by John MacDuff
A bleeding Savior seen by faith,
A sense of pardoning love,
A hope that triumphs over death,
Give joys like those above!
In the experience of every Christian there are many fluctuations. At one time, grace is in lively exercise, and the soul is filled with peace in believing. At another time, the divine life seems to languish, and gloomy fears prevail. There are seasons when the tide of assurance reaches, what may be called, high-water mark; and the believer, basking in the full sunshine of God's reconciled countenance, is enabled to rejoice with exceeding joy! Precious moments, when faith is vigorous, when hope is bright and beaming, and when love fills the heart even to overflowing! But soon, alas! the scene changes. The spiritual sky is overcast. Where all was clear and cloudless — thick darkness spreads its gloomy shadows around; and the spirit so recently triumphing in the exuberance of its bliss, is now filled with dejection, and goes mourning because of the oppression of the enemy.
Should it be with the reader what the prophet terms "a cloudy and dark day," let him be assured that there is only One who can turn the shadow of death, into the morning. Christ is the light of life; his gracious beams can scatter the thickest mists, and restore to the downcast, and even to the despairing, the joys of his salvation.
It was not by viewing and mourning over their wounds, that the bitten Israelites were cured — but by simply looking at the brazen serpent. So, if we are for having our stripes healed, our strength renewed, our doubts removed, our darkness turned to day — we must turn our eyes to Him who is exalted at God's right hand as a Prince and Savior. It is his exclusive prerogative "to comfort those who mourn, to give them beauty — for ashes, the oil of joy — for mourning, and the garment of praise — for the spirit of heaviness."
The following exercises, intended for the daily use of the believer, have immediate reference to the Lord Jesus. The things concerning Him, in his person and work, his character and offices, his perfect obedience and vicarious death, and especially his glorious exaltation — are the subjects set forth in this small volume. May the reader's meditation of Him, as thus exhibited, be sweet and profitable! May the Eternal Spirit, the glorifier of Jesus, take of these things, and reveal them in their intrinsic beauty, and apply them in their saving efficacy, to his mind! And may both writer and reader, even should they happen to differ on some matters, be one in saying — "Jesus first! Jesus last! Jesus without end!"
The Enthroned Redeemer!
"Therefore God also has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name!" Philippians 2:9
The humiliation and the exaltation of Christ are closely connected, and the former is frequently set forth as the ground of the latter. Our thoughts should be devoutly fixed upon both of these amazing scenes — his suffering and death on the one hand; and his being crowned with glory and honor, on the other hand.
Our Lord's earthly condition was one of extreme poverty: "The foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests, but the Son of man had nowhere to lay his head." Not merely did he assume our nature in its lowest form — but he endured opposition, indignities, and sufferings of every kind. His cheek was smitten, his face was spat upon, his temples were pierced with prickly thorns, his back was ploughed with scourges, his hands and feet were nailed with iron spikes to the accursed tree. His burning thirst was heightened with vinegar and gall, his last prayers were turned to ridicule, and his dying groans were converted into impious mockeries. Men reviled him, Satan buffeted him; and, in his last extremity, even God forsook him! But he bore it all without a single murmur — and he bore it all alone. "When he was reviled, he reviled not again, when he suffered he threatened not — but committed himself to him that judges righteously."
The awful tragedy of Calvary, in all his circumstances of woe, stands in dread prominence above all that the annals of time have ever recorded. Many strange events had taken place before now — but never was there such an event as this! Upon affecting spectacles in abundance, had the sun shone — but the sun veiled his face in mourning when the Prince of life expired. On the disastrous flood, on the burning cities of the plain, on the sea-sunk legions of Egypt, on the hosts of Sennacherib prostrate beneath the angel's blast — the sun looked down, as it were, with bright indifference; but when the great Surety was suspended on the cross, to gaze at such a spectacle unappalled was impossible.
But the cross was the way to the crown. Having reached the climax of suffering — the scales were turned, and there followed the recompense of the reward. All the conditions which the economy of redemption rendered necessary being complied with, nothing remained but the honor set before him, an honor proportioned to the depth of his previous disgrace.
It is generally supposed that there is a regular gradation of created beings, each intermediate space being filled up from the crawling worm to the loftiest archangel. But however complete the scale may be, and however high it may he carried — our exalted Prince and Savior is infinitely raised above them all. Are there thrones and dominions? He is transcendently above them. The celestial hierarchy may rise in rank and dignity, higher and still higher; but however vast their elevation, we are only stating a clear scriptural truth when we say, that He is exalted, "far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything!"
Let the children of Zion rejoice in the exaltation of their King. He dies no more; his agonizing pangs are over; the contradiction of sinners, their scoffs and reproaches, are among the former things which have forever passed away. Once he was a sign to be spoken against, but now saints and seraphs fall at his feet, and extol him in canticles of rapturous adoration! May we, even here, catch some measure of their spirit, and be prepared by almighty grace for joining them in their ceaseless strains above!
"You are the most excellent of men! Gracious words stream from your lips. God himself has blessed you forever." Psalm 45:2
It is worthy of notice that all the lovely graces which adorned the Savior's character, were possessed by him in equal proportion. There were no special features which had a preponderance over the rest. In contrast, among Christians this is generally the case — they have some distinctive traits by which they are peculiarly distinguished. But in the Lord Jesus we do not find any single virtue shining above another; and it was this combination, in all their fullness, of the diversified qualities which constitute moral beauty, that raised him so far above the fairest of men. When an individual excels in one or a few points, it is implied as a matter of course, that in other respects there is some deficiency; but in a nature that is altogether perfect, this is impossible. Thus,"the man Christ Jesus," being endowed with absolute perfection, was in reference to every separate particular alike, "perfect and entire, lacking nothing."
"What is your beloved more than another beloved?" was the question put to the spouse in the book of Canticles. She proceeds with her reply, wherein she specifies, in the most glowing manner, the various parts of his person. But, as if conscious of the feebleness of her description, and that she was totally inadequate to do full justice to so transcendent a theme, she seems to say, "Why do I particularize thus, since his charms are such that no mortal tongue can tell? This, however, I can say — that he is altogether lovely, and he has in consequence ravished my heart, O daughters of Jerusalem!"
Blessed Jesus! who is like unto you? Who among the sons of the mighty can be brought into comparison with you? What are warriors with all their exploits, philosophers with all their learning, princes with ail their pomp? Their attractions when compared with yours, sink at once into perfect insignificance. Without a single rival do you stand unapproachable and alone — the one grand epitome of all majesty and might. You are the glorious sun of the spiritual sky, before whose effulgent beams other luminaries disappear; all hide their diminished heads, and vanish at the brightness of your rising!
But who can show forth all your praise? The afflicted patriarch lacked words to express his grief, and we feel a similar lack while endeavoring to express your glory. Were we to take the wings of the morning, and flee to the uttermost parts of the earth; were we to ransack the numberless treasures of creation in all their vast varieties; were we to plunge into the depths beneath, and soar to the heights above; yes, were we to survey the celestial hosts, those countless myriads of spotless beings who encircle the everlasting throne, and whose radiant brows are still as unwrinkled as when, in the freshness of their immortal youth and vigor, they celebrated the birth of time in songs of glowing ardor — but even they, when placed beside you, are less than nothing and vanity:
their robes of light — are but sackcloth;
their beauty — is offensive;
their wisdom — is foolish;
their sanctity — is impure.
May the Holy Spirit, the glorifier of Jesus, reveal more and more of his loveliness to our minds! May the thick clouds and vapors which so often obscure our mental vision be dispersed; so that, beholding as in a mirror his matchless character, we may be led to regard him as the object of our warmest love, and most devout adoration!
The Prophet's Testimony
"He shall be lifted up, and extolled, and be greatly exalted!" Isaiah 52:13
This sure word of prophecy was literally and most gloriously verified when the incarnate Redeemer, after having finished the work which was given him to do, was taken up into Heaven, and sat down on the right hand of God — with angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. In order, therefore, to witness its fulfillment, we must ascend in imagination to the abodes above, and behold him as he appears there. Often are we invited to contemplate his state of humiliation, and hold fellowship with him in his sufferings; but now another scene is presented, which ought to excite within us feelings of wonder, love, and praise.
"Come see the place where the Lord lay!" was the invitation given on the morning of his resurrection. But we are at present called upon to see the throne on which he reigns! O wondrous transformation!
That meek and lowly One, who had been despised and rejected — is now adored by all the heavenly hosts!
That face, once covered with spitting, and furrowed with tears — is now gazed upon with transporting admiration!
That brow, once bound with thorns — is now encircled with a splendor before which suns turn pale!
Those hands which were nailed to the bloody tree — now grasp the scepter of universal dominion!
That ignominious cross — is exchanged for heaven's highest throne!
That crown of thorns — is exchanged for a diadem of everlasting glory!
But he shall be exalted on the earth. As sure as he is now seated upon the right hand of the Majesty on high, so surely will he take to himself his great power, and reign as sole monarch over a regenerated world. As inseparable is the connection between his obedience unto death, and his spiritual exaltation among men, as his personal exaltation in the heavenly kingdom. Most clearly is that connection shown in innumerable passages of the sacred volume.
The twenty-second Psalm, which opens with his solemn exclamation, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and which runs, verse after verse, through every mood of sadness, closes with the cheering assurance, that "all the ends of the earth shall worship before him!" The most mournful of the ancient predictions first shows him as despised and afflicted, and then as having the many for his portion, and the mighty for his spoil. The stone which the builders rejected, is immediately seen as having become the cornerstone and the headstone.
"Say this to those who worship other gods: Your so-called gods, who did not make the heavens and earth, will vanish from the earth and from under the heavens!" Their doom is sealed. Of whatever antiquity they can boast, and however numerous their deluded votaries; yet this is the decree that is gone forth, "they shall perish!" "The gods many and lords many," are to be swept away with an utter destruction.
But Jesus shall live; his name shall endure forever; men shall be blessed in him; all nations shall call him blessed. His enemies, whether heathen idols, or anti-Christian powers, or atheistic scoffers, or the masses of the impenitent and unbelieving — shall be clothed with shame; but upon himself shall his crown flourish. The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low; and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. Haste, happy time! of which all the prophets have spoken since the world began.
Arise, O King of grace! Gird your sword upon your thigh, and march onward from conquering still to conquer. "Come forth out of your royal chambers, O Prince of all the kings of the earth! Put on the visible robes of your imperial majesty; take up that unlimited scepter which your Almighty Father has bequeathed you; for now the voice of your bride calls you, and all creatures sigh to be renewed!" "Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns!" Revelation 19:6
The Great Philanthropist!
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich — yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich!" 2 Corinthians 8:9
When our Lord dwelt among men, so extreme was His poverty — that He had nothing which He could call His own! If we follow Him through the whole of His memorable career, we shall find that He had to borrow whatever He needed.
Did He ride in solemn state, amid the acclamations of the people, to the Jewish capital? The humble beast on which He was mounted was not His own — but belonged to another.
Did He join with His little flock in celebrating the Pascal supper on the night before He died? The upper room in which they assembled, was a borrowed room.
Was there a garden to which He was in the habit of resorting in order to enjoy secret communion with His Heavenly Father? That garden, fraught with such hallowed associations, was a borrowed garden.
