at his will — and yet they know it not!
Why is the wedding garment — that seamless, spotless robe of Christ's righteousness, despised? It is because they are insensible of their spiritual nakedness, and that they have nothing to hide their foul deformity from the glance of a holy and heart-searching God!
Why are the unsearchable riches of Christ treated as they generally are? It is because men have no adequate conviction of their extreme poverty; they do not realize their bankrupt condition as guilty sinners before God.
Blinded by the combined influence of their own corrupt minds, and that of the prince of the power of the air, who is ever working in the children of disobedience — they say, with the self-ignorant and self-sufficient church of old: that they are rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing! While all that time, they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked!
To show men their true state is the special province of
the divine Spirit. This appears to be the earliest, as it is certainly not
the least important, of His operations. "When the Spirit comes — he will
reprove the world of sin." No sooner does He take the sinner in hand, than
he is led at once to see . . .
that his whole soul is corrupt,
that all his faculties are out of order,
that his will is perverse,
that his judgment depraved,
that his understanding darkened,
and that all his knowledge vain!
He now discovers that every period of his life, with all its changing scenes and circumstances — bears testimony against him. He is weighed in the balances, and is found lacking.
Such an impression of his sinfulness, cannot fail
to produce peculiar emotions within him.
He will be alarmed under a sense of his guilt;
he will be covered with shame and confusion of face, in view of his exceeding vileness;
he will be filled with the most anxious concern about being delivered, and his heart-felt cry will be, with the convicted jailer of old, "What must I do to be saved?"
Reader! Do you feel, like the manslayer under the old dispensation — that you are pursued by the avenger of blood? If so, we point you to the city of refuge — where alone you will be safe. Like the Israelites, who, when bitten by the fiery serpents, were commanded to turn their languid eyes to the brazen emblem which was lifted up in the center of the camp — we, in like manner, would bid you look to Him who was suspended on the accursed tree; and, although the poison of sin may be coursing through your veins — yet by faith in His adorable name, you will be made whole; for there is healing in His wounds, and life in His death!
The Urgent Question!
"Do you believe on the Son of God?" John 9:35
Among the things that accompany salvation, there are two subjects to which a place of special prominence is given by the inspired writers. The apostle refers to both, when, setting forth the sum and substance of his ministry — he tells us that the great points on which he insisted were, "repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ." "Except you repent," said the great Teacher, "you shall all likewise perish!" And again, "He who believes on him is not condemned; but he who believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." It is to the latter topic that the above inquiry appertains. And, as its importance is so great, we should endeavor to ascertain what the Scriptures teach concerning saving faith. Among other particulars, the following are clearly declared.
The great object of saving faith — is the Lord Jesus, in his person and work, in his perfect obedience and sacrificial death.
The special office of saving faith — is to apprehend, or to lay hold of him, as he is freely offered in the gospel.
The source of saving faith — is divine, being, like repentance, the gift of God. In other words, that state of mind which is necessary to a right reception of Christ, is wrought by a gracious influence imparted from above.
The seat of saving faith — is the heart, and it is therefore something more than a mere vague assent, or intellectual acquiescence: "for with the heart man believes unto righteousness."
The means of the production of saving faith is effected through the truth as it is in Jesus: "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."
The results of saving faith — are . . .
the justification of our guilty persons,
the renewal and sanctification of our polluted souls.
Saving faith always . . .
purifies the heart,
works by love, and
overcomes the world.
The apostle Peter calls it "precious faith," and it is truly precious. It secures to all its possessors a saving interest in those promises which are exceeding great and precious; and it makes them partakers of all the ineffable blessings which were purchased — not with corruptible things such as silver and gold — but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
So important is saving faith — that what is ascribed to the Redeemer meritoriously — is often ascribed to it instrumentally. Jesus is the inexhaustible fountain of bliss — the well-spring of grace and salvation. But faith may be said to be the bucket by which the living waters are drawn out. He is the bread that came down from Heaven; but the most nutritious food unless it be eaten, is altogether unavailing; and, unless we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man — we have no life in us.
He is the sure refuge, the hiding-place from the storm, and the covert from the tempest. But an asylum, however safe in itself, will afford no protection unless it is actually entered; and the only way whereby we can shelter ourselves in Him, is by believing in his name.
But to have correct views of the nature of faith, and a general impression of its value, however desirable — are yet altogether distinct from the personal possession of it. "These things have I written unto you," says the beloved disciple, "that you might believe on the name of the Son of God." It is only those who have actually obtained this precious faith — who become partakers of the benefits which follow in its train.
Reader! what the apostle said to the trembling jailer, is what we would now say to you: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ — and you shall be saved." Only sincerely believe, and full and free salvation will most assuredly be yours. Only sincerely believe — and you will be delivered from all condemnation; to your charge nothing can be laid; you will be accepted in the beloved, to the praise of the glory of divine grace. Your life will be bid with Christ in God, and when he who is your life shall appear — then you shall be acknowledged by him before assembled worlds as one of his true friends and followers. Only sincerely believe, and your present state will be what no words can fully describe, and your future prospects will be such as no mind can imagine!
In a word, only believe, and you will belong to that blessed brotherhood who can be addressed in those triumphant strains, "All things are yours! whether the world, or life, or death, or things present or things to come — all are yours; for you are Christ's, and Christ is God's!"