Did He cross from coast to coast for the purpose of performing His deeds of mercy, and of announcing the joyful tidings of pardon and peace to the ignorant and guilty? The fishing-boats which conveyed Him on these compassionate errands were borrowed boats.
Yes, if we go back to the time of His birth — the place in which He was born was a borrowed place; and, while He was born in another man's stable — He was also buried in another man's grave. Although all things were made by Him — yet His circumstances were so destitute, that He was dependent for everything upon the charity of others.
To so poor and humiliating a lot, was the Lord of life and glory subjected. "The foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests — but He had nowhere to lay His head!"
And WHY did He assume such a debased condition? It was "for our sakes." In His deep poverty, as well as the other numberless woes to which He voluntarily submitted — His unselfish compassion was signally displayed — therein the kindness and love, the yearning pity and matchless philanthropy, of God our Savior appeared.
All that He did and suffered — was for us!
He was made a curse — for us!
He gave Himself to die — for us!
He obtained eternal redemption — for us!
And although his privations and distresses have been long since exchanged for the realms and royalties above — yet the spirit by which he is actuated is still the same. "For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into Heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us."
The contemplation of the Redeemer's unselfish humiliation, ought to shame us out of that selfish spirit to which we are so prone. SELF has been truly called the great antichrist; not merely that which was to be manifested in the latter days — but which has characterized every age of the world's, and in no small measure, of the church's history. "For all seek their own," says the apostle, "not the things which are Jesus Christ's."
After another mind, O my soul, even that which was in your blessed Lord, be it yours constantly and strenuously to aspire! Since He died for you — should you not be anxious to live for Him? It is surely your reasonable service to endeavor to promote in every way His cause below, inasmuch as He is ever pleading your cause above.
"When the Lord saw her — His heart overflowed with compassion. 'Don't cry!' He said." Luke 7:13
In the Person of our adorable Redeemer, we behold mercy incarnate. This was the garb in which the whole of His other virtues were arrayed — the soft luster with which they were all surrounded and adorned.
His miracles were miracles of mercy; a feature which rendered them widely different from those which were performed by former messengers whom God had sent. We behold Moses inflicting upon Egypt the most frightful plagues; we see Elijah slaying the prophets of Baal, and Elisha commissioning the bears of the forest to destroy his 42 youthful mockers. But Jesus wrought no miracles — but those of benevolence. His heart was a fountain of mercy, and its streams were perpetually flowing!
The compassion of Christ, as displayed in the works which he wrought, was distinguished by the most touching discrimination. This strikingly appears in the three memorable instances in which he exerted his divine power over death, and brought its captives back again to life.
The daughter of the synagogue ruler was an only daughter;
the brother of Martha and Mary was their only brother; and
the son of the widowed mother of Nain was her only son.
In the selection he thus made, we cannot fail to admire the Savior's tenderness; for while his authority over the king of terrors was signally manifested, under no other circumstances could such deep sorrow be relieved, and joy so thrilling be imparted. Mourning for an only son is frequently represented as the epitome of distress; and it was grief of that nature which was now turned into gladness, when the great Arbiter of life and death spoke the words, "Young man, I say unto you: Arise! Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk! And Jesus gave him back to his mother."
The apostle reminds us that we have "a great high priest," but he also shows that he is merciful as well as great, being touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
Oh, how was his tender heart touched by the scene he witnessed on this occasion! Had it been one of earthly pomp, He would doubtless have passed it by without the least notice. A lordly monarch, robed in dazzling splendor, followed by his royal guards; or a conquering hero, at the head of his troops, marching in triumph from the battle plain — such objects would have presented no attractions to Him who went about doing good. But here was a company of mourners, the foremost of whom was a poor widow, her heart wrung with agony, and her eyes flowing with tears. "When the Lord saw her, His heart overflowed with compassion!" The sight excited the liveliest emotions in his sinless breast; and with a look beaming with pity, and in the most tender tones, he said to her, "Don't cry!"
Such was the character of Jesus in the days of his flesh — and such is it still! He with whom we have to do, whose favor we implore, and whose blessings we supplicate, far from being a harsh, unfeeling Master — is our loving Savior and Friend! May we be encouraged therefore to look to Him, as fountain of mercy.
The Sure Refuge!
"He who believes on Him shall not be confounded." 1 Peter 2:6
Of the spiritual Israel it is declared, that "they shall not be ashamed, nor confounded, world without end." Being driven from those false refuges in which they had once sheltered themselves, and resting all their hopes upon the firm foundation which God has laid in Zion — they have now nothing to fear, knowing full well that their hiding-place can never be overthrown!
When the architect who built the former lighthouse at Eddystone was going one evening, to visit the structure which he had erected with so much care — he was warned of an approaching storm. He replied that he would like nothing better than to be in his lighthouse, in of the most raging tempests which ever lashed the ocean into fury. His wish was gratified; but, alas! the fabric of which he felt so proud, and in which he reposed such confidence — was swept away, and he and his lighthouse disappeared together!
The sure word of God's testimony informs us that a storm is coming, which will shake not the earth only — but also the heavens; yet there are those who can anticipate that dreadful period without dismay. All who are found in Jesus, who is, "a covert from the tempest," all who are built upon him as the Rock of Ages, will be enabled to smile, in conscious security, at the war of elements and the crash of worlds. Amid the bursting tombs, and the agonies of dissolving nature, they will find, by happy experience, that the name of the Lord is a strong tower, and that those who have fled for shelter there, are eternally safe!
Reader! see to it that the Christian's security is yours. Rest not until you can, in some measure at least, enter into the spirit of the apostle's words, when he said, "For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day." He knew not what moment he might be called to suffer a cruel death — but whatever the fate of his frail body, he was assured that his immortal spirit was in safe custody. Hence the sweet composure he enjoyed, yes, the holy triumph he manifested. And his happiness will be yours, if the glorious Being in whom he believed, is the exclusive and supreme object of your trust. Savingly interested in Him — no sorrow need depress, and no danger appall you. Bidding defiance to all that earth and Hell can do, you may venture to say, Beat you winds, swell you floods, howl you tempests! Let the thunders roar, and the lightnings flash! Yes, let
"The fiercest, wildest storms arise,
Let tempests mingle earth and skies,
No fatal shipwreck shall I fear,
But all my treasures with me bear.
If you, my Jesus! still be nigh,
Cheerful I live, and joyful die;
Secure, when mortal comforts flee,
To find ten thousand worlds in Thee!"
The True Liberator!
"If the Son therefore shall make you free — you shall be free indeed!" John 8:36
Many are the blessings for which, as the inhabitants of this highly favored land, we have to be grateful to the Giver of all good. However ample His gifts to other peoples — He has not dealt with any nation as He has dealt with us. But of all the temporal benefits which we enjoy, that of liberty is doubtless the most precious. Other countries may boast of the rich productions of their soil, their more congenial climate, their sublimer scenery, their stately edifices, their numberless memorials of ancient renown; but were they to ask us, while pointing to such attractions: What do you have which is equal to these? In the single word LIBERTY, our reply would be given.
For them all — groves and vineyards, cloudless skies and fragrant breezes, marble shrines and sculptured arches — we would not barter this inestimable birthright, to procure which our forefathers so manfully struggled, and so many of them shed their blood. While we have much as Britons to deplore — it is a great thing to feel that we dwell in a free country. It is much to be able to say,
"Slaves cannot breathe in England!
If their lungs receive our air — that moment they are free!
They touch our country — and their shackles fall."
It is much to know that in this respect, our country is holy ground; and that it is not mere rhetorical exaggeration for us to adopt the strains of a modern orator, who so strikingly amplifies what the bard has above expressed: "No matter in what language the poor captive's doom may have been pronounced; no matter what complexion incompatible with freedom, an Indian or an African sun may have burned upon him; no matter in what disastrous battle his liberty may have been cut down; no matter with what solemnities he may have been devoted upon the altar of slavery — the first moment he touches the sacred soil of Britain — the altar and the god sink together in the dust; his soul walks abroad in her own majesty; his body swells beyond the measure of his chains, which burst from around him; and he stands redeemed, regenerated, and disenthralled, by the irresistible genius of universal emancipation!"
But there is another liberty, a liberty unsung —
"By poets and by senators unpraised,
Which monarchs cannot grant, nor all the powers
Of earth and Hell confederate take away;
A liberty which persecution, fraud,
Oppression, prisons, have no power to bind:
Which whoever tastes can be enslaved no more.
'Tis liberty of heart, derived from Heaven,
Bought with His blood who gave it to mankind,
And sealed with the same token!"
Such is the liberty of the gospel — the liberty with which Christ makes his people free. While we value earthly liberty, and feel how indebted we are for its possession, it being the fairest flower that can grow on the soil of nations; yet this is a mere trifle, when compared with the spiritual emancipation which the great Deliverer has procured and bestows! It is liberty from the bondage of corruption, and from the curse of a broken law. It is a liberty divine in its nature, satisfying in its enjoyment, endless in its duration. It is "the glorious liberty of the children of God."
Reader! is that glorious liberty yours? By nature your state is one of wretched servitude; you are in bondage under sin; you are led captive by the devil at his will. Oh, apply to Him whose special function it is "to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound." Rest not until, released from your galling fetters, you are able to say, with transporting joy, "In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace!"
The Mount of Transfiguration!
'And behold, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus." Luke 9:30
We have an account in the gospel narratives, of several deputations waiting upon the Savior; some from the priests and Levites, some from the Herodians, and once from John the Baptist. But here we have two messengers sent to him from the other world; and as a visit from the high court of Heaven cannot be regarded as an ordinary occurrence, to say nothing of the circumstances of special interest with which this was connected — it must be worthy of our devout consideration.
Not from the innumerable company of angels were the celestial delegates chosen; the distinguished privilege was not conferred upon any of their radiant hosts — but upon two of the children of men, even Moses and Elijah. We might be disposed to ask why they — rather than some of the other glorified saints — were selected to do honor to the incarnate Redeemer on this occasion. Had we the mere fact recorded of such a visit being paid, without any information as to who the visitors were, we would perhaps have thought of the first Adam, to whom the first promise was given, as one likely to be sent to wait upon the second Adam, who is the Lord from Heaven; or Abraham, the father of the faithful, and the friend of God, who through the vista of far distant ages saw the day of Christ with exulting joy; or Isaiah, the Old Testament evangelist, who had so clear an insight into the future history of the Redeemer, and who described with such graphic minuteness the sufferings he endured, and the glory by which they were followed.
But we are not left to doubtful conjectures on the matter, as their names are given; and the propriety of the choice is sufficiently obvious. Not merely were both eminent types of Christ — but Moses may be regarded as the great representative of the law; and Elijah as the special representative of the prophets. And since our Lord magnified the law, and fulfilled all the predictions of the prophets — it was most fitting that the heads of both departments should thus appear before him, in order to resign their commission at his feet.
There is also another symbolical character which may be ascribed to these eminent saints.
Elijah was translated that he should not see death, being taken up in a whirlwind to Heaven; and may therefore be regarded as typifying those for whom a like exemption from the power of the last enemy is reserved. Those who will be alive and remain at the Redeemer's second coming, shall not taste death — but they will be caught up to meet him in the air, even as Elijah was caught up so long before them.
Moses, on the other hand, died and was buried, and may be viewed as representing those who will be raised from their graves, and who shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. The apostle speaks of "the living and dead," according to the above twofold division; and as both are subject to Christ, he being Lord of the dead and living, there seems to be something like an acknowledgment of that authority in this aspect of the representative character of those who now stood before him.
How long this interview continued we are not told — but it probably lasted for several hours. The time, however, for the departure of the two glorified spirits arrived, and once more Jesus was found alone. Had they been permitted, they would doubtless have esteemed it a high privilege to continue with him until the period of his triumphant return to that world from which they had just arrived. But the sweet communion which was then broken up, has long since been renewed, and is shared in, not by them alone — but by the whole general assembly and church of the firstborn above!
"Adoring saints around Him stand,
And thrones and powers before Him fall;
The God shines gracious through the man,
And sheds sweet glories on them all.
When shall the day, dear Lord, appear
That I shall mount to dwell above,
And stand and bow among them there,
And view your face, and sing, and love!"
The Glorious Appearance!
"There he was transfigured before them! His face shone like the sun — and his clothes became as white as the light!" Matthew 17:2
When the Son of God took upon him our nature, He laid his original glory aside; but on the occasion which we have now to contemplate, it was in some measure resumed, although only for a little while. The fullness of the Godhead which dwelt in him, beamed forth in refulgent rays through the earthly tabernacle in which it was enshrined. A glimpse was then given of the splendor with which he is at present invested in the heavenly kingdom; that splendor in which he appeared to John in Patmos, to Paul when he was arrested in his persecuting career, and in which he will be seen at his second coming, when the heavens and the earth shall flee away from before him.
This is usually regarded as a wonderful occurrence; but it is, in truth, the least marvelous in the whole of the Redeemer's history. To see an earthly monarch engaged in some menial employment, would be a far stranger sight than to behold him adorned with royal pomp and majesty. So, to view the Lord of life and glory as the carpenter's son; to contemplate his poverty, his deep abasement, his ignominious sufferings — these are the things which should fill us with profoundest amazement; and not such a sight as that which was now witnessed, when he appeared in his true character, and was invested with some of those outward tokens which befit his inconceivable dignity.
"To us," as one remarks, "there is nothing so strange as what is singularly bright and glorious — but with Jesus it was all the other way.
It was not strange to him to look forth on the dazzling splendors of the upper paradise, and find flaming seraphs ready to fulfill his commands. But it was strange to him to find cold looks, and averted faces, and reluctant compliance on every side.
It was not strange to him to find his home in the bosom of the Father, for there he had found it from all eternity. But it was strange to see the fox slip home to his lair, and the bird bending her wing to her evening nest — and to think that He, their Maker, had nowhere to lay his head!
It was not strange to him to gaze on the sinless multitudes who were pacing the streets of gold, and clustered on the hills of immortality. But it was strange to see nothing but masses of pollution, and shapes of sin!
And it was not strange to hear, ascending to himself, the glorious anthem from the ecstatic whisper of the new-come inhabitant — to the thunderous swell of lofty seraphim. But, oh! it was strange to hear the hooting and yelling throng, and every voice the same, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
That strange episode, however, is now over. He has once more been declared the Son of God with power, and gone back to his familiar abode, and his royal seat, where "all authority is given to him both in Heaven and on earth."
Highly privileged were the three disciples who beheld his glory on the mount of transfiguration; but it is a privilege we need not envy, if we have a good hope of seeing the King in his beauty on Mount Zion above. For all his true followers — this blessedness is in reserve! His memorable prayer being, "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world." May such a glorious prospect fill our souls with holy longing for its realization!
The Momentous Theme!
"Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his death, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem!" Luke 9:30-31
What has been altogether omitted, or only incidentally referred to, by one evangelist — is frequently inserted, or more fully enlarged upon, by another. Thus while Mark simply states concerning Moses and Elijah that they were "talking with Jesus" — Luke informs us what they were speaking about. For such information we cannot but feel particularly grateful to the beloved physician, as he has thus put an end to the numberless conjectures in which we might have indulged. That the subject was one worthy of so memorable an occasion, we must have felt fully assured. It is certain that it could not have related to such matters as the discoveries of science, the progress of art, the extension of commerce, or even the rise and fall of empires. But we have the special theme announced — "They spoke about his death, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem!"
No other subject, we can easily suppose, would possess such thrilling interest to these two glorified saints. For their present glory — they were altogether indebted to that wondrous event. They were only admitted into the heavenly mansions — on condition that Christ's sin-atoning death would take place. It was upon trust, so to speak, that they were received in; but the time was now fast approaching for the price to be paid, "a price, all price beyond;" and then in virtue of their interest in Him as the great Surety — the purchased possession would be their own.
The thoughts of the Redeemer and his celestial companions went thus from Mount Tabor — to Mount Calvary; and the contrast between the two scenes is most striking.
On Mount Tabor — Jesus was transfigured.
On Mount Calvary — He was crucified.
On Mount Tabor — He is highly exalted, being crowned with glory and honor.
On Mount Calvary — He was deeply debased.
On Mount Tabor — his face beamed with a refulgence surpassing the noonday sun.
On Mount Calvary — that same face is covered with spitting, and furrowed with tears.
On Mount Tabor — his very clothing gleamed and glittered.
On Mount Calvary — He was arrayed in a robe of mock majesty, while his revilers bent the knee in profane mimicry before him.
On Mount Tabor — his associates were pure and perfected saints, specially commissioned from the eternal throne to do him.
On Mount Calvary — he is surrounded by an impious rabble, yes, suspended between two thieves, one on his right hand and the other on his left, according to the ancient prediction that he was to be numbered with transgressors.
Reader! What are your feelings in reference to these memorable transactions, and especially the death which took place, amid so appalling and ignominious circumstances, on Mount Calvary?
Be assured that this is a subject which eclipses every other; it involves alike the concerns of this world and the next; it combines whatever is interesting and important in the past, the present, and the future. It is a subject which occupied the divine mind in the solitudes of eternity — before creation was called into being; and it will engage the supreme attention of the redeemed in Heaven, while innumerable ages will be rolling their ceaseless rounds! And shall we regard it with indifference? Shall it be an unwelcome and uncongenial theme to us? If ever the thoughts and tongues of men are rightly employed — it must be in thinking and speaking of that great event — Christ's death!
The Voice from Heaven!
"While he was saying this, a cloud appeared and overshadowed them. They became afraid as they entered the cloud. Then a voice came from the cloud, saying: This is my beloved Son — listen to Him!" Luke 9:34, 35
During the interview of Moses and Elijah with our from blessed Lord, the three disciples who accompanied him to the mountain were only permitted to listen to a part of their heavenly communications. Fatigued with the labors of the previous day, they fell asleep. This was doubtless wisely arranged, as they would have been unable to bear much that was said on this memorable occasion. But after some time they awoke. As the darkness of night had disposed them to be sleepy, so the light which subsequently beamed from the Savior and his two glorified companions, might have startled them from their slumbers. And what an awakening must it have been! They had closed their eyes amid the thick shadows of midnight; they now opened them as if they were in the full blaze of day, although no natural sun had yet arisen. Before they fell asleep, they heard no voice but that of Jesus, engaged in earnest supplication; now, not merely do beams of heavenly glory shine upon their vision — but the sound of heavenly voices is falling on their ears. The last time they saw the Savior, his knees were bent in prayer, or probably he lay prostrate on the ground; now they see him standing in an attitude of majesty, robed in dazzling splendor, while two of the most exalted from the ranks of the redeemed above, are conversing with, and paying the profoundest homage to him.
It seems that shortly after they awoke, some indications were given by the two visitants that the time of their departure was at hand. To the disciples this must have been mortifying in the extreme. Anxious to detain the heavenly strangers, and provide for their accommodation, Peter suggested that three tabernacles be erected, although he scarcely knew what he was saying — his mind being altogether confused, by a scene so peculiar and overwhelming! No sooner was this proposition made, than a mystic cloud overshadowed them, and we are told that they became afraid as they entered into the cloud. It was then, filled with trembling awe, that they heard a voice proclaiming, "This is my beloved Son — listen to Him!"
After many eventful years — we find Peter referring to what now transpired. In his second epistle, written but a short time before his death, he calls it "such a voice" — such, we may be quite certain, as would never be forgotten by those who heard it. "For he received honor and glory from God the Father when such a voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying: This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased! We ourselves heard this voice that came from Heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain."
We have here a wide distinction made between Christ — and the most eminent saints that ever lived. Moses was the giver of the law, and Elijah one of the first of the prophets; they were, however, after all, nothing but servants. But, says the Eternal Father, "this is my beloved Son." "Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house."
And as the voice said to the disciples, "Listen to him," it still addresses us in like manner. In his word, and by his Spirit — does the Redeemer speak; let us then sit at his feet, and listen to the gracious words which proceed from his lips. O fearful saint — hear him when he says, "My grace is sufficient for you; for my strength is made perfect in weakness." You mourning penitent — hear him when he says, "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." You careless, impenitent, unbelieving sinner — hear him when he says, "He who believes on the Son has everlasting life; and he who believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides in him." Thus the Lord speaks peace to his people, and the sweetest encouragement to such as are oppressed with a sense of their guilt and danger; but in the language of fearful denunciation does he address those who despise the offers of his grace and mercy. "See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from Heaven?"
The sinlessness of Christ
"Such a high priest meets our need — one who is holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens!" Hebrews 7:26
"Paint me as I am!" said Oliver Cromwell, when addressing an artist to whom he was going to sit for his portrait; "if you leave out the scars and wrinkles, I will not pay you a shilling!" In such a detail, it has been remarked, he showed both his good sense and magnanimity. He did not wish all that was characteristic in his countenance to be lost. He was content that his face should go forth marked with all the blemishes which had been put on it by time, by war, by sleepless nights, by anxiety, perhaps by remorse; but with valor, nobility, authority, and public care written in all its princely lines. Men should wish their characters to be honestly portrayed.
It was evidently on this principle, that the inspired writers acted. In the representations they have given of the saints of God, they have painted them as they were — without magnifying their excellencies, and without concealing their defects. But in their portrait of the Lord Jesus — no spot or blemish appears; and their strict fidelity as biographers being evinced by their conduct in other cases, we may fairly infer, even on grounds independent of their inspiration, that he was in reality — such as their narratives represent him to be.
The sinlessness of Jesus, although a marvelous fact, is yet a most pleasing and refreshing theme for contemplation. In this character he stands alone, in striking contrast with all the myriads of mankind. Of them none, unless under the blinding influence of self-ignorance, can say, "I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin!" "If the best man's sins," according to the old saying, "were written on his forehead, it would make him pull down his hat over his eyes!"
But here is One in whom no imperfection was found — his very enemies themselves, from Pilate down to the deist Thomas Paine, being judges. He was all that the holy law of God required, and by his perfect obedience to the whole of its precepts, he magnified it, and made it honorable. Not a single impure desire ever rose in his heart; no improper expression ever escaped from his lips; no evil action disfigured any part of his eventful and chequered life. On taking, at the close of his career, a retrospective view of its several stages, he had nothing to regret or recall. To no idle word, no wasted hour, no neglected duty, could busy memory then point. He had met every claim, and fulfilled all righteousness.
This freedom from evil was not because the circumstances in which he was placed, were of a more favorable nature than those by which we are generally surrounded. He passed through a scene in which, at every step he took, a thousand malignant influences were uniting to dart upon him, yet "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." 1 Peter 2:22. He lived for years, and was actively employed in a world in which every condition has its peculiar temptations, so that of all the myriads who have ever inhabited it, not one has escaped the pollution of sin. But, like the sunbeam, which remains uncontaminated whatever the object on which it may shine, the Savior emerged from this region of guilt, and re-entered the portals of Heaven, as pure and unspotted as when he left the bosom of the Father. It was strictly true of him to the latest moment of his continuance on earth — with perfect sincerity it might have been inscribed on his tomb — it might have been shouted with triumph as he ascended to the throne of Heaven, "he has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin!" Hebrews 4:15
The highest and holiest of men have only been high and holy in proportion as they have resembled him. Seek, O my soul, to possess more and more of that resemblance. To secure it is the great end of all the Divine arrangements: "for whom he did foreknow, he also did predestine to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren." Blessed Jesus! renew me, by transforming my mind after your own likeness, in righteousness and true holiness. Cleanse me from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and thus prepare me for that blessed world where frailties and imperfections are among the former things which have passed away!
The Important Desire
"Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip with a request. 'Sir,' they said, 'we would like to see Jesus!'" John 12:20-21
The desire by which these Greeks were actuated, is felt by every true believer. Not that the Savior can be seen now in the same manner as he was beheld by those who had personal access to him in the days of his flesh; but if we cannot see him with our bodily eyes, we can with the eye of the soul. In the exercise of faith — we may still gaze upon his glory, as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. This is evidently what is intended by the many exhortations, in which we are directed to "behold the Lamb of God," and to be "looking unto Jesus." They refer to that spiritual act whereby his beauty is seen, and his presence realized.
In all parts of his word — such a sight of Him is afforded. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy; and in how striking a manner is he there set forth in his various characters and offices! He is:
the seed of Abraham;
the Shiloh of dying Jacob;
the great Prophet of Moses;
the virgin's Son of Isaiah;
the Lord, our righteousness of Jeremiah;
the Plant of renown of Ezekiel;
the Ruler in Israel of Micah;
the Desire of all nations of Haggai;
the Sun of righteousness of Malachi.
"To him all the prophets give witness that, through his name, whoever believes in him shall receive remission of sins."
It is so with the typical portions of the sacred volume. Not one Mosaic institution was ever ordained; not one bleeding bullock or slaughtered lamb ever stained the Jewish altar — which had not reference to Him, as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
In the promises of his word is he likewise to be seen; for in Him they are all yes and amen, unto the glory of God by us.
And just so with its diversified statements, whether doctrinal or preceptive. It is said that, in the writings of Paul, the word Jesus is to be found no less than five hundred times; so precious was that name, which is above every other, to him.
This desire should be felt by the Christian when entering upon the services of the sanctuary. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." In the assemblies of the great and mighty — the Redeemer does not deign to manifest himself. The cabinets of statesmen, the deliberations of warriors, the discussions of philosophers, he passes by; but where a small company of his poorest disciples are meeting in his name — he has specially promised to be in their midst. And often have they been constrained to say, from what they have tasted and felt, "Surely the Lord is in this place!"
And so with the ordinances of his house. The special design of the sacramental supper is to set Him forth, for He there appears crucified before us. To the eye of carnal reason, this rite seems utterly insignificant; but to the eye of faith, what divine mysteries are exhibited! In that broken bread, and that flowing wine, the spiritual believer beholds Him whom his soul loves, in all the glories of his matchless person, and the riches of his abounding grace. To the disciples of old, the Savior made himself known at the breaking of the bread; and in instances without number — has he done so since.
Were we in a devout frame of mind, we would see Jesus in almost every object by which we are surrounded. We would then perceive that Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of his glory; that the sun, as he blazes by day, and the stars, as they twinkle by night — are so many shekinahs declaring his eternal power and Godhead. Every flower in our gardens ought to lead our thoughts to Him — who is the Rose of Sharon, and the Lily of the Valley. Every tree in our fields and forests should remind us of the glorious Branch of the Lord — the Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God. The diversified scenes of nature are, in reality, so many marginal references — all pointing to Christ; and happy are those who, while gazing upon their numberless attractions, fail not to be reminded thereby of the surpassing charms of Him, "without whom was not anything made that was made."
Blessed Jesus! reveal yourself unto us, as you do not unto the world. Let the desire of our souls after you be intensified a thousand-fold. To see your lovely face through the dim mediums with which we are at present supplied, is Heaven below; to behold it without an obscuring veil between, will be Heaven above.
The Peculiarity of Savior's Death
"As for Me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to Myself! He said this to signify what kind of death He was about to die." John 12:32-33
The literal reference of these words is to the manner of our Lord's death. Had he been condemned by Caiaphas the high priest, who sat in the ecclesiastical court, instead of by Pilate, who presided over the civil court — he would have been stoned like Stephen, as that was the mode in which criminals were put to death under the Jewish law. On the other hand, the ordinary method among the Romans was that of beheading; and it was by such a death that Paul, being a Roman citizen, glorified God. But Jesus was neither to be stoned nor beheaded — but crucified; he was to be lifted up from the earth, and hung upon the accursed tree!
There were three things by which being put to death by crucifixion was specially distinguished:
It was, in the first place, a very lingering death. Like that of hunger, it was to die by inches. It seems to have been devised by infernal cruelty for the express purpose of protracting the mortal struggle to the greatest possible length.
It was, secondly, a most painful death. In proof of this it is sufficient to state, that the strongest term we have for expressing intense agony, namely excruciating, is derived from it.
And, thirdly, it was regarded as pre-eminently shameful and ignominious. Among the Romans, it was only inflicted upon slaves, and those criminals who had committed the most flagrant crimes. The deep degradation it involved, appears from the language of Cicero in his Oration against Verres — who put a Roman citizen to the infamous death of the cross.
"It is an outrage," was his language, "to bind a Roman citizen;
to scourge him is an atrocious crime;
to put him to death is almost parricide (that is, murdering of one's parents — editor);
but to crucify him — what shall I call it?"
And yet such a death, so abhorrent, so humiliating — the adorable Redeemer endured!
But while the death of Christ was peculiar as to its mode, it was chiefly so in reference to its character as vicarious and propitiatory. It was not as a mere martyr, not as an example of patience and resignation, not as a patriot for the welfare of his country, not for the benefit of mankind in some general way, that he died. But he bore the dread penalty due to our sins!
Paul speaks of his own sufferings being for the advantage of believers; as when he says, "Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes;" and again, "I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church." But can any impartial reader of the word of God believe for a moment, that the sufferings and death of Paul were identical in their nature with the sufferings and death of Christ? With feelings of holy indignation the apostle asks, "Was Paul crucified for you?" Was he wounded for your transgressions, and bruised for your iniquities? Did he give his life a ransom for you, and redeem you to God by his blood? If there were ever things that differed — we surely have them here.
Reader! contend earnestly for, and cleave with the utmost tenacity to, this great article of the faith once delivered to the saints. The sacrificial death of Jesus constitutes the very essence of the Christian scheme; it is the foundation on which the whole superstructure rests; and "if the foundation is destroyed, what can the righteous do?" In whatever object others may glory, and place their soul's trust — let the blessed truth that "he bore our sins in his own body on the tree," be all your salvation, and all your desire. If such is the case, you will be fully prepared to say,
"Jesus, my great high priest,
Offered his blood and died;
My guilty conscience seeks
No sacrifice beside!
His powerful blood did once atone,
And now it pleads before the throne.
The Garden of Gethsemane
"Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them: Sit here while I go over there and pray." Matthew 26:36
There are two places which the Christian, in the exercise of devout meditation, should often visit — the one is the garden of Eden, the other the garden of Gethsemane.
While roaming among the deserted bowers of the garden of Eden — we see man ruined, the crown fallen from his head, and our world become subject to God's curse, death and innumerable woes!
But while we linger among the olive groves of the garden of Gethsemane — we see man restored, the tree of life once more accessible, and the curse turned into a blessing.
The one cannot be contemplated without bitter lamentation and mourning; the other, although a scene of sorrow, should excite within us feelings of adoring gratitude, triumphant joy, and ceaseless praise.
In going to the "place called Gethsemane," what we there behold is eminently calculated to impress the mind with a deep sense of our personal obligations.
Let us view that suffering Savior! Does he weep, groan, and agonize? Does he lie prostrate on the cold ground, overwhelmed with indescribable terror? Does he drink the bitter cup of the fierceness and indignation of his Father's avenging wrath? Does he find it to be "the hour and power of darkness," being assailed by the venomous rage of all the infernal legions?
The whole of these fearful pangs were endured — for us! "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed." And shall we do nothing for him in return? Perish the ungenerous thought! Could we claim the vast realms of nature as our own, and were we to lay all their treasures at his feet, how inadequate would such an offering be, to express the debt of love which we owe to him for what he has suffered and done for our salvation!
When oppressed in sever agony of soul, our Lord gave himself to prayer. This powerfully teaches us that we ought to follow his example when in any difficulties. It was not to conceal himself from his enemies, that he retired to this sequestered spot, for we are expressly told that Judas "knew the place." Jesus could have easily have frustrated all their attempts to apprehend them, had he felt so disposed. On a previous occasion, the people were going to take him and make him king by force — but he escaped from them, and went into a mountain alone. When however, he was sought in order to take him as a prisoner, although knowing full well what this would lead to — he gladly gave himself up to his blood-thirsty pursuers.
The purpose for which he retired to the garden, was to pour out his soul in prayer to his heavenly Father. What supplications were those which he now offered! How would they shame us out of that icy coldness, that lifeless formality, by which our prayers are so frequently characterized. "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission!" Oh, to possess more of his spirit in all our approaches to the heavenly footstool, especially in times of trial and temptation!
"Go to dark Gethsemane,
You who feel the tempter's power
Your Redeemer's conflict see,
Watch with him one little hour.
Turn not from his griefs away;
Learn of Jesus Christ today.
The resignation which be displayed on this memorable occasion, is also worthy of our meditation. He prayed earnestly and repeatedly that the cup of suffering might pass from him; but he instantly added, "not my will — but may yours be done." Thus, in his deepest anguish, patience had its perfect work in him. Such should be our feeling whenever our Heavenly Father is pleased to lay upon us his afflicting hand. May He in his great mercy grant that, under every dispensation, however painful, we may be enabled, in the sincerity of our hearts, to say, "May the will of God be done!."
The Importunate Suppliant
"O My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." Matthew 26:39
Concerning the 'cup' which the Redeemer prayed, no less than three times, that it might be taken from him — various opinions have been entertained. It is generally supposed that he referred to his death; but such a view appears to be very improbable. He well knew that there was an impossibility for that cup to be taken away, inasmuch as it formed an essential part of the divine purpose that he should be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. It was for this express design that he left his Father's bosom, and became bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh. It was an event ever present to his mind, and with holy impatience, he longed for its arrival. We conceive that it is far more natural to conclude that he alluded to the bitter agonies by which, on this special occasion, his mind was oppressed. His language was, "let this cup pass from me;" words which imply that he intended the one which he was then drinking.
It is to be remembered that he was now almost ready to sink under a weight of insupportable anguish; so that his prayer was that he might be relieved from those fearful pangs, if it could be done without impairing the efficiency of his atoning work. In imploring this favor he manifested the most perfect submission, leaving his Heavenly Father to judge of the fitness of the request, for he added, "Not as I will — but as you will." We believe that the cup, after he had drunk so deeply of its bitterness, did pass away; as we find him, when he returned to the disciples, far more composed. And it does not appear that he subsequently endured any severe mental agony until a short time before he expired, when he uttered the mournful lamentation, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" But the words of the apostle seem to settle the question, when he says in writing to the Hebrews, "Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto him who was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared."
Some have thought that the Savior was apprehensive that he must have actually died in the garden. Such was the intensity of his sufferings that he felt as if his mortal frame could bear up no longer, and that, having reached the utmost point of endurance he would have, there and then, to yield up his spirit. In support of this opinion many considerations might be adduced, especially his own statement, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." And oh! what must have been his feelings, if he really had such an impression? Were he to have expired before he reached the cross, his great undertaking would evidently be incomplete, if not rendered altogether abortive; ancient predictions would have been unfulfilled, and many expressive types have lost all their significance.
To the cross, as we have seen, he was constantly looking forward; and surely the thought that he must die after all before he could reach it, would add more than anything else to the bitterness of the cup which he had to drink. But, cheering words! "he was heard in that he feared;" his fainting frame was strengthened; his drooping energies were revived; and being thus invigorated and refreshed, he went forth, with his accustomed serenity, to meet the foes by whose wicked hands he was crucified and slain.
Reader! cultivate a spirit of increasing fellowship with the Savior in his sufferings. Learn from him to drink — not with stoic insensibility — but with unmurmuring acquiescence — every cup of sorrow which is placed in your hand. And, above all, let your most ardent praises be presented for "the cup of salvation," procured at so immense a cost; of which all who partake shall quench their raging thirst, and live for evermore.
The Agony of the Redeemer
"And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood, falling down to the ground." Luke 22:44
Long before the Savior's advent, it had been foretold that he was to be "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." The prediction was verified during the whole of his earthly career — but such was pre-eminently the case during the period of his agony and bloody sweat. Under his other distresses we find him maintaining the utmost composure — but on this occasion his usual calmness and fortitude seem to have forsaken him, being almost ready to sink under the intolerable load by which he was oppressed.
Of his present sufferings, we can only say that they were inconceivably great. We read that "he was troubled in spirit," that "he began to be sore amazed" that "his soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;" and that "being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly, while his sweat was as it were great drops of blood, falling down to the ground."
But how was it that he was thus so sorely troubled? There was nothing of an outward nature to produce such effects; no ruthless officers to lay upon him their cruel hands; no scourges to lacerate his sacred flesh; no taunts or blasphemies to grieve his righteous soul. And yet he appears to be engaged in some fearful conflict, the influence of which, even upon his body, is such as to cause us to shudder at the contemplation of it. Although it was in the dead of night, which in that country was exceeding damp, in consequence of the heavy dews that fell; and although he was stretched upon the cold earth, which at any time would chill our frame — yet he perspired most profusely — yes, his sweat was as it were great drops of blood, which, thickening as they were presented to the atmosphere, fell down to the ground
If, however, there were no outward foes with whom he had to struggle, there were spiritual and invisible ones. It is evident that the legions of Hell, in overwhelming numbers, were now let loose upon him. A short time before, he said to his immediate followers, "I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no power over Me." And again, when apprehended by the rabble, "This is your hour, and the power of darkness." That there was an unusual concourse of evil spirits in the garden, may be concluded from the repeated warnings which he gave to the three disciples. As if they were then exposed to peculiar danger, he exhorted them again and again, to watch and pray lest they entered into temptation. Satan seems to have been convinced that this was one of his last opportunities, and he therefore exerted all his infernal energies to upset the Savior's purposes, and blast all human hopes.
But there was another agent now at work in producing these agonies, and he was none other — with reverence be it spoken — than the eternal Father Himself! Any attempt to enlarge upon this subject, would be the height of presumption, and would only lead us to darken counsel by words without knowledge. Of the solemn fact we are, however, distinctly assured. It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief; he was smitten of God, and afflicted. Inflexible justice confronted the great Surety, to demand rigid satisfaction to his insulted claims; and the mysterious words were proclaimed from the excellent glory, "Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man who is my Fellow, says the Lord Almighty."
All this he had to bear single and alone. He trod, unaided, the winepress of divine wrath, and by so doing he became red in his apparel, and his garments stained with blood. But it was not so much his body that bled — as his soul. It was the struggles of the inner man which caused the crimson sweat of the outward man. Oh, what tongue can express, what mind can conceive, the pangs he now endured! Was there ever sorrow like unto his sorrow, when the Lord afflicted him in the day of his fierce anger? Answer, you astonished angels, you wondering worlds, you weeping saints, you careless sinners!
"The Lord in the day of his anger did lay,
Our sins on the Lamb, and he bore them away;
Our ransom and peace, our surety he is;
Come see if there ever was sorrow like his."
"And an appeared an angel unto him from Heaven, strengthening him." Luke 22:43
During his earthly sojourn, the Savior was not merely "seen by angels," but they frequently assisted him, and rendered such services as his circumstances required. In the account given of his temptation, it is stated, "Then the devil left him, and behold angels came and ministered unto him." On that occasion, several of those glorious beings appeared — but in the garden, there was only one. It was probably Gabriel, who was honored to announce his birth, and whose distinguished position among the celestial hierarchies is set forth by the fact that he stands in the especial presence of God. But whether it was he, or some other bright spirit, we may be certain that there was not one among the innumerable hosts, who would not have coveted the office of supporting their great and gracious Lord in His distress.
It may be regarded as somewhat strange, inasmuch as the Savior was a divine person, that his human nature should not have been sustained by the higher nature with which it was united, rather than by means of a creature which his own hands had made. It appears, however, to have been necessary for him to submit to all the conditions of humanity; that he should be tried and tempted on the one hand, and be consoled and supported on the other, even as we are; that he should take no advantage, so to speak, of his divinity — but be made subject, in all things, to the common lot of men, sin only excepted. And since he bore suffering as a man, and received comfort as a man, there is nothing inconsistent in the circumstance that he should obtain assistance from one of those ministering spirits who are sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation.
But how did this angel strengthen the Redeemer? Not by drinking any portion of that bitter cup, for the removal of which he so earnestly prayed. Not by relieving him of the least measure of the oppressive burden which it was his exclusive lot to bear. A single drop of that awful mixture would have been deadly poison to this heavenly visitant, and the smallest fragment of that heavy load would have sunk him down to the lowest Hell. What then, did he do? Perhaps he wiped away the sweat from his pallid brow, and the tears from his streaming eyes. He may have stretched out his arm, and gently raised the agonizing sufferer from the cold ground, and have presented his sympathizing bosom, on which that aching head might find a brief repose. Or, perhaps, he strengthened him by recalling some of those great and precious promises which had been given to him, and thus set before his mind the ineffably glorious results in which his sufferings would eventually issue.
It is possible, however, that the mere presence of the angel might have produced such an effect; for, coming as a messenger from his Heavenly Father, even his appearance must have been consoling in no ordinary degree. We all know what energy it imparts to the soul, when in deep distress, to have a loving friend at our side — many a bitter agony has his very looks relieved. How often, especially, have the dying felt when grasping the hand of a dear companion, that such sympathizing regard is eminently sweet and soothing! Thus the visit of this angel, independently of any actual aid, could not fail to be a source of refreshment to the Savior. It was to him a clear testimony of his Father's approbation; it showed the deep interest which the principalities and powers of Heaven took in his sorrows; and it was a kind of foretaste of that transporting welcome with which his obedience unto death would before long be rewarded.
The support which was now afforded was peculiarly seasonable; it was truly "help in time of need." And as the great Head was not left unconsoled — neither will the feeblest of his members. He was thus brought to know by experience, the value of such timely interpositions, and has thereby become more fully qualified himself for sustaining the office towards his followers which the angel assumed in reference to him. "For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."
The Faithful Saying
"This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance — that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." 1 Timothy 1:15
The apostle here refers to an event altogether unparalleled in the history of the universe. Never was there such a visit as that which the Lord of life paid to this distant planet. For him to leave a world . . .
so glorious — for one so abhorrent;
of ineffable bliss — for one of deepest wretchedness;
of unsullied purity — for one full of the vilest abominations!
But for him to appear in such a region, as strange as that would be — is nothing, after all, when compared with the actual circumstances which attended his coming. He became man himself, and in our nature endured . . .
the greatest poverty,
the deepest reproach,
the heaviest and most protracted sufferings,
the most cruel and disgraceful death!
"Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!" Philippians 2:6-8
With what thrilling interest, may we suppose, would the angelic hosts, as they witnessed the amazing spectacle, be led to inquire: what could be the object of it all? What was there to warrant such an act of immeasurable condescension; to require such a strange combination of the most exalted perfections of Deity — with the greatest needs and lowest conditions of humanity; to justify such an exchange of the raptures and dignities of Heaven — for the multifarious sorrows and degradations of earth? So prodigious a sacrifice, so lavish an expenditure out of the eternal treasury — must have had reference to some end of surpassing magnitude; an end compared with which the creation of worlds may be regarded as unimportant and contemptible. And when we are assured that that end was "to save sinners" — is it possible for us to exaggerate the momentous interests which it involves?
Such was the purpose which brought the Son of God, "the brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of his person," from Heavenly glory; which led him to lay his robes of divine majesty aside, to be numbered with transgressors, and to expire, in shame and agony, on the accursed tree! During the whole of his earthly career, this was the object on which his eye was constantly fixed, and which absorbed his undivided thoughts and energies.
"All the paths of human ambition," it has been remarked, "were open to him — but he passed them all by. All the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, were laid at his feet — but he saw them, as if he saw them not. With a single sentence he could have flashed light on the darkest mysteries of philosophy — but he would not thus debase his mission; he would not spare a single moment from teaching that higher science — the knowledge of salvation. He had ears only for one sound — and that was the voice of penitence imploring forgiveness; the voice of fear and conscious guilt, deprecating the vengeance of eternal fire, and crying for relief. He had eyes only for one sight — and that was the misery of man; the spectacle of a world invaded, ruined, lost, and moving along in chains to the pit of perdition! This object filled the whole sphere of his vision; he could see nothing else; and had all the thrones of the earth been vacant, and invited his acceptance — it would not have induced him to diverge a single step from the path which led direct to the cross."
Reader! has the great design of the Redeemer's mission been accomplished in your case? In order to this, it is indispensable that you should receive the record which God has given concerning him, as faithful and true; and also that you should embrace him as he is freely offered in that record, as all your salvation and all your desire. "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name."
"Having loved his own who were in the world — he loved them unto the end." John 13:1
Among the various subjects which natural history presents to our notice, one of the most interesting is the strong affection which animals have for their offspring. So intense is this feeling among a large number of the brute creation, that it may be said to exceed the care which they employ for their own preservation, or the indulgence of their own appetites. Many of the most timid creatures, who shrink from the least appearance of danger while they are single and alone — become bold and combative when their young are in danger. Thus the domestic hen will encounter any foe in order to protect her helpless brood; and the lark and linnet will allow themselves to be taken in their nests, rather than desert the little ones which are protected under their wings. The grim lion fondles with paternal kindness his playful cubs, and the savage bear has been known to interpose his own body between the deadly musket and his feeble progeny. But this feeling, however powerful and self-denying, does not last long. After they have nourished and brought up their young, all further ties are broken, and they know each other no more.
Human affection is of a higher order, and far more enduring than that of the irrational tribes; and yet even this, in its purest manifestations, is frail and fleeting — when compared with that which is divine. Man's love, like everything earthly, is imperfect, and upon it too much dependence should not be placed. Instances in abundance show that it is uncertain at best, for the smallest trifle has frequently turned it, not merely into coldness — but into the bitterest animosity. How touching, and yet how true, are the words of the poet:
"Alas! how light a thing may move
Dissensions between hearts that love;
A something light as air — a look —
A word unkind or roughly spoken,
The love that tempests never shook —
A trifle such as this has broken!"
But, blessed Jesus! your love towards us is not like that which we often manifest towards each other. While our moods are as variable as the shifting winds — You never change. It is not for lack of provocation, that you continue to set your heart upon us; for had you dealt with us as we have dealt with you, long since would your regard have been withdrawn from such unworthy objects. What confidence, then, should we repose in you! The same yesterday, today, and forever, in your nature, such are you in all your thoughts and feelings, all your works and ways. The pillars of the earth may totter and fall; the rocks though of adamant may melt away; the perpetual mountains may bow, and the everlasting hills be scattered — but unaltered, will you continue forever and ever!
The Blessed Substitute
"Then He said to them: Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day." Luke 24:46
The necessity of the sufferings and death of Christ is clearly set forth in the inspired word; and it is important that we should clearly understand whence that necessity arose. The great Jehovah can have no pleasure in the death of sinners; as a Being of infinite love and compassion, he could not but delight in their salvation. As, however, it is possible for us to desire the accomplishment of certain objects, while there are insurmountable obstacles which prevent their being carried into effect — so, with reverence be it spoken, it may be also with the blessed God. His power, as boundless though it is, cannot be exerted but in full harmony with all the perfections of his adorable character. We cannot speak more unworthily of Him than to declare that he can do everything, unless the reservation he most distinct in our minds that it is only everything which is wise, and just, and good.
The case of Darius affords a striking illustration of this matter. After discovering that what he had done, in having Daniel cast into the den of lions, was the result of a vile conspiracy among his courtiers against the life of his favorite minister — he felt intensely anxious that he should be delivered. It is said that "he labored until the going down of the sun to deliver him." He attempted, in every way he could think of, to find some means by which his own decree might be set aside, and the rescue of Daniel effected, consistently with the great legal principle of the realm, which required that all enactments, duly ratified by the seal and signature of the king, should be unalterable. His labor, however, was in vain. No expedient could he devise whereby, in harmony with the laws of the Medes and Persians, the thing could be done.
Probably a more correct representation of the real state of the case between God and us, cannot be given. Some are disposed to ask: Why could not God, in the exercise of his divine clemency, grant a free and unconditional pardon to sinful man? We answer the question by asking another: Why could not Darius grant a free and unconditional deliverance to Daniel? It is abundantly evident why he could not. His decree had gone forth, after being solemnly ratified in the presence of all the peers and nobles of the realm. Had it not been for this decree, the order would doubtless have been instantly given: Let the gates of the den be unbarred, and let my faithful servant go free. But the decree, sealed with his own signet, was there; and had it not been executed, not merely would the king's word have been falsified — but the honor and authority of his government and laws would have been despised and violated.
Now, the decree of God had gone forth, in which it was most expressly declared that the soul which sins — shall surely die. And if that law of a frail mortal could not have been set aside, much loss can His law — who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.
But, while Darius labored to deliver Daniel, by devising some scheme whereby he might be set at liberty without any damage or desecration to his law — and failed; on the other hand, the Eternal God labored under circumstances by no means dissimilar — and succeeded. With his wondrous plan, prompted by boundless compassion, we are familiar. His own everlasting Son was appointed our substitute, to undergo the penalty which we deserved. In our nature he lived and died, and by his obedience and sufferings — he procured our ransom; while, at the same time, he magnified the law and made it honorable. The apostle gives a condensed view of the whole of this strange transaction in those memorable words, "God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus."
It befits us frequently to dwell upon this great mystery of godliness, for such it is in very deed. It is the study of admiring angels; and the masterpiece of the manifold wisdom and love of God. Oh, that our minds were duly affected by its contemplation, so that we might be filled with burning love to Him, who freely undertook our cause, and endured so much in our stead!
The Triumphant Entrance
"Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in!" Psalm 24:7
The title here given to the Redeemer is a high and lofty one; and, when his earthly circumstances are considered, it appears as strange as it is dignified. "Are you a king, then?" was the question which Pilate put to him while he stood as an accused culprit at the judgment bar. Little indeed did he then appear like one — every ray of his glory being so completely shrouded under the thick veil of his humiliation. And so with the taunting inscription upon his cross, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews;" an inscription written in three different languages, that all the strangers at Jerusalem, on returning to their own countries, might spread the tale of his ridiculous pretensions. But, in spite of all their mockeries — he was a king even in his deepest poverty; and the time was fast approaching when the disguise which he now wore would be cast off, and his appearance correspond with his true character and claims. At his resurrection it was so in some measure; but when he mounted his chariot, which was to bear him to his throne, he was attended by all the ensigns of royalty, and publicly acknowledged as the King of kings.
There are many who still entertain low thoughts of our enthroned Redeemer, and some religious systems have a direct tendency to produce this result. The adherents of such systems seem "only to consult how they may cast him down from his excellency;" they are afraid that he should be honored too much; and hence, whenever they come across any statement of scripture in which his person and work are celebrated in strains of glowing ardor — they exercise their utmost ingenuity to lower its tone, and explain away whatever is distinctive in its meaning.
The inspired writers are evidently bent upon effecting one great object — that object being that "he might be exalted, and extolled, and be very high." In all their representations, they make "him first, him last, him midst, and without end."
Now, do our views of religious truth harmonize with theirs? Unless we have so learned Christ as to regard the loftiest conceptions we can form of his character, as altogether low and contemptible when compared with his infinite dignity — there must be something wrong in our doctrinal system, or in the state of our souls.
The reception which awaited him on his entrance into the heavenly city, is a subject which baffles all the powers of imagination. How would the celestial mansions reverberate with his praise! What innumerable diadems would be cast at his feet! How, especially, would the Eternal Father welcome his arrival, and with what tones of ineffable benignity must he have uttered the words, "Sit on my right hand, until I make your foes your footstool!" It was the jubilee of Heaven; the most wonderful of all the memorable epochs in the annals of the skies.
It befits us, then, to rejoice in the boundless honor with which he is invested. Let us lift up our eyes to the throne on which he sits, saying, with an unfaltering tongue, "You are the King of glory, O Christ!"
But while he is exalted above all blessing and praise — he is no less tender and pitiful than in the days of his earthly pilgrimage. While, therefore, we adore his infinite majesty, let us be encouraged by the thought of his undiminished sympathy and unchanging love.
The Manifestation of Deity
"No one has ever seen God — but the only begotten Son, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." John 1:18
By the truths which he taught, the unexampled life which he led, and especially the sacrificial death which he died — the Savior revealed the character of God — as it had never been revealed before, and as it never will be revealed again. What a marvelous display have we in the cross of Christ — of the divine holiness and justice! "Go to Shiloh," was the language addressed through the prophet Jeremiah, "where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel."
In a similar manner we are directed to the various scenes where God's terrible judgments have been inflicted — in order that we may read his character as a Being of inflexible righteousness and unchanging truth. To Jerusalem; to Sodom and Gomorrah; to the old world, with its teeming myriads buried in a watery grave; to the garden of Eden, deserted by its once happy occupants, with the cherubim and flaming sword guarding the tree of life — such places we are called upon to visit, that we might see what was done to them for their abounding transgressions.
See what God did in Heaven — how he hurled the rebel angels from their thrones; and to the brink of the burning pit, where the impenitent and unbelieving are tormented in flames, which know no abatement and no end.
But, above all, it is said to us, "Go to Gethsemane and Calvary, and see what I did there — how I bruised the great Surety in the day of my fierce anger, and bathed the glittering sword of my indignation in his righteous heart!" The solemn truth, that it is "a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," never received such an impressive and emphatic verification as that which was given to it in the garden and on the cross!
It is not, however, the severity of God alone which was manifested in the sufferings of Christ — but his divine goodness, his matchless mercy, his unbounded love. The benevolence of the Divine Being appears in all his works; but every other proof fades away, when compared with this! Tell us not of the wondrous contrivances of nature; of the heavens spangled with beauty; of the earth with her circling seasons pouring her ample stores at our feet — such displays have no significance, no glory in this respect — by reason of the glory that excels.
"Herein is love!" Demonstration can go no higher; love unspeakable and unparalleled, the dimensions of which neither man nor angel, neither saint nor seraph, can find out unto perfection — but which will be to every created intelligence forever — a love which surpasses imagination. Yes, "herein is love; not that we loved God — but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins."
"The love of God," to use the language of an excellent writer, "is from everlasting to everlasting; but there never was such a manifestation of it as this. The light of the sun is always the same — but it shines brightest to us at noon; the cross of Christ was the noontide of everlasting love, the meridian splendor of eternal mercy. There had been many bright manifestations of the same love before; but they were like the light of the morning, that shines more and more unto the perfect day; and that perfect day was when Christ was suspended on the cross, and when darkness covered the land."
May He "who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, shine into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." We shall not, then, cherish false impressions of the character of Him with whom we have to do. And while his inflexible justice may well lead us to exclaim, "Who would not fear you, holy Lord God?" — on the other hand, his infinite compassion should subdue our obstinacy, win our confidence, and fill our souls with joy and love!
The Spiritual Paradox!
"I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of God's love — and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge." Ephesians 3:17-19
When setting forth the greatness of the Redeemer's love, the apostle refers to its fourfold dimensions:
The first is its length, which reaches from everlasting to everlasting. To the lowest of his people he says, "I have loved you with an everlasting love, and therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn you." Who can view it thus, in the date of its endless existence, without acknowledging that it passes knowledge? Anything that is everlasting is, of necessity, above our low and limited conceptions. What idea can we form of the solitudes of eternity before the glorious hosts of cherubim and seraphim were created? No idea whatever! We may think on the subject, talk of it, and, if so disposed, argue about it; but to grasp the mighty theme is more than we can do. "Such knowledge is too wonderful for us; it is high, we cannot attain unto it."
What, therefore, can we know of the love of Christ, which then existed in all its boundless plenitude! Only when we can comprehend eternity, with its countless, dateless ages — we may be able to measure the length of that love, which never had a beginning, and which never will have an end.
As to its breadth, it is confined to no single region — but embraces within its ample range this wide world which we inhabit. For every climate it has blessings in store; among every kindred it has triumphs to win. There is not a portion of the globe so wild, nor a people so savage — as to be placed beyond the reach of its influence! To earth's remotest bounds does its gracious call extend, and on its waving banner the gratifying inscription of "Peace, peace to him that is afar off, and to him that is near," is exhibited.
The objects of redeeming love, as they will appear at the final ingathering, will consist of numbers without number; they will be as "countless as the grains upon the seaside sands." How vast, then, must that compassion be, which snatched them all as brands from the eternal burnings! The innumerable multitudes before the throne will evince, in a manner the most conclusive — how amazing, how inconceivable — is the love to which their salvation is exclusively ascribed.
While their number, together with their varied conditions, having come from the east and west, from the north and south, declare that it is as wide as the world; so their ineffable bliss proclaims that it is high as the loftiest heights of Heaven. And what it is in its topless height it is also as regards it fathomless depths; in both respects, like the peace of God, it passes all understanding.
The proofs afforded in the works of creation of the divine perfections are truly wonderful; but it is not impossible for us to suppose still higher manifestations. A firmament studded with more dazzling orbs, an earth decked with richer tints of beauty, may be conceived. But not so with the love of Christ; it transcends all that the eye ever saw, the ear ever heard, the heart ever imagined! "Behold, what kind of love is this?" says the apostle John; implying that its features are altogether peculiar, something that stands single and alone, and which will stand thus forever.
"Who is this man? Even the wind and waves obey him!" was the exclamation of the awestruck crowds, when they beheld the winds and waves obedient to him; and should not we say, "What kind of love is this!" when we witness all he did and suffered for us and for our salvation. Oh, when did love incur such sacrifices, endure such pangs, overcome such difficulties, abide such tests, distribute such blessings!
But while the love of Christ is so amazing and unparalleled that it may be truly said of it that it "surpasses knowledge;" yet, as paradoxical as it may appear, it is yet possible for it to be known. It may be realized in its sweetness, and felt in its constraining influence — although its nature can never be fully comprehended. Reader! rest not satisfied without an experimental and practical knowledge of it — a knowledge compared with the excellency and blessedness of which, all other attainments are vain!
Remembrance of Christ
"Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead, according to my gospel." 2 Timothy 2:8
The remembrance of the Savior, in his person and work, in the sufferings he endured and the cruel death that he died, as well as in his subsequent resurrection and ascension glory — is an incumbent duty upon all who profess to be his followers. While it is most reasonable in itself, it is especially important when regarded as a test of our feelings towards him, and of our saving interest in him.
Had we a dear friend who was far distant from us, we would be sure to think of him; he would be a prominent subject of our meditations. If it happened otherwise, according to the old but oft-verified proverb, "out of sight — out of mind," such a friend would have good reason for suspecting that our attachment was anything but genuine. Much regard cannot be felt for one who is never thought of, when once his back is turned.
Now, while real affection for a fellow creature will lead those who possess it to think of its object — so will it be with attachment to the Savior. Genuine love to the Savior — will lead us to think on Him. There are three things by which our thoughts of Him must be marked, before they can be taken as conclusive evidence the genuineness of our love.
In the first place, our thoughts of Jesus must be frequent. We do not say that they are to be uninterrupted, so as to exclude all other topics; but their recurrence should be such as to form a habitual and not merely occasional state of mind. It is not by any incidental act or condition that we are to judge either of people or things; such a course would lead us to the most erroneous conclusions. It is, for example, no uncommon thing for the wretched victims of insanity to have some lucid intervals, during which they converse with the utmost propriety; but it would be the extreme of folly to infer from such happy moments that they were restored to a sound mind, and that reason had again taken permanent possession of her throne. If we wanted to judge of a river, we would not go and look at it when its banks were overflown in consequence of long-continued rain; of its real dimensions, such a scene would give us a very false conception. So with a town; we should not think of forming an opinion of its condition by passing through it on some public occasion, when the whole country for miles around were thronging its streets. It would be requisite, if we wished to ascertain whether it was a dull or bustling place — to pay it a visit when nothing unusual was going on, and when everything assumed its ordinary and everyday appearance.
And just so with our thoughts. It is by their habitual character that we are to judge of them; it is from the general tenor of our meditations, in reference to any given subject, that the real state of the mind is known
In the second place, our thoughts of Jesus must be spontaneous. They are not the thoughts of the heart which are forced upon the attention by something external, and which are willingly dismissed when other and more congenial matters are presented. We are frequently compelled to give our thoughts to various objects; but when we take a deep interest in some question, or regard a person with feelings of high esteem — they will then, almost unawares, be fully absorbed with their favorite theme.
We need hardly add, in the third place, that our thoughts of Jesus must be pleasurable. We may often think of an individual, and that without any compulsion — while our feelings towards him are those of the bitterest enmity. So that, in addition to our thoughts being frequent and voluntary — they must also be agreeable, imparting to the mind peculiar gratification, before they will be any true index of our actual state and character.
Reader! Apply these tests to yourself with all fidelity. Seek to ascertain whether your love to the Savior will bear the above proofs. "As a man thinks in his heart — so is he," Proverbs 23:7. And if your inward thoughts concerning him possess the features which have been specified, you may view them as tokens for good. After all, the best of us are truly guilty in reference to this matter. Our daily pursuits, our companions, our pleasures, and even our troubles — often cause us to forget Him.
Very different does he act towards us. What he said concerning Zion is true of each of his people, "Behold, I have engraved you upon the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me!" Isaiah 49:16. Yes, upon his loving heart — are our worthless names imprinted for a perpetual memorial. And should not his remembrance of us, have the effect of stirring up our minds to a more frequent, devout, and adoring remembrance of Him? If we only felt the mighty obligations under which his boundless love has laid us — to forget him for a single hour would be impossible!
The Post of Honor
"That in all things, he might have the preeminence." Colossians 1:18
The question of the eunuch was, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about — himself or someone else?" There is no need for us to propose such an inquiry in reference to these words. To no one but to Him, who is the sum and substance of both prophetic and apostolic testimony — can they be applied. He whom Philip preached in reply to the above interrogation — does Paul preach here, when addressing the saints at Colosse; and the strain in which he expatiates upon his favorite theme is the most glowing that can be conceived. His mind being filled with the loftiest ideas of the Redeemer, both in his person and work — he multiplies the most emphatic epithets, and goes on enlarging and still enlarging, as if he knew not how or when to stop! "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the pre-eminence!" Colossians 1:15-18
A beautiful landscape is generally composed of features of a diversified character, and are scattered here and there over the whole scene. But it often happens that, in addition to its ordinary attractions, there is some one object standing out in commanding relief, towards which the eye of the spectator is instantly turned, and which excites his special admiration.
So it is with the spiritual scenes which the inspired writers set before us. Many striking characters are portrayed upon the gorgeous panorama of revelation; but there is one figure of such eclipsing superiority, as to cast all besides into the shade. Patriarchs and prophets, and righteous men of successive dispensations, appear before us; it is, however, only the background of the picture that they occupy; the front is altogether taken up by one, even Jesus, in order that he might attract our chief attention, and call forth our devoutest regard.
It is not merely in some points that he is superior all others — but in all respects, does he excel them!
In his personal qualities, who can be compared unto him? Every feature which constitutes moral and spiritual excellence, shone in his character with unrivaled splendor. "There shall you see me!" he said to the disciples, when referring to his interview with them in Galilee; and similar is the language of all the graces concerning himself. What does holiness say? "There shall you see me!" Resignation, meekness, fidelity, long-suffering, tenderness, zeal, love — the language of each is, "There shall you see me — and that not dwarfed and obscure — but in absolute perfection!" In whatever things are pure, and lovely, and of good report — he has an undisputed pre-eminence.
So with the offices he sustains. As prophet, priest, and king — he immeasurably transcends all others by whom those functions have been assumed.
The most eminent, perhaps, of the ancient prophets was Moses; but "Jesus was counted worthy of more glory" than he, the one being a mere type of the other.
Among the priests, Aaron stands as the foremost of that order which was ordained for the special service of God; but before the great High Priest of our profession — Aaron and all his sons have to hide their diminished heads!
If we speak of the things concerning him as king, what shall we say? He is the Prince of the kings of the earth; he is the King of kings, and Lords of lords!
He has the pre-eminence in the world of glory. The position assigned to him there by the followers of the false prophet Mahomet, is only a secondary one; they place Mahomet on the right hand of God, and Jesus on the left. But not so; heaven's highest post of honor was reserved for, and will be eternally occupied by Him!
Reader! what place does he occupy in your affections? Are you one of those by whom he is lightly esteemed? Of such treatment, be assured, he is not worthy. At the door of your heart, he is seeking for admittance, and will you not receive the King of glory in? "Open to me," is his language; "for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night." But while he has waited long, and is waiting still — yet a spirit of determined rejection may drive him hence. The last knock will perhaps soon be given, and he may say, as he did to the Jews, "I am going away." O long-despised Jesus! take not thus your flight. I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof; but, overcome by your matchless condescension — I can hold out no longer! Oh, then,
"Take my poor heart, and let it be
Forever closed to all but Thee;
Seal you my heart, and let me wear
That pledge of love forever there!
The Turning Point!
"So Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and saw him, and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.' So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly!" Luke 19:4-6
Having heard of the fame Jesus, Zaccheus felt a strong desire to see him. The motive by which he was actuated was probably one of mere curiosity; but the wise Disposer of all events has often overruled even such a feeling, for the spiritual good of those who have been influenced thereby, as was the case on this occasion.
There were hindrances in the way of this desire being gratified. The Savior was surrounded by great multitudes of people; so that, when the chief of the publicans went forth to meet him, he found it impossible to get a single glimpse of Jesus. And what rendered it still more difficult, was the circumstance that Zaccheus was a short man. But he appears to have been fully determined that he would not be thwarted; and the method he pursued showed that, although his body was small — yet it contained a mind of considerable energy and decision. Regardless of his own dignity as a man of wealth, and unconcerned as to what his neighbors and associates might think of him — he ran ahead, and perched himself like a bird upon one of the branches of a sycamore-tree, and thus, elevated above the crowd, he was able to get a complete view of Jesus.
Whether he endeavored to conceal himself amid the ample foliage by which he was surrounded, we do not know; while anxious to see Him of whom he had heard so much, it is probable that he did not wish such a wonderful person to behold him in so peculiar a position. But hide himself, he could not; the sinner was found out by the sinner's Savior. "When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and saw him." That it was no ordinary glance is evident from what followed, if indeed any glance of the Redeemer's could be called ordinary. Referring to the voice heard on the holy mount, the apostle describes it as "such a voice;" and whenever Zaccheus referred to this look, as he was sure frequently to do, we may be certain that he would ever speak of it as such a look — such as he had never encountered before, and never forgotten since.
Oh, what profound significance, what searching penetration, and yet what beaming tenderness and compassion, were there in it! It was a look that pierced into the inmost depths of the publican's heart; and under its constraining influence, his enmity was subdued, his will was conquered, and love to Christ and love to man took possession of his breast! He was now in immediate contact with the great Sun of righteousness, whose quickening beams shone upon him with an energy irresistible and divine. As it was the look of Jesus that brought Peter to repentance, so it was mainly through the same means that Zaccheus was brought to the enjoyment of that salvation which, according to the eternal purpose, was this very day to enter his heart, and not his heart only, but his house likewise.
That a great change had been wrought in him, is evident from the readiness he showed in complying with the Savior's command. "So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly!" Reader, how important is it that you should receive him in like manner! This is the turning-point upon which your everlasting destiny depends. "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to those who believe on his name." While he knocks at the door of your heart for admittance — give him therefore an immediate, unreserved, and cordial welcome. Let your language be, "Come, you who are blessed by the Lord. Why are you standing out here?"
"You dangerous inhabitants hence depart.
Dear Savior, enter in!
And guard the passage to my heart,
And keep out every sin!"
"Thomas to the rest of the disciples: Let us also go, that we may die with him!" John 11:16
When the devoted sisters of Bethany sent a message to the Savior to acquaint him of the sickness of their brother, instead of starting for the scene of sorrow at once, as might have been expected, it is recorded that "he still stayed two days in the same place where he was." After that period had expired, he informed the disciples of his intention to return to Judea, which led them to say, "A short while ago the Jews tried to stone you — and yet you are going back there?" That he would, by undertaking such a journey, be exposed to the most imminent danger, they clearly perceived; but, finding that he was determined to go, they ceased to expostulate with him. It was then that Thomas uttered the above tender and touching words. As if he had said: What will become of him, if he gets into the hands of his enemies, may be easily foreseen; but if they take away his life, let us resolve to share his fate, and be ready to die with him!
In this resolution, several things appear, especially a spirit of love to the Redeemer. Thomas had many failings, some peculiar to himself, and others in common with the whole of the disciples. When it is remembered that they were now only novices, just commencing the divine life, their manifold defects should not excite our wonder. Not at once — but generally by slow degrees, do things attain perfection. The sturdy oak, upon which the storms of Heaven exert their violence in vain, was once an insignificant sapling. The strongest man was once a feeble child. The most profound philosopher can look back to the period when he was occupied with learning his letters and numbers.
Just so with the disciples; they were at first mere children, and the ignorance and waywardness of children did they often display. But, notwithstanding their imperfections — it is very evident that they sincerely loved their great Master; whatever their frailties and shortcomings — on that point there is no room for doubt. Such was the case with them all, the traitor excepted; and such was particularly the case with Thomas when he gave utterance to the expression before us. He shows his willingness, not merely to live with Christ — but to die with him, and thus evinced an affection of no ordinary kind — an affection which many waters could not quench, and which even death itself could not destroy.
"Skin for skin, yes, all that a man has will he give for his life!" And yet even our lives should not be counted dear to us, for the sake of Christ. Such a sacrifice should we be prepared to make, sooner than desert or deny him. "If any man comes to me, and hates not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yes, and his own life also — he cannot be my disciple!" These were the conditions on which the Savior insisted when he was upon earth, and they are as binding still — as they were at the beginning. Among the other statutes of his kingdom, this law remains unrepealed and unaltered.
We may not, it is true, be actually required to prove our attachment to Him by dying for Him; but his disciples we cannot be, unless our hearts are in such a state as would prompt us to make the surrender were it demanded. We must be martyrs in spirit, even would we never be called upon to be martyrs in actual fact.
Reader! this subject should lead to serious self-examination. "Do you love Me?" is a question which it befits you very anxiously and faithfully to ponder, for its importance is unspeakable. If, appealing to Him who is acquainted with our inmost thoughts, you can say, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you," then you are truly blessed. And while devout gratitude should fill your soul, let it be combined with fervent prayer that you may be rooted and grounded in love more and more, and thereby be enabled to evidence its vitality, however severe the tests by which it may be tried.
The Mighty Victor!
"And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross!" Colossians 2:15
An announcement of victory pre-supposes, as a matter of course, a previous state of warfare. The scriptures contain frequent references to a great rebellion, in which certain spiritual beings set themselves to resist the power, baffle the wisdom, and defeat the purposes of the Most High God. In such a conflict, the most momentous interests were at stake. Upon its outcome depended, not merely the fate of this paltry world — but the honor and supremacy of Heaven. It was a question of rivalship between the great Monarch of the universe, on the one hand, and of Satan and his innumerable hosts, on the other. To decide this dispute, the Son of God appeared. He came to bruise the head of the serpent, and destroy the devil and his works. The struggle was carried on during the whole of our Lord's career; but it was in the garden and on the cross that it rose to its highest intensity. Very little can be said concerning those solemn scenes, a veil of awful mystery being suspended over them.
We cannot compute the numbers nor estimate the energies of the Savior's foes. It is beyond our power to describe how they may have stood in marshaled array against him; nor can we state what his emotions were, when, forsaken by his heavenly Father — he trod the winepress alone, and entered single-handed upon that mighty and mysterious fight. All we can say is, in his own words; that it was with him, "the hour and power of darkness." But the conflict, however severe, was not of long duration. Soon the triumphant shout was heard, "It is finished!" — a shout which shook the throne of Hell to its very center, and spread dismay through all her dark and desolate abodes!
The great Conqueror, who by means of death vanquished him who had the power of death, lay for a while the prisoner of the grave; but on the morning of the third day, be left its gloomy mansion; and shortly afterwards he returned, in the greatness of his strength, to his native Heaven, leading captivity captive, and making a show of them openly.
When the importance of the enterprise to which he had committed himself is considered, together with the glorious success with which it was crowned — we may be well-assured that no ordinary welcome awaited him there. As he approached Heaven, the city of the great King, angelic voices were heard proclaiming, "Lift up your heads, O you gates; and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in!" To the question, who this King of glory was, the emphatic answer is given, "The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle!" The massive portals are flung open; the conquering hero enters in; and then strains were heard such as even Heaven had never heard before.
And should not we, whom this matter so closely concerns, also join in its celebration? Is Satan conquered — and shall we not triumph? Are principalities and powers disarmed — and shall we not rejoice? "O let us sing unto the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand, and his holy arm, has gotten him the victory!"
"The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever!" Revelation 11:15
There was something truly sublime in the position of Moses when he was dividing the land of promise among the chosen tribes. They had not as yet set one foot in the country; the Jordan with its overflowing banks rolled between them and their inheritance; a gigantic and warlike nation was in quiet possession of the land; while cities, fortified with massive walls and bulwarks, gave ample security to its present occupants. On the other hand, the Israelites were feeble and defenseless; they were a people who had never been regularly trained in military tactics; they were without cavalry, and without artillery. Moses, however, parcels out to them their respective allotments, saying to one tribe — where they were to be settled; and to another, how far their boundaries were to be extended. This was done with all the composure and confidence imaginable; as much so as if the campaign had been brought to a triumphant close, and nothing remained but for them to share the spoils!
Such should be our feelings in reference to the triumphs of the gospel. The inheritance promised to the Jews was sure, whatever difficulties might lie in the way; and not less sure is the inheritance promised to the Redeemer. "Unto us a child is born," was the announcement of prophecy ages before the incarnation; "the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ," was the voice heard from Heaven when nearly the whole world was under the power of the wicked one.
To the Christian mind, it is truly refreshing to contemplate the reign of Jesus in the various aspects under which it is set forth on the pages of inspiration. Limited, it must be confessed, has it hitherto been; but the period is coming when it will be universal. "Men shall be blessed in him," a declaration which shows the beneficent nature of his kingdom; but it is added that "all nations shall call him blessed."
With all due loyalty to Britain's throne, we exult in the thought that "there is another King, even Jesus," and that in all things he is to have the pre-eminence. Not merely will the glorious orb of day be constantly shining upon some part or other of his wide empire — but it will shine upon nothing else. Natural light and spiritual light will be coextensive. The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord — as the waters cover the sea.
With its boundless extent — we are to connect its perpetual duration. Of the greatest of earthly monarchies, the historian, after setting forth its rise and progress, has the melancholy task devolved upon him of describing its "decline and fall." But "of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end." "His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures throughout all generations."
O King of saints! make me one of your willing, loyal, devoted subjects! Reign in my heart by your heavenly grace, and bring all my powers into complete subjection to your blessed will. Help me to show forth your praise, and promote, according to the measure of my ability, the interests of that cause over which you are Head; and thus be permitted, as an unworthy instrument, to aid in hastening the blissful period when all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them — will be yours!
The Final Benediction
"While he was blessing them — he left them and was taken up into Heaven!" Luke 24:51
Massillon, the celebrated French preacher, was not merely distinguished by his great talents — but his whole demeanor won the respect and affection of those by whom he was surrounded. This appears from a simple incident which occurred some time after his death. A traveler passing through the neighborhood was anxious to visit the house where he had lived and died, and was directed to an aged vicar who kept the keys of it — but who had not entered the premises since the decease of the venerable prelate. To gratify the stranger, he consented to accompany him, notwithstanding the pain he would endure by visiting a spot so dear to his memory. After they had entered the grounds, various places of interest were pointed out as they walked along. There, said the guide, with tears in his eyes, is the alley in which he used to walk with us; and that is the garden he cultivated with his own hands; and there is the favorite spot where he used to study the sermons, to which the ears of royalty listened with unbounded admiration. They then went into the house, and passed through one room after another, which contained many objects of curiosity and value. At length they came to the room in which he had breathed his last, when the old man exclaimed, "And this is the place where we lost him!" As soon as the words were uttered, being overcome by his feelings, he fainted away!
We can easily imagine that it would be with similar emotions that the disciples would visit the various spots connected with the Savior's history. That they must have been peculiarly sacred in their eyes, and precious to their remembrance — we cannot for a moment doubt. Their language one to another would probably be: This is the place where he sat, when, with beaming eyes, he pronounced the various blessings upon the meek and merciful, the poor in spirit, and the pure in heart. This is the spot where he stood, surrounded by the weeping throng, himself weeping with the rest, when he restored to life his departed friend. This is the shady grove where he prayed and agonized, when his soul was overwhelmed within him on the night of his sore distress. This is the chamber where he made himself known to us, after he rose from the dead, and when he greeted us with the gracious words, "Peace be unto you!" But never, we can venture to say, did they visit the Mount of Olives without saying, if not in the words of the old vicar — yet in the spirit of them, "And this is the place where we lost him!" It was here, on this lofty summit, that he bade us a final adieu, lifted up his hands and blessed us, and was then carried up into Heaven.
"While he was blessing them — he left them and was taken up into Heaven!" The statement shows the spirit in which he left our world, although it had despised and rejected him. This was in perfect harmony with the whole of his previous life, for all that he did and suffered, clearly declare that he was sent to bless us, in turning us from our iniquities. And such an act furnishes the most conclusive proof, that he took to the realms of bliss — a heart full of tenderness and affection for his people. Having loved his own who were in the world — he loved them unto the end; and, as no ingratitude or unfaithfulness on their part could alter his feelings towards them on earth, so no distance by which they might be separated; and no dignity to which he would be raised — can cause him to forget them in that glorious state to which he is gone.
Since the heavens received him, eighteen eventful centuries have rolled away. How many yet remain, before the times of restitution of all things, when he will again appear — is among the hidden mysteries which are recorded in that sealed volume which is chained to the eternal throne! But although it is not for us to know the times and the seasons — yet come He will, notwithstanding the taunts in which impious scoffers have indulged through successive generations. And it will still be to bless his people with peace, to welcome them with joy and gladness, and receive them to dwell forever with himself!
Happy those who, when the thunder of his chariot wheels will be heard, and when, amid the opening heavens, the foremost ranks of the streaming myriads of his attendants become visible, will be enabled to join in the transporting words, "Surely, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us! This is the Lord, we have waited for him; we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation."