The Suffering Savior
Meditations on the Last Days of Christ
by F. W. Krummacher (1796-1868)
Again we direct our eyes upward. The three crucified individuals form the center of our present meditation. The dying men are in so far alike in their situation, as having each of them arrived at the last stage of their earthly pilgrimage, and are hovering on the solemn and awful brink of a momentous eternity. He who hangs in the midst, although exposed to a raging storm, takes in the sails for a peaceful entrance into the haven of repose. We see the other two, on the contrary, almost shipwrecked and threatened with the most dreadful ruin, struggling with the billows. They had opened their hearts to delusion; had pursued temporal enjoyments with the rebellious motto, "Liberty, equality, and pleasure," and were carried along, unrestrainedly, from sin to sin, until arrested at length as murderers, they were crucified as an atonement to public justice. Pleasure is short, repentance long. What other booty did they carry off from their ungodly doings, than the bodily misery in which we see them languishing, the worm in their bosom that never dies, and the fire in the bones which is never quenched? O folly and madness, to devote themselves to the service of the devil, instead of to that of the Most High God, while the most costly rewards of the former are only Belshazzar's feasts and the hands of the executioner! Millions of sinners, in the example given by their dreadful end, have cried more loudly to the world, than it was possible to do by words, "You, who are halting between two opinions, for God's sake, and that of your own soul's salvation, go not to the left, for hell howls there." Yet immense is the number of those, who, like the herd into which the unclean spirits entered, do not cease to plunge themselves into the gulf of destruction after their deluded forerunners; and the groans of despair, in the eternal deserts, increase from one night-watch to another.
The two malefactors have hung there for a while in silence; but have been unable to turn away their eyes from the wonderful man who welters in his blood by their side, and in whom the vital and bodily appearance of a superhuman sanctity was by no means hidden from them. At length the one on Jesus' left, begins to speak, but alas! very differently from what we might have expected. Joining in the blasphemous speeches, which rise up from the crowd below, he says to the man in the crown of thorns, "If you be the Christ, save yourself and us!"
The meaning of these words is doubtless manifold. The malefactor has evidently received the impression respecting the man at his side, that if he only would, he could both save himself and them; and his speech to him was an attempt, though a desperate one, to lay hold of Christ by his honor, and thereby to induce him to an act of rescue. But the mistrust he placed in the willingness of Jesus to perform such a miracle, far exceeded the hope in him, and hence the words proceeded from him in a tone of vexation and bitter railing against Christ.
But who inspired him with the idea, that the Lord, supposing he had the power, would still not save him? His conscience testified it. The spotless purity of the mysterious Sufferer threw a bright reflection even into the dark mind of the malefactor, and condemned him in his inmost soul, as a moral abortion, by the mere display of its brilliance. But was not this inward judgment a blessing to him? It might have been so. At all events, it decided his fate. Had he made room for the entering in of the truth, and have judged himself, as the revered reflection of the Holy One judged him, he would then have set his foot on the path of salvation, and his wretched soul, however debased, would have been saved. But in his beggarly pride, he sought to maintain his favorable idea of himself; and instead of penitence and humiliation, an infernal hatred was kindled within him, against one, whose presence impressed upon him the brand-mark of depravity. Hence the words proceeded from him like the bite of the poisonous adder—"If you be the Christ, save yourself and us." Wretched man, how should he, who by a word could have burst the bonds of hell and of death, not have been able to save himself, if higher considerations had not induced him to act otherwise!
"Save yourself and us!" O unparalleled audacity, to degrade the Lord of heaven to a level with himself a son of Belial, and besides this, to claim his help, although his heart was hardened against him! Yet echoes of these taunting words of the malefactor still very frequently reach our ears. How often do we hear people say, while biting their lips, "Say no more about your God; for if he be God, why does he leave us in our wretchedness?" O what horrible pride in a fallen sinful creature! What else do you deserve, you daring rebel against the statutes of his kingdom, than that he should leave you to languish in your distress? First humble yourself in the dust, and submit without reserve to his scepter, and then wait and see if he will not let mercy take the place of justice. But this you refuse to do; and you are conscious of being inwardly condemned for your opposition to him. The painful feeling of his displeasure increases in your heart the rebellion against him, and transforms your repugnance into hatred and bitterness. Still you can not divest yourself of him. On the contrary, every one is compelled, in his peculiar manner, to aid in glorifying him. If he does not honor God with his love, he honors him by his hatred of him. That God is a consuming fire, is felt by the rebel against him, as well as by the seraph on the fiery wings of his fervor.
No answer is returned to the malefactor on the left. There would still have been help for the robber and murderer; but there is no deliverance for the impenitent scoffer and hardened child of unbelief. The Lord is obliged to leave the wretched man to his fate—yes, the Lord, the only Savior in heaven and on earth. Who does not tremble? But God is a God of order, and even his mercy is never arbitrarily bestowed.
Turn your eyes now to the right of the Divine Sufferer. Here a spectacle is preparing, at which our souls may recover from the horror which took possession of them, at the preceding scene. A refreshing contrast is presented by the other malefactor, whom, though equally guilty with the pitiable companion of his fate, and on the verge of hell, we behold rending and casting away the fetters of Satan, just in time, and then ascending a path, which is not trodden too late, even from the station which precedes the pit of destruction.
We are not expressly informed what it was that principally exercised such a blessed and transforming influence on the heart of this individual, who, as may be inferred from the Gospel narrative, had joined, shortly before, in the raillery against Jesus. It might have been the Lord's words, uttered on the way, "Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and your children;" or, "If these things are done in the Green Tree, what will be done in the dry?" And if not, yet infallibly his heart-affecting prayer for his murderers, and, generally speaking, the full splendor of dignity and holiness in which he shone. Suffice it to say, that the change which was wrought in the soul of the poor criminal, was evidently thorough and decisive, and appears, as the commencement, at least, of a complete regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
There he hangs silently on the cross; but every feature in his face, which is turned toward the Divine Sufferer, unfolds and displays to us the world within him. We clearly see how the evil spirits have departed from him, and a solemn train of holy thoughts and emotions passes through his soul. The taunting attack of his companion in tribulation on Jesus' left, loosens his tongue, which had been silent from contrition and reverence. He feels compelled to object against being included in the blasphemous appeal, "If you be the Christ, save us!" He is constrained to renounce all participation in such insulting language. He knows the importance as well as the awfulness of the moment, which places an opening eternity before him, and feels no longer any fellowship with his companion in crime, as regards the man who is crowned with thorns. He has seen enough in the dignified individual, and has heard enough from him to be able to say to himself, "If this is not the promised consolation of Israel—that consolation will never arrive." He perceives in him, not only the bright mirror of his own degradation, but the only and final anchorage for his hopes.
The horror which seizes him at the impious words of his fellow sufferer is indescribable; and while judging him—to which he was entitled by first condemning himself—he begins to say to him, "Do you not fear God, seeing you are in the same condemnation?" Ah, he himself trembled at the thought of the Judge of quick and dead! The meaning of his words is as follows: "And you, who like myself, are weltering in your blood, and so near eternity, do you not fear God, who is a consuming fire to sinners, and who, as certainly as he will justify this righteous man, must pronounce his curse upon those who, like you, dare to rail at him. Be not deceived; God does not let himself be mocked."
O how moving and heart-affecting is this call to repentance from one delinquent to another! But hear him further: "And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds!" O hear this language of sincere abasement before the majesty of the law! Listen to this self-accusation, in which, as far as regards criminality, he places himself on the same footing with the other malefactor! Certainly, where such language is heard, heaven prepares to hang out the white flag. And let no one suppose that there is anything dishonorable in it. On the contrary, it is the language of manly self-deliverance from the net of delusion—of courageous homage offered to truth—and of a resolute return from the way of darkness to that of light and salvation. One of the most cunning artifices of the prince of this world, by which he is able to bind his victim to his standard, consisted, from ancient times, in endeavoring to represent repentance to mankind as something unworthy, degrading, and effeminate. In our view, on the contrary, nothing is more contemptible than intentionally to avoid the mirror, which shows us things as they are, and to find comfort on the couch of a miserable self-deception.
But let us listen further to the malefactor. "But this man," continues he, "has done nothing amiss." What a fresh and pleasing testimony this is to the innocence of Jesus. O how evident it must have been from the Savior's whole deportment, that, as the apostle says, "He knew no sin." From all the clouds of ignominy and accusation with which hell blasphemingly covered him, the light of his divine spotlessness and beauty shone so victoriously forth, that the blindest shrunk back from it in amazement; and every moment his well-known prediction was almost literally verified, "If these should hold their peace, the very stones would cry hosanna!"
But let us hear him further. Something really astonishing now succeeds. The work of grace in the heart of the malefactor throws off its last veil. Who would have expected that we should have witnessed anything of the kind on that awful hill! After the malefactor had rebuked his blaspheming fellow-sufferer, and impressed the one thing needful so humbly, kindly, urgently, and seriously upon him, he turns his face again to him, who increasingly became his only hope and the object of his affection, and says to him, as unpresumingly and humbly as devoutly and confidently, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
We are surprised; we can scarcely believe our ears. What a confession, and at such a time and under such circumstances, from the lips of such a man! Here is divine illumination in midnight darkness. Even the enlightenment of an apostle scarcely reaches to this malefactor's height of faith. "Lord," says he, not Rabbi, not teacher, or master; no, in the word "Kyrie," he applies to him the title of Majesty. By this expression he brings out of the appearance of a worm that is trodden upon, the heavenly King of Glory. "However deeply you may be concealed," is his meaning, "in ignominy and misery, I still recognize you. You are more, infinitely more than all the human race. You are not of the earth; you came from above. "Remember me," continues he, with a boundless reliance and confident childlike supplication. O how much is implied in this ejaculation! It is the expression of the most vital conviction of the existence of a future world; for it is not help from the bodily distress in which he languishes; but the malefactor desires something very different and superior. It is, further, a loud testimony to the necessity of a mediation, if sinners are to be saved. "Intercede for me;" he means to say, "speak a kind word for me, a sinner; put in a word of entreaty on my behalf." Yes, it is a frank confession that the man in the crown of thorns is the Mediator, and therefore he flees to him with the confidence that his intercession with the Father, and that only, can save him from eternal death.
To the supplication contained in the words "Remember me," the malefactor adds, "when you come in (not into) your kingdom." What does he mean by this? Does he mean, "Your undertaking has not failed. Die, and from your prison of death you shall again come forth triumphant? Your kingdom shall come, and your throne exist forever?" Certainly, he means nothing else. He intends to say, "To you belongs the world; the banner of your peaceful kingdom will wave from pole to pole. When you shall have established your throne, then grant that I, a poor criminal, may be received among the lowest of your servants."
What a herald of Christ in the midnight darkness of the crucifixion! What a bright and guiding star for all who seek haven of rest on the stormy sea of life! We feel astonished at the great and penetrating faith of this malefactor. But here convince yourselves anew how rapidly the profoundest mysteries of heaven display themselves to the awakened feeling of the need of salvation. O if you ever become powerfully conscious of your estrangement from God, and do feel that you need nothing so much as mercy, truly the spirit of illumination from above would soon descend upon you, and, elevated above every doubt, you would be aware that in the Gospel and its plan of salvation, there is not only wisdom, connection, and divine reason, but also that it is the only conceivable way of escape for beings who, whatever else they may disbelieve, are unable to deny that they are debtors to the law, and come short of the glory of God. Yes, we should then soon hear from your lips the words "Lord, remember me in your kingdom!" which equally point out to the king upon his throne, the virtuous moralist in his civic crown, to the beggar on the highway, and the outlawed convict in fetters, the watchword by which alone the keepers of heaven's gates will bow the sword before them.
The malefactor has spoken. Now listen to the Lord's reply. It will reveal something very astonishing. The high and lofty One, whom the criminal discovered beneath the thorn-crowned bleeding form by his side now comes actually forth in his glory. Calvary becomes a palace, the cross a throne of the Judge of all worlds. The man in the crown of thorns accepts the prayer which the poor criminal addressed to him, and impresses the confirming seal upon his distinguished faith. There is no rejection, as if he were mistaken in his hopes—no reproof, as if he were an enthusiast and expected too much from him, but rather an encouragement to hope still more boldly, since he was not mistaken in him. With the full conviction of being the only-begotten Son of the Father, which he was, as well as the true and only Mediator between God and man, the Lord says, turning to the malefactor with a look full of grace and mercy, and loud enough for those who stood around him to hear, "Verily, I say unto you, today shall you be with me in paradise."
Here you have the great and majestic words, which, if they were the only testimony which Jesus had given of himself would forever decide the question who he was—the words, which, bursting the bonds of death, and opening a heaven of consolation, have sounded like a peaceful chord of paradise in the ears of millions on their dying beds; and may they also sound in our ears when our feet tread the gloomy valley!—the words, which comprehend the whole result of the sufferings and death of Christ, the Bridegroom of our souls. They hover around us with their blissful harmony, and seek our hearts, in order to convey to them something of heaven. O attend well to these words! They are the most precious boon which Christ has thrown into our lap from his cross.
Let every syllable of them be well weighed by us. "Verily," says our Lord at the commencement, and this is the confirmation of his words. How important is this assertion, uttered by such a mouth, at such a time, when on the threshold of eternity! How suited to dispel all our doubts. Unspeakably elevating is the consciousness of the fullness of confidence and certainty manifested in our Lord's speech to the dying criminal. The fact is firm as a rock, that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life—immutably firm; that he bears the keys of hell and of death; that he will conduct the penitent sinner through the night of death into eternal life, and that life a blissful one in paradise; and how greatly does this his own assurance tend to confirm and animate our faith in him!
That which so highly ravishes us in his words, next to his confidence, is the repetition of the poor criminal's request in a superior degree. To his appellation of "Lord!" the thorn-crowned Jesus replies with the words, "I say unto you." And what else does this imply, but "I am so; you are not mistaken in me. You can not think too highly of me." Upon the petition, "Remember me," follows the Lord's words, "You shall be with me"—that is, "I shall not need first to think of you;" for we do not think of those who are present, but of those who are absent. The period indicated by the word "when," the Lord responds to by the assertion, "this day"—not at some distant period, but this day shall be the happy day of your deliverance and redemption. To the criminal's appeal, "when you come in your kingdom, or appear in your regal glory," the Lord replies: "I am a king already. I will take you with me into paradise. With this bleeding hand will I open to you the gates of the world of blessedness."
The words addressed by the illustrious Sufferer to the malefactor, produce, lastly, such a beneficial effect upon us, because they bear in them an infallible testimony to the perfection and all-sufficiency of the redemption accomplished by him for us.
For on what ground is it that Jesus so confidently promises instead of the curse, salvation to a sinner, on whom, according to the divine statutes, the curse of the law ought to be inflicted? Not upon the ground of a voluntary divine amnesty, which would never coincide with the nature of a perfect God. Not on that of a presupposed weak-minded paternal love of God, before whose eyes the difference between the just and the unjust at length vanished, and which would be compelled to erect its throne upon the ruins of holiness, justice, and truth; he promises paradise solely on the ground of his ever-valid work of mediation and atonement.
The three crosses on Calvary present to us a very important subject for consideration. They afford us an image of the world. Christ in its midst; but to the one he is set for the rising, and for the falling of the other—a savor of life unto life to the one, and of death unto death to the other. The tender mercy of Jesus there celebrates its triumph, and appears in the radiance of glorification. You behold a sinner on his right hand and another on his left; but he is so little ashamed of their society that on the contrary, he then feels in his element and at home, because he can there exhibit his love to man—there heal and save.
You see in the three crosses, further, an actual exposition of the Savior's words, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." For who is it that serves the malefactor on his right, in opposition to his fellow-sufferer on the left, as a bridge on which he may pass from a state of curse to that of grace? Who is it that enlightens him, and in some degree the companion of his fate, not less by his mere appearance, than by that marvelous light, whose rays penetrate into his inmost soul, and expel all the phantoms of delusion from him? And lastly, who is it that takes from his bosom the consciousness of a state of death, and replaces it with the most blissful and vital hope?—yes, that imparts to his soul, even on this side eternity, a new life of peace, supernatural joy, divine consciousness of adoption, and the most heartfelt longing after heaven? Is it not the thorn-crowned Sufferer there who is the author of it all?
Finally, the scene on Calvary affords us a representation of the boundless power and wonderful efficacy of the merits of our great High Priest. For even as the word "to-day," in our Lord's announcement, represents all future purging and purifying fires as forever extinguished in his blood, as regards his believing people—so the expression, "This day shall you be with me in paradise"—whether by the word be understood heaven itself, or only an outer court of heaven, affords us a stupendous proof that Christ's vicarious satisfaction perfectly suffices for the sinner's justification and beatification. Certainly, we must duly observe that the malefactor was in a state of true and thorough repentance, and that after breaking with sin by penitential grief, and opening his heart to Jesus by a living faith, he had received into himself all the germs of a subsequent sanctification—germs which immediately began to unfold themselves in the compassionate love in which he took to heart the critical state of his companion in crime. But it was not for the sake of these germs of future virtues, which naturally could offer no recompense for a perfect obedience of the law, that the malefactor was justified before the divine tribunal; but he received the divine absolution in the righteousness of his Surety imputed to him, which does not less commend incipient saints to the eyes of the Judge of the living and the dead, than those already perfected.
Anticipate, my friends, the next few moments, and what do you see occur above the summit of Calvary? The three who were crucified bow their heads, and the great separation is accomplished, Alas! he on Jesus' left descends also to the left; and the powers of darkness will have joyfully welcomed him who, even in death, could insult the Lord of Glory, as one of their most faithful and consistent instruments. The criminal to the right, on the contrary, soars heavenward, at the side of the Prince of Peace, and, received into his triumphal chariot, passes, amid the acclamations of angels, through the gates of paradise, no longer guarded by the cherub's flaming sword. He was the first herald who, by his appearing there, brought the glorified spirits the intelligence that Christ had won the great battle of our deliverance. As the first-fruits of the sufferings of the Divine Surety, as well as of the blissful human harvest which should spring up from the wondrous seed of his blood, he may still be especially embraced by the worshipers of the Lamb, in the realms above, as a particularly dear citizen of the heavenly kingdom. To us he remains both an incomparable monument of the all-sufficiency of the blood of Christ, and a lofty candlestick, on which the free grace of God beams as a flame, and an extremely significant beacon, yes, a light-house established by God for us on our passage through life. O, be assured, my readers, that the spiritual footsteps of the dying malefactor, with the words, "Remember me!" on his lips, point out to us to this day, the only path that leads to Zion. Let us, therefore, follow him, and make his "Remember me!" our own, and then say under the cross of the bleeding Friend of Sinners, as heartily in faith, as poor in spirit, in the sense of the malefactor,
"When to the cross I turn my eyes,
And rest on Calvary,
O Lamb of God, my sacrifice!
I must remember thee.
"And when these failing lips grow mute,
And mind and memory flee,
When you shall in your kingdom come,
Jesus, remember me!"
The Legacy of Love
Our present meditation brings us again to the cross on Calvary. And where, my readers, do we linger more willingly than beneath its shade? Every day the desires of our hearts resort there for the supply of our soul's necessities. For since we have daily to lament over our negligences and sins, we daily require fresh balm for our wounded consciences. What would become of us had we not Calvary to flee to? O, you are the Ararat to which I daily escape from the waves of trouble; the Zoar to which I flee from the flames of Sodom; my Nebo's top, from whence I survey the promised land; and my Tabor, where I rejoice and say, "It is good to be here—here will we erect our habitations."
A pleasing scene presents itself to our view beneath the cross. He who was "fairer than the children of men" does not die unlamented. In the midst of rage and fury, love stands near him in his dying moments, and lifts up to him its tearful and affectionate eye. Look at the little mournful group yonder, and behold a lovely little company in the midst of the bands of Belial—a hidden rosebud under wild and tangled bramble-bushes, a splendid wreath of lilies around the deathbed of the Redeemer.
It is thus that the cross is surrounded even to this day. Though the infuriated hosts of hell rage around it, yet it is still encircled by the most estimable of the earth. For if we seek for sacred grief, for love which has emanated from heaven, for patience, which never tires, and gratitude, which gives up everything—where do these beautiful and heavenly flowers flourish except beneath the cross? We know the faithful company there, who form a living commentary on the words of the Song of songs, "Love is strong as death, and immovable as the grave; the coals thereof are coals of fire, which has a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it." What do they care about hazarding their lives! Their life was the man on the cross. What do they trouble themselves about the scorn and contempt of the word! They desire nothing else and nothing better from a world which crowned their King with thorns. Had they been nailed to the cross with him, they would have pushed away the earth from under them as a rotten and worthless plank, and have triumphantly cast their anchor in the clouds. What charms could earth have for them, after his blessed steps ceased to tread upon its thorny and thirsty soil?
Look at the courageous group a little more closely. Of whom does it consist? Strange enough, with one exception, all of them are females. The strong are fled—the weak maintain their ground; the heroes despair—the timid, who did not presume to promise anything, overcome the world. This was because they poured out their hearts before God, saying, "Hold you us up, and we shall be safe!" and speaking thus, they leaned firmly on the divine arm. God's strength was then mighty in their weakness. How often does something of a similar kind occur among us! If the man's is the splendid deed, the result of combined strength—the woman's is enduring patience. If to the former belongs the heroism which cuts the knot—to the latter (which is the greater of the two) belongs the silent self-sacrificing love which is faithful even unto death.
Among the beloved females beneath the cross, there is one who especially demands our sympathy. It is the blessed one, who bore in her womb the man that bleeds on the cross—the deeply stricken Mary. Though it was grievous for Eve to stand at the grave of her favorite son Abel, and still more so for the patriarch Jacob to behold the bloody garment of his son Joseph, yet what was their grief compared with that of the mother of our Lord at the foot of the cross? O think where she is standing, what is the cause of her grief, and who it is she mourns! Think what a son, and what a kind of death! O who is able to describe the feelings which wring her maternal heart! One thing, however, we may be assured of, that the deeply wounded Mary did not despair. Even through this her night of weeping, the words of her Son, respecting the necessity of the sufferings that awaited him, and the glory that should follow, gleamed like some distant light. And although it was most difficult for her still to cleave firmly to them, and though an impetuous host of distressing doubts raged in Mary's bosom, yet she was not inconsolable, nor did she give up all for lost, as surely as the assertion of the apostle is true, that God will not suffer us to be tempted above that which we are able to bear. No! whenever the gold is in the crucible, the Refiner himself is at hand; and when a child of the Most High suffers, the paternal hand of Jehovah always lies, alleviating and mitigating, between the burden and the burdened shoulder. If we thus experience it, my readers, how will Mary have experienced it!
You also see, that although leaning on the disciple whom Jesus loved, she still stands upright under the cross, and only a gentle shower of tears bedews her cheeks, but no cry of agony proceeds from her lips. When the wife of Phineas saw the ark in the hands of the enemy, she fell dead upon the ground in dire dismay. Mary beholds something more appalling than that event, yet still she lives. She is indeed compelled again to bring forth Christ with great travail. Her earthly son dies, with all the earthly connection in which she had hitherto stood toward him, as well as the earthly ideas of him and his kingdom, so far as she had yielded to them. In opposition to these, she has now to receive Christ by faith, as from his ashes, in a very different capacity—as a new Christ—as one hitherto not known by her—as a Lord and Prince of Peace of an incomparably higher kind and order than human; nor did she attain to this without great pain and conflict.
At Mary's side, and serving as her support, the Apostle John meets our eye. This "divine eagle" also tries the pinions of his penetrating spirit in the darkness and the storm on Calvary, but he is unable to find the way through this thunder-cloud. He sees himself surrounded by problems which he is unable to solve. But where his understanding beholds only an empty desert, he has, nevertheless, an inward presentiment of infinite and hidden riches. He again introduces himself here, as he is so gladly accustomed to do, as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." In these words he indicates to us what was his pride, his crown, and his highest boast. At the same time, they point out to us the source from whence he derived all his consolation, all his hope, and all his strength. This source was love—not the love with which he embraced the Lord, but that with which the Lord embraced him. Nor do I know anything more precious or desirable, than the lively, fresh, and well-founded consciousness of the Savior's love and affection. What a peaceful resting-place is this in the wild nocturnal storm! What a powerful staff and support for a wanderer in the wilderness! What sweet consolation in "the pit where there is no water;" and what an overflowing spring of encouragement in life and death! He who, with John, can sign himself the disciple whom Jesus loves, has, in this appellation, a sure guaranty for all that he needs, and for all that his heart can desire. If, in other respects, he must call himself the man that is tossed with tempest, or the wretched worm which the world treads under foot; yet, if he is only justified in subscribing himself "the disciple whom Jesus loves," what more will he have? This consciousness gilds and sweetens everything.
While the little company stand mourning together below, the mighty Sufferer hangs silent and bleeding on the cross. He is in the sanctuary performing his high-priestly office, while bearing upon his heart the sinful race of Adam. "Oh," might the mourning Mary think, "if he would but once more open his gracious lips to me, and give me one parting word!" But in the sublime situation he is now occupying, will he still be able to attend to what is passing at the foot of the cross? Will he still find time and leisure to think of anything else than how he may arm and defend himself against the fiery darts of the wicked one which fly around him, and how he may complete the great and world-embracing work, on the last stage of which he has just entered! Scarcely should we think it possible. But what occurs? O when did anything happen more generous and affecting than this? Truly, until the end of time his filial tenderness will be spoken of. In the midst of his dying agonies the Divine sufferer all at once directs his eyes to the little faithful group below; and he who is able to read in his eyes, reads a sympathy and a degree of consoling, cheering, and encouraging love, such as the world, until then, had never beheld. No, my friends; however much he may have to think of and attend to, he never loses sight of his children for a moment from the sphere of his superintending care. However great and boundless may be the objects of his supervision and vigilance in his government, yet there will never be a moment when the eye of his love will not rest upon every individual whom the Father has given him. They are his primary care, although in number and outward appearance, in comparison with what he has otherwise to superintend and provide for, they may be as the drops in the wide rolling ocean, and as flowerets in the immense and gloomy forest in which they stand. He discovers the scattered solitary flowers in the wood, in order that he may tend, bedew, and adorn his bosom with them.
The Lord first fixes his eyes on his beloved and severely-tried mother. By means of the words he had spoken to the malefactor, respecting being with him that day in paradise, he had elevated her looks and thoughts above death and the grave. Yet still she would have to remain for a season alone in the world, which had now become so desolate to her, and lo! for this consideration, the Man of Sorrows on the cross still finds room in his heart, amid his anxieties for the world's redemption. He looks, in the kindest manner, at the weeping Mary, opens his mouth, and says—not in effeminate weakness, but in sublime tranquility, self-possession, and serenity, referring to the disciple on whom his mother was leaning, "Woman, behold your son!" and then to John, "Behold your mother!"
Though the words are few, yet who is able to exhaust the fullness of tender affection which is poured into them? How consoling must it have been to Mary's grieved heart, the almost cheerful manner in which her dying Son made his last bequest. The sound of his voice, and the peaceful look which accompanied his words, were as much as to say, "Mary, your Son is not lost. He is only returning to his Father's happy abode, after the fatigues of life, in order to prepare a place for you." And then the contents of the words themselves—how tenderly did he clothe in them his last farewell to his beloved parent! How delicately did he arrange it, that by the hint given to John, she who had been so severely tried, should not also be a witness of his last and hardest struggle! And how providently does he enter, at the same time, into all, and even the most trifling necessities of his bereaved mother for the residue of her life upon earth! Truly, when was ever the divine command to honor father and mother so deeply and comprehensively fulfilled as it was on Calvary?
It has been considered strange that the Savior, in speaking to Mary, should have made use of the distant word, "Woman," instead of the tender name of mother. In reply to this, it is certainly true that he did so, partly because he would not still more deeply wound her bleeding heart by the sweet title of mother, as well as that he might not excite within himself a storm of human emotions; and likewise lest he should expose his mother to the rudeness of the surrounding crowd. But the chief reason why, instead of the maternal title, he used the more general term "Woman," or lady, lies much deeper, both in this, and the well-known scene at the marriage in Cana. He certainly meant his mother to understand that henceforward his earthly connection with her must give way to a superior one. As though he had said, "You, my mother, will from this time be as one of my daughters, and I your Lord. You believe in me, and shall be blessed. You lay hold of the hem of my garment, and I appear in your stead. You adore me, and I am your High Priest and King. Mother, brother, and sister, henceforward, are all who swear allegiance to my banner. The relationships according to the flesh and the manner of the world have an end; other and more spiritual and heavenly take their place."
It was this that the Lord intended to suggest to Mary's mind; and hence the word "Woman," which at first sounds strange, instead of the more tender and affectionate term, "Mother." No, it the less became him to call her Mother now, since this term in the Hebrew, includes in it the idea of "Mistress," while he was just preparing, as the Lord of lords, to ascend the throne of eternal majesty. But while endeavoring to elevate Mary's mind above the sphere of merely human conceptions into a higher region, he does not forget either that he is her son, or that she is his dear and severely-tried mother; and reflects, at the same time, that man, in his weakness, has need of man; and besides the heart of God must possess, at least, one heart upon earth, into which he can confidingly pour out his own, and upon whose love and faithfulness he may firmly reckon under all circumstances. For these reasons, the Lord is desirous, in his filial forethought, and as far as is practicable, to fill up for Mary, even in a human respect, the void which his decease would leave in her life, and give her, instead of himself, a son to assist her, even in an earthly manner, in whom she might place entire confidence, and on whose shoulder she could lean in all her distresses, cares, and sorrows. And in this new son, he bequeaths to her his favorite disciple, the faithful and feeling John. Is it not as if he intended to say, "I well know, my Mother, how solitary and dreary must be a widow's path upon earth, when the crown is removed from her head. But lo! here is the disciple that lay in my bosom, and is thus peculiarly prepared to become your support and stay. He is ready to do all I desire of him, and since I have neither silver nor gold, I bequeath you all my claim on this disciple's love, gratitude, and faithfulness. Let him be your son!" It was thus he loved to the end; thus delicately does he provide for all the necessities of those he loves. And as he formerly did, so he does still. He is to this hour the compassionate High Priest. He enters most feelingly into the wants of those who confide in him, so that every one in his station, whether they be widows, orphans, poor and infirm, or to whatever class of the weary and heavy-laden they belong, they may rely, most peculiarly, on his providential care.
After saying to Mary, "Woman, behold your son!" he says to John, "Behold your mother!" O what a proof does the Savior here give his disciple of the affection and confidence which he reposes in him! He imposes a burden upon him, but he knows that John will regard it as the highest honor and felicity which could be bestowed upon him on earth. Nor is the Savior mistaken in his disciple. John understands his Master's wish, looks at Mary, and his whole soul says to her, "My Mother!"
"From that hour," we are informed, "that disciple took her unto his own home." John possessed therefore a house of his own, doubtless in Jerusalem, which Mary did not. Joseph had already fallen asleep. We may also infer, from the narrative, that Jesus was Mary's only son. The expression, "That disciple took her into his own home," implies, however, according to the original, much more than that he only took care of her in his habitation. He received her into his heart, and bore her thence forward on his hands. It may easily be supposed what love he felt toward her from that time, and with what tenderness and fidelity he accompanied her through life. It afforded him supreme pleasure to possess in her an object, toward which he could in some measure manifest the gratitude and affection he felt toward Him, to whom he owed his salvation. But the whole of the costly harvest of love, which flourished for her Son, in the heart of the disciple, under the dew of the Holy Spirit, was transferred to Mary. And because John's love was in reality no other than a sacred spark from Jesus' own bosom, Mary was beloved by John, as before, with the love of her divine Son.
"Woman, behold your Son!" "John, behold your mother!" O attend carefully to these words. They contain nothing less than the record of the institution of a new family fellowship upon earth. In this fellowship Christ is the head, and all his believing people form unitedly one great, closely-connected family. Begotten of the same seed, endued with the same spirit, they are all called to one inheritance, and eventually, though now scattered abroad through the world, one city with shining walls will embrace them. They soon know each other by their similarity of sentiment, bias, speech, and joyful hope, and love each other with one love—that love which overflowed into them from the heart of Christ their head. As long as they linger here below, their habitation is under the cross, and their daily bread the word of God; their breath, prayer, and the peace of God the atmosphere in which they freely and blissfully move. The inmost and most essential family feature of this spiritual fraternity is, that self in them is crucified, and Christ is the center of all their doing and suffering.
Let him who would envy John the pleasing task of being a support to the mother of Jesus know, that the way to the same honor lies open to him. Let him reflect on a previous expression of our Lord's, "Who is my mother, and who are my brethren? and stretching forth his hand toward his disciples, he said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my mother, and sister, and brother," Matt. 12:48-50.
If you are really desirous of the privilege enjoyed by John, you now see that it may be your. Be, from love to the Lord, a faithful help to his children; feed the hungry, give drink to him that is thirsty, and especially visit pious widows in their loneliness, and you will perform a service, which is well-pleasing to him. Become feet to the lame, among believers, eyes to the blind, the counselor and father of the orphan, and you will be taking his place upon earth, as did his disciple of old. John certainly saw himself more closely connected with this life by the new duty imposed upon him; but you see that this life can give new charms for you also, in a similar manner. Only apply to the heavenly Prince of Peace to open your eyes that you may recognize his quiet and holy household; and even as he will then say to the latter, who constitute his spiritual Church, while suing for their love to you, "Woman, behold your Son!" so he will also say to you, with reference to some troop of weary and heavy laden beloved ones, "Behold your mother!"
Yes, my friends, if a reformation is to take place on earth, and the world to experience a golden age, Christianity alone can produce it. For tell me, what is wanting to make the world a kingdom of heaven, if that tender, profound, and self-denying love which we see Jesus practice and recommend, were paramount in every human heart? But the whole of religion consists in this, that Christ be formed in every individual. Think what it would be if every one exhibited a living mirror of "the fairest of the sons of men," and loved God and the brethren like him! O really, the loftiest and most glorious idea of human society would then be realized. Be convinced, therefore, that you are invited and allured by Jesus, not merely to be happy in heaven, but that the earth may again be transformed into a paradise; for you see in John's case, that he who casts himself by living faith on Jesus' bosom, soon imbibes from thence his love.
We part from our pleasing narrative; but I must previously mention an event which happened some years ago in Paris. A society had been formed there, the sittings of which the most celebrated infidels of the time used weekly to attend, in order, as they expressed it, to "discover the absurdities of the Bible," and to make them the object of their ridicule. But one evening, when the members were busy at their work, and for their devilish purpose had read some portions of the Gospel, the well-known philosopher, Diderot, who had hitherto been the last and the least voluble of the blasphemers, suddenly began to say with a gravity which was not customary with him, "However it may be with this book, gentlemen, I freely confess, on behalf of the truth, that I know no one, neither in France, nor in the whole world, who is able to speak and write with more tact and talent than the fishermen and publicans who have written these narratives. I venture to assert, that none of us is capable of writing, even approximately, a tale, which is so simple, and at the same time so sublime, so lively and affecting, and of such powerful influence on the mind, and possessing such unweakened and pervading effect after the lapse of centuries, as each individual account of the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, in the book before us."
He ceased, and all at once, instead of the laughter which shortly before had rung through the hall, a general and profound silence ensued. The truth of the speech was felt, and perhaps even something more. The company silently broke up, and it was not long before the entire society of scoffers was dissolved. And tell me, my readers, if you have not felt at the little scene we have been contemplating, something similar to what the infidel Frenchman felt. Yes, there is nothing in the world which bears in its front the stamp of such lively historical truth as the Gospel; and whatever there may be of beautiful upon earth, he who has eyes to see, must confess, that the most beautiful, venerable, and holy is, and will ever be, the Gospel history.
Let us then ever bear in mind the pleasing exhibition of Jesus' love instituting love on the cross, which we have now been contemplating; and may it enable us to form those supernatural bonds of union and fellowship, which will survive both time and death. Let this exhibition continually remind us of the first and most glorious lesson of our lives, that of loving the Lord Jesus in his people, and urge us to sing on our way to our heavenly home,
"Come, brethren, onward move,
And travel hand in hand;
Rejoicing in each other's love,
While in this desert land.
"More child-like let us grow,
Nor fall out by the way;
And angels, even while here below,
Well-pleased shall with us stay."
"Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani!"
Once, when a voice spoke from heaven to the people who were assembled around Jesus, the evangelist relates, that "some said it thundered; others, that an angel spoke to him." No one exactly knew what to make of the wondrous sound, although all were affected, amazed, and thrilled by a secret awe. Such are our feelings on the present occasion, on hearing the echo of the cry, which sounds down from the cross; and I confess that my soul trembles at the idea of approaching the unfathomable depth of suffering, from whence the cry of "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani" proceeded. How much rather would I lie prostrate on my face in silence before this awful incident, than write or speak upon it! You know what happened to Luther, when he plunged himself in profound meditation on this most enigmatical and affecting part of the whole of our Savior's sufferings. He continued for a long time without food, and sat wide awake, but as motionless as a corpse, in the same position, on his chair. And when at length he rose up from the depth of his cogitation; as from the shaft of a mysterious mine, he broke into a cry of amazement, and exclaimed, "God forsaken of God! Who can understand it?" Yes, who is there that is able? We find ourselves surrounded by an impenetrable darkness. But if the understanding has here reached the boundary of all human comprehension, yet faith finds a path amid these mysterious shades. A holy light precedes it, and that light is derived from the Savior's Mediatorship. Enlightened by it, let us now contemplate, more closely, the awful cry of the dying Redeemer.
It is about twelve o'clock at noon that we again meet on Mount Calvary. The Savior has hung bleeding on the tree for nearly three hours. No change has meanwhile taken place in his vicinity, except that, in the little faithful group, we miss the disciple John and the mother of Jesus, the cause of which we know. A momentary silence has ensued in the crowd surrounding the place of execution. We may suppose that even on them the sublime behavior of the Divine Sufferer under his torture has not failed in producing feelings of emotion and shame. They look up to the cross with silent seriousness. The moaning of the two malefactors in their agony strikes their ears, and the trickling of the blood of the dying men is heard as it falls to the ground. From time to time, also, the grief and half-stifled sobs of the little faithful group is heard, whom we now, in spirit, join, asking with anxious hearts, if the Father of heaven will continue forever silent concerning his Son, and not at length make it known by some sign, which shall be obvious to all the world, that he, who was apparently rejected both by earth and heaven, was no transgressor, but in reality the Holy One of Israel, and his, the Father's elect and well-beloved Son.
Lo, a sign appears! But what kind of one? Who could have anticipated anything of the sort? Our surprise increases to horror, our amazement to dismay. The sun, just arrived at the meridian, withdraws its beams, as if the earth were no longer worthy of its light, and begins visibly, in a clear sky, to grow dark. First, twilight commences, as at the decline of day; and this is followed by the obscurity of evening. Gloomy night at length spreads itself like a funeral pall, not only over the land of Judea, but over the whole of the enlightened part of the earth. The animal creation are terrified. The herds of the field crowd bellowing together. The birds of the air flutter, alarmed, to their retreats, and the masses of the people who surround the place of execution, hurry back with loud outcries, to Jerusalem, wringing their hands and beating their breasts. Trembling and lamentation extend into palaces and cottages, as if the world were menaced with destruction. The primitive fathers, as for instance, Origen and Eusebius, were acquainted with heathen records, some of which were from distant countries, such as that of Phlegon, a freedman of the Emperor Adrian, which mentions an eclipse of the sun at the same time with the crucifixion of Christ, and that one so entire, terrific, and wonderful had never before been seen in the world. An ancient tradition also states that Diogenes witnessed, in Egypt, the solar darkness which preceded the death of Jesus, and exclaimed, "Either the Deity himself suffers at this moment, or sympathizes with one that does."
We, my readers, also stand amazed at this terrific phenomenon, in which even the blindest cannot mistake the finger of the Almighty. But what does this gigantic hieroglyphic on the pillars of the world denote? Some have supposed it to convey a symbolical manifestation of the wrath of God against the murderers of Jesus. But such an interpretation is not in accordance with the event that is taking place on Calvary, and in which God, by the giving up of his only-begotten Son, evinces, not merely his judicial severity and avenging justice, but especially his compassion for the murderers. The inference has also been drawn from the darkness that nature must have suffered in the death of Christ. But there seems little ground even for this explanation, since Christ, by his vicarious death, became, in an especial manner, the prop, support, and renovator of nature.
It has also been supposed that the nocturnal darkness typified the fact that with Christ, the light of the world was extinguished. But it was just in Christ's vicarious death that the light of consolation and of real life rose upon the world. A sympathy also of the irrational creation with the pangs of its Lord and Master, has been spoken of; but there is no room here for such poetic speculations. The sun did not obscure itself, but it was the Almighty who clothed it in that mourning-dress.
The import of the sudden darkness lies incomparably deeper than the above-mentioned attempts at explaining it. Even the mournful cry of the sufferer does not leave us for a moment to doubt that the darkness stood in immediate relation to his sacred person, and the situation in which he was at the time. It is true, indeed, that the miraculous event, according to the purpose of God, was intended to intimate to the world the wondrous nature of the fact about to be chronicled in its history, that the Eternal Son, the source of all life, became himself a prey to death. But the chief object of the appalling phenomenon was to shadow forth, by a stupendous figure, the mysterious position and inward state at the time, of him who bled on the cross. The Lord withdrew himself from the eyes of men behind the black curtain of appalling night, as behind the thick veil of the temple. He hung there full three hours on the cross, his thorn crowned head thoughtfully drooping on his bosom, involved in that darkness. He is in the Most Holy Place. He stands at the altar of the Lord. He performs his sacrificial functions. He is the true Aaron, and at the same time the Lamb; but the sacrificial fire that burns around him, I have no need to mention.
That which, during this time, passed between him and his Father, lies, for the present, sealed as with seven seals, hidden in the depths of eternity. We only know so much, that behind that veil, he was engaged in the most arduous conflict, gained the most brilliant victory, and adorned his representative obedience with its final crown. We know that the grave of our sins was then dug; the handwriting that was against us taken out of the way; the curse which impended over us blotted out; and the wall which separated us from our God removed. Call the sight of the Redeemer weltering in his blood, and in total darkness, heart-rending if you will; we know not a more delightful scene than that in heaven or on earth. The man on the cross is to us the fairest star in the horizon of the world. We behold it, and feel delivered from every evil. When Moses came forth from the darkness in which God dwelt, his face shone in such a manner, that the astonished Israelites could not bear the sight. The radiance which we wear upon our brow from the darkness of Calvary, as far as we enter believingly into it, is milder and more pleasant; for it is the radiance of a peace of which the world is ignorant, and the reflection of an inward and triumphant joy of which even the angels might envy us.
But I hear you say, "Explain to us the meaning of the awful darkness; decipher the terrific and ambiguous hieroglyphic, and unfold to us the state it indicates." Listen, then. That phenomenon signifies the withdrawing of another sun than the earthly one—the obscuring of an inward world. It shadows the going down of a day of comfort and joy. It points to a night of the soul, in which the last bright star is about to disappear. Imagine to yourselves, if possible, a man free from sin, holy; no, of divine nature, who calls the Almighty his light, God's nearness his paradise, and God's love his bliss. Imagine him deprived of all this; no longer refreshed with any experience of the gracious presence of his heavenly Father, and although exclaiming, "Whom have I in heaven but you?" banished into dreadful and horrifying visions of hell, and surrounded by nothing but images of sin and death. Imagine such a one, and then say if his state is not strikingly depicted by the midnight darkness which overspreads the earth.
The third hour of this appalling and universal gloom is drawing to a close. The sun again begins to cast off his obscuring veil. The Sufferer then breaks his long and anxious silence, and, like some cry of distress from the shaft of a mine, but at the same time, like the trumpet-sound of victory, the incomprehensible and heart-affecting exclamation breaks forth, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!" Under the influence of reverential awe, the evangelists give us this cry in the same language in which it was uttered by the Divine Sufferer. It is as if they were apprehensive lest a rendering of it into Greek might detract somewhat from its import. Like us, my readers, have all believers for eighteen hundred years stood amazed and astonished before these words, and have sought in vain to fathom their depth. You are aware that the words, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!" form the commencement of the twenty-second Psalm, in which David, impelled and guided by the Holy Spirit, describes, while connecting with it his own sufferings, the lot of a Righteous One sojourning in a sinful world. His description, however, expands in the sequel so much, that the Psalmist's personal state and circumstances lose themselves in it; and a child must perceive that more stupendous and important events than those in the life of David mingle in the expressions made use of by him. The portrait of a guiltless sufferer gradually increases to a sublimity, which has found its perfect antitype in the life of the holy Jesus. In the picture, features appear, of which we meet with only slight traces in David's history, and which, therefore, call upon us to seek their literal fulfillment elsewhere. For the sufferer in the Psalms is not only represented as the offscouring of the whole world, not only do those who see him say to him, "He trusted in the Lord that he would deliver him; let him deliver him, seeing that he delighted in him"—not only must he agonizingly exclaim, "I am poured out like water; all my bones are out of joint; my tongue cleaves to my jaws, and you have brought me into the dust of death"—but he must also see what David never experienced, that his hands and feet were pierced, and that his enemies parted his garments among them, and cast lots upon his vesture. Besides this, his passion ends in such a manner as no other man's sufferings; for a glorious crown of victory at length adorns the head of this tried and faithful One, yes, he receives the testimony that his sufferings shall result in nothing short of the salvation of the world, and the restoration, enlightening, and beatifying of the Gentiles. Who is so blind as not to perceive that this just man, who is so severely tried, and who comes forth so triumphantly from the conflict, as depicted by the Spirit in this twenty-second Psalm, is no other than the promised Messiah in the person of Jesus of Nazareth? This is beyond a doubt, even if the New Testament had not expressly given that Psalm such an application. Even one of the champions of modern infidelity, prophesying like Balaam, has called the twenty-second Psalm "the program of the crucifixion of Christ;" and another, against his will, is carried away to use these words, "One might almost think a Christian had written this Psalm."
We will not entirely reject the idea that our Lord, in his distress of soul, bore this Psalm in mind. But if he uttered his exclamation with a conscious reference to it, he certainly did not do so simply in order that the words might be fulfilled; but only because that prophetic Psalm was now being fulfilled in him. That mournful cry, as it proceeded from his lips, was the genuine expression of the most perfect personal reality and truth. "But was Christ really forsaken of God while on the cross?" Not a moment, my dear readers. How could he be forsaken of God, who was essentially one with him, and when just at the moment of his unconditional obedient self-sacrifice on the cross, he was the object of his supreme and paternal good pleasure? But in the depths of suffering into which he had then sunk, and through which his cry of "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!" darts like a flash of lightning—such distress overpowered him, such horrible and death-like terror appalled him, and such infernal temptations roared around him, that a feeling came over him, as if he were exiled from the fellowship of God, and entirely given up to the infernal powers. Not only did all the horrors which were produced in the world from the dreadful womb of sin expand themselves before him, but he also entered, with his holy soul, in a manner incomprehensible to us, into the fellowship of our consciousness of guilt, and emptied the whole of the horrible cup of the wages of sin—that is, of the death involved in the curse, which was threatened in paradise.
And no one stood by him. No greeting of affection descended toward him from heaven. No vision of angels refreshed him in his great agony. The Father had really withdrawn himself from his inward consciousness. In the sphere of his feelings, the latter stood opposed to him. If the trials in Gethsemane brought the Lord Jesus to the extreme boundary of obedience—those of the cross brought him to the utmost extent of faith. Not a step, no, nor a line more was between him and despair. According to Psalm 69:15, the horrible idea entered his soul as with a vulture's claws, that these floods of suffering might swallow him up, and the pit shut her mouth upon him. It was then that the cry of "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!" was wrung from his agitated bosom.
But be very careful, in explaining this expression, that you make no mistake. It is not a charging God with having forsaken him, but rather a powerful defense against infernal incitement to such an accusation. By the repetition of the words, "My God," he makes it evident that solely by means of his naked faith he had struggled through all opposing feelings; and that God was still his God. Does he not, in these words, still cling with filial fondness to his heavenly Father, and say—although the words, "My God," instead of "My Father," leave us to infer a superiority of inward reverence in the presence of the Eternal Majesty—"Between you and me there can never be any separation!"
Perhaps some one may say, "But we hear him inquire why God had forsaken him?" That is true; but consider that the words do not, in the first place, ask the reason of his passion in general. Of this he was clearly conscious every moment on the cross. The question rather refers exclusively to the personal bearing of his heavenly Father toward him, especially during the three hours of darkness; and the inquiry is a filial one, synonymous with "Why are you so far from me, and hide your face from me?" But at the very moment in which he is threatened with the horrible idea that the hell which blazed around him might close over him, and when the nameless misery of being eternally rejected entered, as far as it was possible, into his consciousness, he fled from this horrible mental phantom, and from the fiery darts of the wicked one, holding the shield of faith against them, into the arms of God; and hence the following results as the real meaning of his mournful cry, "My God, why do you forsake me, and withdraw your aid from me? Have I acted contrary to your commands? Am I not still your child, your only-begotten Son; in whom is all your delight? And you are still my God; for how should you be able to forsake me? You can not; you will help me out of this distress. You will cause your face again to shine." Thus, complaint—not accusation—a cry for help, and a victorious child-like confidence are the three elements which mingle in the exclamation, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!"
But let this suffice respecting a subject which, inaccessible to human comprehension, discloses, even to believing presentiment, only a small part of its sublime signification. But so much must be clear to every one, that without the doctrine of mediation, Christ's mournful cry on the cross would be altogether inexplicable. But, viewed in connection with it, the words become the solemn announcement of our eternal redemption. May God in mercy grant that as such, they may find a mighty and increasing echo within us!
Thus, as far as it was possible—and with reference to the mysterious connection into which Christ as the second Adam entered with our race, we must not imagine the limits of this possibility too narrow—the Lord tasted the bitterest drop in the accursed cup—the being forsaken of God. The words, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" were certainly the warrior's cry, with which he overpowered and victoriously overcame, by faith, the inward feeling of abandonment. But, nevertheless, it was a manifest proof that Christ had really to endure an arduous struggle with this horrible feeling.
If we now inquire what fruits have resulted to us from this conflict, the fact itself is encouraging and consolatory for us, that in our Lord's inquiry why he was forsaken, the consciousness of his perfect righteousness before God is so clearly manifested. For in default of it, how could he have ventured the bold question to the thrice holy God, why he had forsaken him? But the most essential benefit which we derive from his conflict is a very different one. How did those mistake, who, beneath the cross, said to one another, in wretched misunderstanding of his words, "This man calls for Elijah!" Primarily, this remark was intended for anything but mockery. On the contrary, the feeling again broke in upon the murderers that the exalted one who was bleeding on the cross might be the Messiah. But as they knew from the prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi that Elijah, as the forerunner, was to precede the great one who was to come, the idea occurred to them that possibly the Divine Savior was invoking the aid of that powerful herald of God from the invisible world. But what a misunderstanding of the great Redeemer lay at the bottom of this idea of his crucifiers! It was not of himself that he thought; but of the sinners whom he was representing, when he exclaimed, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!" and his primary intention in it was to reconquer the heart of the living God for them. For if God forsook him, he had also forsaken them whom he represented. If God rejected the Surety's work as insufficient, the redemption of the whole world was frustrated. It was chiefly this consideration which forced from our Lord the cry of "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" and hence his question contains this meaning in it also—"No, you do not forsake me, you accept my work, and I, therefore, cleave firmly to you as my God, and consequently, also, as the God of those whose cause I have undertaken."
But his heavenly Father did not suffer the cry of his Son to remain without his "Amen." He uttered it symbolically, by immediately dispelling the darkness, and restoring to the sun its full mid-day splendor. The being thus forsaken, essentially belonged to the cup which our great High Priest was obliged to empty for us. Hence there can be no idea that those who are united to Christ by the bonds of a living faith, can be really forsaken of God. Even as for us, no somber cloud any longer darkens heaven, and as we at all times behold the face of God unveiled, and every moment may enjoy free access to his throne of grace, so God will never more depart from us, whatever else may forsake us. Though we may be abandoned by the world's favor, the friendship of men, earthly prosperity, and bodily strength, though we may even be bereft, as may possibly be the case, of the feeling of God's nearness, and the freshness of the inward life of faith; yet God himself always continues near and favorably inclined to us in Christ. However strangely he may sometimes act toward us, into whatever furnace of affliction he may plunge us, however completely he may withdraw himself from our consciousness, yet in every situation the blissful privilege belongs to us, not only courageously to approach him, and say, "Why do you forsake me, your child, for whom your Son has atoned?" but also to say to him with still bolder confidence, "You will not, can not, and dare not forsake me, because the merits of your only-begotten Son forever bind you to me."
At this very time, the corpse of a pious female, who was one of the most costly pearls which, from this great city, will eventually adorn the Redeemer's crown, is being carried to its final resting-place. Who knew her, except her children and a little group of like-minded friends, whom the Lord had conducted to her? Who, except these, ever heard her name? She lay two whole years in the concealment of a gloomy attic, sick of a grievous and painful disease, as if on thorns, but she was thought to be lying on a bed of roses, so full was she of heavenly peace and cheerful resignation. The cause of which was, that Christ had become her life. The more her body wasted, the more was her spirit visibly strengthened in God. The more her outward man decayed, the more gloriously did her inner man unfold and transfigure itself. If, occasionally, the flood of suffering penetrated into her soul, we never heard her sigh, much less despond. If her faith grew dark, her eyes were immediately directed to Calvary, and beneath the echo of "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!" the cloud on her brow was rapidly dispelled. "He cannot forsake me," said she, with a smile, "after forsaking him for me, who paid my ransom." And once, when in the days of her last agony, compassion forced from me the words, "O that it might please the Lord in some measure to alleviate the cross of suffering!" she replied, waving her hand, and with solemn and serious emphasis, "O be silent! not one drop less! each of them is carefully measured out by his wisdom and love." She left the world adorned with the heavenly chaplet of the firmest faith, the sincerest humility, the most persevering resignation and patience, and the most self-denying love, a triumphant conqueror over death and the grave. She now sings the great "Hallelujah" with the host of those glorified spirits who have come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. God has wiped away the tears from her eyes, and placed in her hand the palm of a never-fading triumph. As her last will, she left behind her the earnest request that nothing might be said at her grave, except what had reference to the grace of Christ and the power of his blood. Nor will we boast of anything else over her tomb than the mercy of God in Christ, and add the prayerful wish that our last end may be like hers!
I have inserted this incident in order to give my readers a fresh proof that God has still his people among us, and that he still sues for souls in the midst of us, as well as to afford them an instance how the mystery of the cross in general, and that of God's abandonment of the Mediator in particular, should be taken advantage of. May we be enabled to appropriate, in this manner, the fruits of the cross of Christ, and may the words of the hymn be increasingly realized in our happy experience—
"O, the sweet wonders of that cross
On which my Savior loved and died!
Its noblest life my spirit draws
From his dear wounds and bleeding side."
That portion of the history of our Savior's passion, which will form the subject of our present meditation, does not apparently belong to the more important and edifying parts of it. But let us not be deceived by the mere appearance, for if we dig sufficiently deep, we shall here find also the water of life abundantly springing forth from the inexhaustible well of salvation, which was opened for us on Calvary.
It is about the ninth hour, or three o'clock in the afternoon The awful cry of "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!" has just been uttered, which, while it was doubtless a cry of distress, was, at the same time, a shout of victory and triumph. The sun again shines forth from its gloomy covering, and heaven again looks kindly down upon the earth. But you would be under a mistake in supposing this to be a sign, that the agonizing darkness which reigned in the Redeemer's soul, was now over. It continues even until the moment of his decease, although essentially diminished by the clearness of faith, which he had regained; and even the words, "I thirst!" reach our ears from the midst of that darkness. To doubt this would show little acquaintance with the sixty-ninth Psalm, the mournful expressions in which, receive their final fulfillment in this last stage of our Lord's crucifixion.
It is true that Jesus knew, according to the express declaration of the evangelist, that his passion was drawing to its close. He clearly saw that the cup of suffering was emptied, with the exception of the last drops; but these last drops still remained, and required also to be drank, and, believe me, they did not yield in bitterness to those already tasted. Ah, see, he already drinks them! The woes of that death which was threatened in paradise, seize him. He enters into that state of which the spirit of prophecy represents him in the above-mentioned Psalm, as complaining and saying, "I am weary of my crying, my throat is dried, mine eyes fail while I wait for my God. Draw near unto my soul and redeem it. Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness. I looked for some to take pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none." And these complaints conclude with the remarkable and prophetic words, "They gave me also gall for my meat, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." This trait, which also points out no resting-place in the Savior's path of suffering, had to be realized in the progress of his passion; and as a proof that this was really the case, or, as the Gospel expresses it, "that the Scriptures might be fulfilled," our Lord exclaims from the cross, "I thirst!" Yes, these words tell of complaint, distress, and agony. This, the Psalm above mentioned, which portrays to us a succession of trials, places beyond a doubt.
But of what nature was the distress expressed by the cry? First, it was certainly of a physical kind. How wounded and exhausted was the Savior, even when he reached Mount Calvary! and he had already hung nearly six hours on the cross. The blood-vessels of his sacred body are almost dried up. A dreadful fever rages through his frame. His juices have disappeared. His tongue cleaves to his jaws. His lips glow, and a drop of water seems a great refreshment to him. There is scarcely a greater torment than that of an insatiable thirst. Travelers who have experienced it in the burning steppes of the East, give us descriptions of it, which fill us with horror. They assure us, that when thus situated, if they had possessed all the gold in the world, they would gladly have resigned it for a few drops, even of the muddiest water of our brooks. If they discovered a glimmering spot at a distance, which seemed to them a pond or lagoon, they rushed toward it like madmen. But if it turned out to be only a burning sandy surface, on which the sun's rays played, their disappointment plunged them into a state of despair, which caused them to break out into loud howlings. Only think, the Savior of the world was no stranger to this torment also! Even to this depth of destitution and wretchedness did he, who was so unspeakably rich, divest himself. And all this for us, "that we through his poverty might be made rich!" Who is able to comprehend and worthily to praise such amazing love?
But the cry from the cross, "I thirst," refers to something more horrible still than bodily torment. Does it not remind you of the awful representation from the invisible world, which the Lord once portrayed to our view in one of his parables? Does not the remembrance of the rich man present itself to you, who, while on earth, clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day; but after inexorable death had swept him away, wrung his hands despairingly, being in pain and torment; and agonized by a nameless inward thirst, he called upon father Abraham to send Lazarus, that he might dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool his parched tongue, but whose request was refused without mercy, however suppliantly it knocked at heaven's gates from the habitations of eternal night?
"No;" I hear you reply, "we did not think of this parable here. How should the rich man in torment remind us of the holy and righteous sufferer? We should deem it impious to compare the thirst of the guiltless Jesus with that of this child of hell. By such a comparison we think we should be acting worse than the Jews in numbering him with the transgressors." So you say; but know, my friends, that only those can speak thus, who do not believe what the Scriptures state of the vicarious enduring of the curse by Jesus Christ. But he to whom the light of the Holy Spirit has risen upon the words, "the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed," would be indeed astonished if the Mediator did not actually experience the lot of the man in the parable—that is, if he had not tasted, as far as was possible, all the torments of the damned. And he actually did so! The bitter scorn and ridicule which reached his ear from below, and was also expressed in the words, "Let us see if Elijah will come and help him," was only a faint and human representation of the more horrible assaults, which he had to endure behind the veil of that which was external. There, unseen, he was surrounded by the bands of Belial. There the powers of darkness aimed at him their most dangerous missiles. There Satan sifted him like wheat, and from this appalling host of adversaries, from this horrible desert, from this "pit in which there was no water," and in which he could only believe that God was his God, without feeling him to be so, rose, like the prayer of the lost man to send Lazarus, the cry, "I thirst!" To spare us, sinners, the thirst of an infinite absence of comfort, he submitted to such torment in his mediatorial capacity! O what a well of consolation has he opened for us by his thirst! If we sinners now exclaim, "Be not terrible unto me, you who are my confidence in distress," the flowing streams of peace bear the divine amen! to our prayers for the sake of the Redeemer's thirst.
"I thirst!" For what did he thirst? I think the answer now is plain. It was not only for earthly water that he languished, but for something greater, higher, and more essential. He longed for the termination of his redeeming toil, and the completion of his great work of mediation. When this object was attained, he would again be restored to the full beatifying fellowship of his heavenly Father, and would again see, whereas he now only believed. He would not then have laboriously to struggle for the consciousness that God was kindly and paternally inclined toward him, but would again taste it, for he would then rest, as formerly, in his Father's bosom, and instead of the horrible images of sin, the curse, and death, the radiance of a spotless purity and holiness would beam upon him anew from every side. Peace and joy would then return. The viperous hissing of the powers of darkness around him would be silenced. He would hear only the hallelujahs of angels, and the blessed above. Every discord would be dissolved in blissful harmony, and the atmosphere in which he breathed, would again be love, entirely love. Yes, he thirsted after the full restoration of his Father's countenance, and after his Father's renewed and plain declaration, "You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," as well as after the paternal confirmation of his work of redemption, as being spotlessly perfect. That he thirsted chiefly for this, is no arbitrary supposition, but is derived from those passages of the sixty-ninth Psalm, which belong here, and which represent him as saying in his agony, "Save me, O God, for the waters are come in unto my soul. My prayer is unto you, O Lord! hear me in the truth of your salvation. Turn unto me according to the multitude of your tender mercies. Hide not your face from your servant, for I am in trouble. Hear me speedily; draw near unto my soul, and redeem it." Hence his thirst is an expression of desire toward his heavenly Father.
But do not think that in this complaint he had only himself and what belonged to his peace in view. It was not for his own sake that he hung upon the cross. He longed to be again received into fellowship with God, because his reception into it would be a pledge of theirs, whom he bore vicariously upon his heart. As the second Adam, he experienced their fate in what he endured, and by that means acquired a legal claim to prepare their future inheritance. After taking their place, as their representative, he could not be justified, exalted, and crowned without their participating in it. But how did he long for the moment when he could appear before his Father, and say, "Here am I, and those whom you have given me! I have redeemed them, have bought them with my blood, and now present them before you unreproveable. Henceforth they are your and mine, and worthy to enter into your courts." It is to this desire of his heart, and to this especially, that he gave utterance in the symbolical words, "I thirst!" O with what rich garlands of love has Jesus adorned the accursed tree!
But we do not fail to perceive that the words, "I thirst," not only expressed the Savior's longing after God his heavenly Father, but likewise a request to mankind, whom he saw represented on Calvary by those who crucified him. Even from them he solicited a charitable act. He requested of them a drink of cooling water for his parched tongue. Do not overlook this circumstance. However trivial the trait may seem, there is something great concealed under it. Who, even if he had been the noblest of his race, would in Jesus' situation, have uttered those words to his scoffing foes, and have besought of them a manifestation of kindness and charity? These men were deserving of proud contempt; but as a proof that he was so differently minded from his brethren after the flesh, and that nothing dwelt in his heart of all that is termed wounded pride, revenge, or angry feeling—he solicits from his adversaries an act of compassion and kindness, and says to them, suppliantly, "I thirst." What else did he intend to say by this, than, "See, I do not break with you. I continue faithfully inclined toward you, and hold the bond firmly which connects me with you." Let him look here, who does not yet know what it is to heap coals of fire on his enemy's head. How does the holiness of your Redeemer again manifest itself! How does the pure golden grain of his divine nature here display itself afresh! Yes, light is his garment. But it was necessary that he who was willing to be our Surety and Mediator should be so constituted. A speck on the white robe of his righteousness would have sufficed to have deprived him of the ability for the accomplishment of his great work.
It might be supposed that the delicate trait of heartfelt approximation and confiding condescension, as evidenced in the words, "I thirst," must have filled those who crucified the Savior, with a confusion which would have scarcely permitted them to lift up their eyes any more. And it certainly seems as if it had not entirely failed of its conciliating impression, by producing in them milder sentiments. We see them immediately prepare to fulfill his request. One of them runs and fetches a branch of hyssop, and after they had dipped a sponge in vinegar, and put it on the reed, they held it up to his mouth that he might suck it. But even this miserable refreshment is mingled with the gall of renewed mockery. "Let alone," say they, "let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down!" But if I mistake not, there is more seriousness than jest in this speech, and that they really intended by it to disguise the better and gentler feelings of compassion—no, even a certain inclining toward the dying man, which they felt arise within them at that moment. If we wish to gain our opponents, we cannot do so more rapidly or surely than by requesting them to do us a kindness, and thus oblige ourselves to thank them. This will immediately soften them. But in order to this, a degree of humility and charity is requisite, which every one does not possess. But this charity and humility dwelt in the Savior in unlimited fullness; and in order to place himself in a position to owe the world his thanks, he gives the latter, by saying, "I thirst," the opportunity of presenting him with the last earthly solace of his life.
What an affecting and heart-winning trait is this! O that it may win our hearts also, if they are not already gained for Jesus! For that for which he chiefly thirsts is, that he may gain us over to himself. The principal object of his desire and longing is, that transgressors may be freed from sin; those who are under the curse, absolved; those that are bound, liberated; and the prisoners set free. But that this great end of human redemption may be accomplished, he still thirsts for our love, the resignation of ourselves to him, and for our childlike confidence in his saving name. We therefore know how and with what we can still refresh the Lord of Glory. The first solace which he, with desire, awaits from us, is our tears of penitence and repentance. O let us bear them to him! Or shall we never fall weeping into each other's arms saying, "Come, and let us return unto the Lord; for he has torn and he will heal us; he has smitten, and he will bind us up?" Shall the blood which flowed on the cross, never succeed in softening the hard ground of our hearts, nor the love which died for us, inflame our frigid souls with a reciprocal affection? O the abundance of awakening voices and attracting powers, which urge themselves upon us from the cross! Will we ever resist them, as if we considered it an honor to make it evident that the hardness of our hearts was altogether invincible? May God prevent it, and bestow upon us the humility of the tax-collector, and the ardent desire of the dying malefactor.
There may be some of my readers whose eyes, from which a penitential tear never flowed, will soon close in death. O that they would melt before despair hardens them forever! There may be those who, from childhood up, have witnessed what many prophets and kings have desired to see and have not seen, and yet are far from recognizing the one thing that is needful. O that they would weep at length over their blindness, and their base and appalling ingratitude! There may be those, also, whose eyes require no light to reveal to them their misdeeds, and yet are nevertheless like sealed fountains which yield no water. O that you could weep as Peter wept, and like David, who watered his couch with his tears! Such tears are the drink-offering for which the Savior still thirsts. God grant that we may approach his throne with them! As soon as this takes place, the actions change, the relations are reversed. It is then he who gives us to drink, and refreshes us; and we imbibe and enjoy. And blessed is he who experiences in himself the truth of his words, "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him, shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." Who would not say with the Samaritan woman, with reference to such a draught, "Lord, give me this water, that I thirst no more!"
"It is Finished!"
These are the greatest and most momentous words that were ever spoken upon earth, since the beginning of the world. Who does not find in them a cry of victory? It is a shout of triumph, which announces to the kingdom of darkness its complete overthrow and to the kingdom of heaven upon earth its eternal establishment. How wonderful! At the very moment when, for the Hero of Judah, all seems lost, his words declare that all is won and accomplished! Our Lord's exclamation is like the sound of a heavenly jubilee-trumpet, and announces to the race of Adam, which was under the curse, the commencement of a free and sabbatic year, which will ever more extensively display its blessing, but never come to an end. Listen, and it will appear to you as if in the words, "It is finished!" you heard fetters burst, and prison-walls fall down. At these words, barriers as high as heaven are overthrown, and gates which had been closed for thousands of years, again move on their hinges. But what was it that was finished at the moment when that cry was uttered? The evangelist introduces his narrative with the words, "After this, Jesus knowing that all things were accomplished." Only think—"All things!" What more can we want? But wherein did they consist? We hasten to lift the veil, and view in detail what was realized and brought about, and may the full peace be imparted to us which the words, "It is finished!" announce to the world!
"Jesus cried with a loud voice, It is finished!" It would seem as if he had wished to drink only to make this victorious cry sound forth with full force, like the voice of a herald or the sound of a trumpet. The Lord has now reached the termination of his labors. He has performed the stupendous task which he undertook in the council of peace, before the world was, when he said, "I delight to do your will, O my God!" Death, to which he is on the point of submitting, formed the summit, but also the concluding act of his mediatorial work. Only take into your hands the divine program of his vicarious earthly course, as compiled in types and prophecies in the archives of the Old Testament, and be convinced how it has been most minutely carried out. The mysterious delineation of the Messiah, as it passes before us in increasing brightness and completeness, in the writings of Moses and the prophets, is fully realized in its smallest and minutest traits in the person of Jesus. If you ask for the wondrous infant of Bethlehem described by Micah, "whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting;" or for "the Child born, and the Son given, with the government upon his shoulder," whom Isaiah brings before us; or for the meek and lowly King mentioned by Zechariah, who makes his entrance into Jerusalem on the foal of an donkey—it meets you bodily in Jesus Christ. Do you seek for the seed of the woman, who, with his wounded heel, bruises the serpent's head; or the second Aaron, who should actually bring about a reconciliation between God and a sinful world—look up to the cross, and there you will see all combined in One.
Do you look about you for the antitype of the brazen serpent in the wilderness, or of the paschal lamb and its delivering blood in Egypt; or for the exalted Sufferer, who appears in the appalling descriptions given us in Psalms 22 and 69, which record a malefactor's awful doom, even to the mournful cry of "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!"—all is combined in the bleeding Savior who hangs yonder, and exclaims, "It is finished!" Then take a retrospective look into the writings of the ancient prophets, and what meets your view? The ancient types have lost their significance. They have put on flesh and blood in Jesus Christ. Their importance to us is henceforth limited to the testimony they bear that the divinely-promised Messiah is indeed come, and that no other is to be looked for. Every condition of the work of human redemption had been fulfilled at the moment when Christ uttered the words, "It is finished!" with the exception of one, which was included and taken for granted in them, because it inevitably awaited him, and actually took place immediately afterward—thus bringing the whole to a perfect conclusion.
That which still remained unaccomplished clearly proves that Jesus did not hang on the cross on his own account, but as our representative. It was our death. The laws of nature forbade that a green and thoroughly healthy tree, which was rooted in eternity, should bleed and sink beneath the blows of "the last enemy." It was contrary to the divine government that One, who had not, with Adam, tasted the forbidden fruit, should nevertheless fall under the sentence pronounced upon the latter, "In the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die!" It was also entirely opposed to the immutable and fundamental statutes of the sanctuary, that a tribute should be demanded of a righteous person, which is there expressly indicated as the wages of sin. It was at variance with the express promise of the Most High—"This do, and you shall live"—that One, who did not leave unfulfilled one iota of the divine commands, should not live, but die. He himself repeatedly declared that the universal law of mortality had, abstractedly considered, no claim upon his person. He asserted most pointedly, that no one, not even his Father in heaven, took away his life, but that he laid it voluntarily down. Truly, the death of Jesus would have shaken the throne of the Almighty to its foundations, have broken through the ordinances of his house, and violated all the statutes of the divine government, if it were not permitted us to carry the idea of it beyond the bounds of such a death as all experience.
These considerations compel us—irrespective of any revelation which the Scriptures afford—to regard the death of Christ as something extraordinary and unique in its kind. And certainly, it is a fact which stands solitary in history, and with which none besides can compare. He who, according to divine right, was exempt from death, freely submitted to it in our stead, as the last bitter drop of the accursed cup. Whether you believe this or not, the Scriptures most expressly affirm it in many and powerful words. They tell us, that "Christ tasted death by the grace of God," and therefore not as the result of a natural necessity. They say, "In that he died, he died unto sin." And when they assert that, "If One died for all, then were all dead," it points out the vicarious nature of his death so plainly, that I know not how it could be more clearly expressed. If, by his death, he paid the wages of sin for us, his death naturally could not resemble Elijah's ascent to heaven, nor the cheerful striking-sail of old Simeon, nor the exulting triumph of a Stephen, nor the peaceful going home of a John, nor such a falling asleep as is granted at present to thousands of believers under the smile of heaven, and with the joy of redemption upon their lips. No! an eternal statute required that he should yield, as far as possible, to the stroke of the king of terrors, and taste the death to which the first Adam was sentenced. Under its horrors he bowed his head. Observe the continued silence on high concerning him—the appalling restraint upon all the heavenly powers—the three hours' darkness in which he was involved—and the jeers and blasphemies which assail him from below. Truly, in all this you perceive no cheering picture of the state in which he descends into the gloomy valley of death. No! he does not die on the downy couch of a pre-assumed blessedness, as many of the poorest sinners now die, at his expense. Nevertheless he dies in the crown of triumph. At the moment when his heart ceased to beat, the words, "It is finished!" revealed the entire fullness of their meaning. He had now reached the final completion of his work of redemption. The exclamation, "It is finished!" resounded in heaven, and awoke hallelujahs to the Lamb which shall never more be mute. They reverberated through the abodes of darkness, like the thunders of God, announcing the termination of the dominion of their prince. But a more blissful sound on earth does not strike the ear of the penitent sinner to this hour than the words, "It is finished!" It is as the sound of the great jubilee-trumpet, and the proclamation of an eternal salvation.
Yes, my readers, we are delivered. There is no longer any cause for anxiety, except in the case of those who refuse to acknowledge their sinfulness, and, lost in pharisaic self-sufficiency, turn their backs on the Man of Sorrows on the cross. But if we are otherwise minded, and, honoring truth, have judged and condemned ourselves in the presence of God, then come! No more circuitous paths—no fruitless efforts to help yourselves—no vain recourse to the empty cisterns of this world, whatever proud names they may bear! The voice of peace is heard on Calvary. O that we were solemnly conscious how much was done for us there! Great was our guilt; we were condemned to death, and the curse lay upon us; but all is done away in the words, "It is finished!" If he has paid the ransom, how can a righteous God in heaven demand payment a second time? Know you not the assertion of the apostle, "There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus!" Let us give our whole hearts to him, and neither the multitude nor the heinousness of our sins need appall us. His closed eyes, his death-like visage, his pierced hands and feet, oblige us, even for the glorifying of his name, to oppose not only the infernal accuser and the judge in our own breasts, but even Moses, the administrator of eternal justice, with the apostle's watchword, "Who is he who condemns, since Christ has died?"
What invaluable fruit, therefore, do we reap from the tree of the cross! That which the Savior accomplished by his death, was not merely the work of satisfaction to divine justice, by which he removed the curse from our heads, but likewise his representative obedience, which is henceforth imputed to his believing people, as the righteousness which avails in the sight of God. Along with the sentence, "Depart from me, you cursed!" is also the "Mene, Tekel," erased from our walls, and in its stead we read the mighty words, "You are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus." And that we are so is confirmed to us by the fact that God now lovingly inclines toward us, breathes his Spirit into us, leads us in bonds of mercy and kindness, and as soon as we have finished our course, opens the gates of his heavenly mansions to us. But that condemned sinners are regarded as holy before God, without any infringement on his justice, holiness, and truth, is intimated by that which the suffering Savior accomplished on the cross. Even the twenty-second Psalm asserts that this would be the consequence of his death, since, in the last verse it is said, "They shall come and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he has done this." How just and well founded is, therefore, the victorious cry, "It is finished!" with which the Lord, after performing his work, inclined his head to rest!
After these elucidations, you will easily understand the enigmatical words in Heb. 10:14, "With one offering he has forever perfected them that are sanctified." Yes, by the one act of the offering up of himself, he has so laid the foundation for all who believe in him, of their justification, sanctification, and redemption, that they may now unhesitatingly rejoice in the first as an accomplished fact; that they bear in them the second, indeed, only as a germ, but such a one as strives, by an inward necessity, for a perfect future development; and that they have the third as surely and certainly in prospect, as Christ their representative has already taken possession, in their names, of the glorious and heavenly inheritance. As respects the capability, groundwork, and rudiments, there is, therefore, in every believer, the ideal man—the man of the future glorified world, already created and presented to God. A creative act of a spiritual kind was accomplished on the cross; and when that which was there created, shall have attained to its perfect development, and have laid aside all its earthly veils and coverings the full truth of the triumphal shout, "It is finished "will become apparent, and the entire extent of its signification be revealed to us.
For know that the eye of the crucified Savior, on uttering these sublime words, rested not merely on individual sinners, for whose return to their paradisaic state he prepared the bloodstained path, but also on the whole world at large. It was then that he satisfied the desire of all nations, as expressed for thousands of years, in mysterious usages and religious rites, legends, songs, and imagery, and could now most justly call the whole world his own. He had dissolved the ban that lay upon it—had snatched it from the curse which justice had impended over it, and had rent from the powers of darkness the desolate earth, which, by the divine decision, had fallen to them on account of sin, had conquered it for himself, and consecrated it to be the scene of his future kingdom. There is, consequently, nothing more groundless than the fear that the earth may again become in perpetuity a fief of the prince of darkness, or a wilderness and desert of barbarism and sin. The blood of Christ claims its transformation into an abode of righteousness—its renovation to a paradise—its renewed amalgamation with heaven; and the Eternal Father who has solemnly sworn to his Son, saying, "Ask of me, and I will give you the heathen for an inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession," will not refuse to listen to the claims of the blood of his only-begotten Son. Whatever confusion and desolation may yet come upon our world, its future is secure. On the cross, the ground of its inevitable transformation and glorification was laid, and the Holy Spirit was commissioned not to rest, until at the cost of Immanuel, the great work of that new creation shall have been completed. The model he has to realize has long been handed to him. Do you wish to see the heavenly program, which is to serve him as the standard of his working and operation? the wish can be granted you. The prophet Isaiah displays it before you in the sixty-fifth chapter of his prophecy, where you may read as follows, from the seventeenth verse: "Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former shall not be remembered nor come into mind. But be you glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people; and the voice of weeping shall no more be heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that has not filled his days; for the child shall die an hundred years old, but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed. And they shall build houses and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth for trouble, for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock, and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord."
When the glorious representations which are here given us become life and reality, we shall then be truly conscious in what a stupendous and comprehensive sense the dying Redeemer uttered the words, "It is finished!" At that moment, the entire fullness of deliverance and glorification there depicted, had been won by him, and the new world, in all the preliminary conditions of its realization, was formed.
Let us avail ourselves, then, of the treasures of consolation and hope which lie concealed for us in the words, "It is finished!" Beating our breasts, let us more closely encircle the cross, and derive from the death of the Redeemer, along with the blissful consciousness that our sins are forgiven us, desire, courage, and strength, to live henceforth only to Him who gave such an invaluable ransom for us. If we now wish to see what He has made of us, poor children of Adam, by the offering up of himself, let us cast a look at the Church triumphant above. The just made perfect there were once people like ourselves. Among them are the malefactor, the tax-collector, Magdalen, Zacchaeus, and a host of other poor sinners. Who recognizes them in their glorified state, their shining garments and unfading crowns of life before the throne of God? But if you would know how they attained to this glory, listen to what is said in the book of Revelations: "These are those who have come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." See, my friends, this is the whole of the mystery. In those saints the words, "It is finished!" have, as it were, assumed a form. They display to us the entire greatness of the expression. They form its living and visible commentary. Let us therefore follow in their steps. No other banner but the cross accompanies us to the city of God. Let us join the band of travelers who follow this oriflamme, and let the full-toned echo, which resounds from the depth of our hearts, to the cry, "It is finished!" be heard both now, and especially in our last hour, "Who is he who condemns, since Christ has died?"
"Father, into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit!"
We return to Calvary. Let devout and peaceful recollections possess our minds. We are entering a sanctuary. Is there, generally speaking, anything on earth more solemn and affecting than dying moments, in which time and eternity meet each other, and in the silence of which we seem to hear the striking of the hours of another world? What ought we then to feel at a deathbed, such as that we are now to contemplate, and at the moment in which the Redeemer bows his head and expires? Lift up your eyes. O what a dying bed has been prepared yonder for the Father's beloved Son! No one wipes the perspiration from his brow. No one cheers him with the words of life. No one pronounces the final benediction over him. Whoever left the world more forsaken and involved in deeper shades than he! Yet do not mistake him. It is not a conflict in which we see him engaged, but a sacrificial act. He does not yield to death like us, but devotes himself to it after having previously invested it with the power over his life.
What is death? For thousands of years, as you know, has the gloomy and universally dreaded being, known under that name, been in the world, and carried on in it his dreadful work of destruction. It is not a thing that exists, but is the fate and destiny of our race. The young creation, as it came forth from the hand of the Almighty, knew not this monster. There all was life and harmony, undisturbed by any such discord as death. The gloomy phantom was first known in the world only by the divine threatening connected with eating of the forbidden fruit. In consequence of the fall, it entered upon the stage of reality, in order, thenceforward, as the king of terrors, to subject everything that breathed to his awful scepter. Our first parents were the first who beheld it display its power and majesty on their beloved Abel. O what a terrible object was that which they were called to witness! There lay the blooming youth in the dust. The light of his eyes was extinguished; his lips no longer uttered words of kindness and affection; his limbs, pale as the lily, and stiff as the cold marble. However loudly they called his name, he opened his eyes no more. However much they conjured him with tears to let them hear his voice once more, he was silent, and the floods of tears which they shed over him no longer caused his pulse to beat. And before they were aware, corruption, with leaden weight, and a thousand horrors, took possession of the corpse, and the poor parents, in spite of all their affection, were obliged to turn away their faces from it with horror, and hasten to inter him, who was dear to them as the apple of their eye, beneath the sod as food for worms. They then knew, though only in part, what was meant by death. From that moment, death continued its dreadful sway over the earth, dropped its gall into every cup of joy, surrounded every loving bond with the mourning drapery of the certain prospect, that sooner or later the hour of separation and dissolution would arrive, and overspread all nature with a black funeral pall, even where it bloomed the loveliest. And as he has acted for thousands of years, he does to this day. But he who first became fully acquainted with the monster, and was conscious of the horrors that were hidden beneath its exterior, and learned that the separation of the body from the soul, which it effects, as well as the dissolution of the former in the kingdom of corruption, was only the mildest of its doings, since as God's judicial messenger it has also orders to deliver up the sinner to hell, will fully coincide with the son of Sirach, and say, "O death, how bitter are you!" But certainly he will rejoice only the more loudly when he hears, that there is one who can testify of himself, saying, "I have the keys of hell and of death!" And does such a being exist? you inquire. Yes, my readers, you will now behold his bleeding face.
The payment of the wages of sin is due only from sinners. The Holy One of Israel had nothing in common with death. What is it, then, that we witness on Calvary? Look up! After having uttered the great and triumphant shout, "It is finished!" he again moves his lips to speak. What will follow? A mournful farewell? A plaintive exclamation of, "I must depart hence?" A painfully faltering out of the words, "My senses forsake me. I succumb, and am going the way of all flesh?" O not so! Listen! With a loud voice, and the strength and emphasis of one who does not die from weakness, nor dying pays a forced tribute to a mournful necessity; but as one who is Lord over death, and voluntarily yields himself up to it, he exclaims—and the noise of rending rocks, falling hills, and bursting sepulchers accompany his cry—"Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit!" and after these words, like one whose labor is finished, he bows, self-acting, his bleeding head upon his bosom, and resigns his Spirit, or, as John expresses it, "gives up the spirit." But before we treat of the mighty results which proceed from his death, let us for a moment immerse ourselves in the consideration of the parting word of the Divine Sufferer.
"Father!" he begins. He is, therefore, again conscious of his Father, although at first only by faith. The first word we hear from his lips on earth was his father's name, and it is also the last. All his thoughts and deeds, desires and efforts, ended toward his Father and the glorifying of his name. To accomplish his Father's will was his meat and drink; the love of his Father his delight and bliss; and union with him the summit of all his hopes and desires. With the heraldic and conquering cry, "It is finished!" he turned once more to the world. It was his farewell to earth—a farewell such as beseemed the Conqueror of Death, the Prince of Life, the Governor of all things. He then withdrew himself entirely into connection with his God, and turned his face to him alone.
"Father!" This sound was the utterance of regained and strong filial confidence, but not the exclamation of one who had fully attained to rest in his Father's bosom. We must still regard the words, "Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit," as the war-cry of a warrior, engaged in battle. Hell, which raged around him, did not give up its cause as lost, but continued to assault him in every way, and to distress him with terrific imagery; and the act of death cost him, who was the Life, no small effort. We must, therefore, imagine to ourselves the Savior's dying exclamation as that of one severely oppressed, who is struggling to place his soul in a secure asylum, and flees from a horrid pressure into the hands of the Almighty; and that this taking refuge occurs with the peace and assurance of complete victory. The idea does not even remotely present itself to him, that death could be anything more than a transfer of the Spirit into a different sphere of existence. He is exalted, high as heaven, above the miserable human inquiry, "To be or not to be?" He knows that he falls asleep only to awake on the bosom of God; and in this consciousness, in which he already sees the arms of his Father lovingly extended to receive him, he exclaims, "Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit!" He takes these words from Psalm 31, except that he prefaces them with the word "Father," which gives the appropriate form to his position and dignity, and leaves out the words of the Psalmist which immediately follow, "For you have redeemed me," as not belonging to him who, as the Redeemer of the world, hung upon the cross. But still how significant it is, that he left the world with a passage of Scripture on his lips! He was completely imbued with the word of God, and even dying, gives us a hint respecting what ought to be the nourishment of our inner man.
His last cry is uttered. He then inclines his head, after his well and fully-accomplished work, and the most unheard-of event takes place—the Son of the living God becomes a corpse! We stand affected, astonished, and sink in adoration; and what is left for us but to pour out our hearts in the words of the poet:
"Our spirits join to adore the Lamb.
O that our feeble tongues could move
In strains immortal as his name,
And melting as his dying love!
"In vain our mortal voices strive
To speak compassion so divine;
Nor can seraphic strains arrive
At such amazing love as your."
Where was the Lord Jesus after his departure from the body? Where else than where his desires and longing carried him—in the hands of his Father. Heaven celebrated his triumph; the music of angelic harps saluted his ears; the just made perfect before the throne shouted their adoring and rejoicing welcome; and the new song began, "You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof, for you were slain and have redeemed us to God by your blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, and have made us kings and priests unto God, and we shall reign on the earth."—Rev. 5:9, 10.
But it is undeniable that mysterious passages of Scripture intimate that the Prince of Peace, after having laid aside his earthly body, had by no means concluded his mission. For the Apostle Peter says in his first Epistle, 3:19, 20, that Christ went in the Spirit—that is, divested of his bodily personality—"and preached unto the spirits in prison, which sometime were disobedient, when once the patience of God waited, in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing." And supported by this passage especially, the apostle's creed asserts a descent into hell, immediately after the death of Christ. But the explanation of this passage requires great caution. That to which Peter refers, belongs by no means to any further abasement of the Lord Jesus, much less to his work of atonement. The satisfaction rendered by the Surety was finally completed at the moment of his death. Now, if Christ entered the habitations of those departed spirits of the antediluvian world, it was in order to announce his victory to them, as the words in the original expressly intimate. That it was also in order to preach repentance and offer faith to them, and then to conduct those who believed, as living trophies with him into heaven, we are induced to think, when combining it with those other words of the same apostle, chap. 4:6, "For this cause was the Gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the Spirit." In every case we must be content with not having reached the conclusion of the exposition of these passages; and hence a veil of mystery continues to rest upon the sojourn of Christ, during the interval between the moment of his death and that of his reunion with the body, as well as upon the correct and full meaning of the words, "He descended into hell."
But the reason of Christ's death stands, on the contrary, fully unveiled before us. Even a superficial consideration suffices to give us, at least, an idea of the cause of it. It must, first of all, appear extremely striking that an individual dies who could testify respecting himself, that he was the Resurrection and the Life; who, at the grave of Lazarus, at the coffin of the young man of Nain, and at the deathbed of the daughter of Jairus, manifested that he was Lord over death, and who had never committed a single sin by which, in accordance with the threatening in paradise, he had forfeited his life. Still more does it surprise us, that he becomes a prey to death, who, because according to his own assertion, no one took away his life from him, only requiring to will it, in order to escape such a catastrophe, and that this man expires under circumstances which would lead one to suppose that he was a malefactor and a rebel, rejected both by God and the world, rather than a righteous man, and even a universal benefactor of mankind.
That he died voluntarily, is evident to every one at first sight. But for what end did he die this voluntary death? Was it to give us the example of a heroic departure from the world? By no means. How do the words he spoke correspond with such an object? "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it is accomplished!" Was it in order to show us that dying is an easy thing? Stephen has certainly given us an instance of this in his exit from the world, but not the man whom we hear moaning in the dark valley, and exclaiming, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It is usual, from these words, to point out the intention of his death, but without rightly knowing what they mean; for Jesus dies, neither in a conflict against Israel's foes, nor in an attempt to deliver from a burning city or a devastating inundation.
Many, again, suppose that he died to confirm his doctrine. But which doctrine did he seal on the cross? Was it this, that God is with the righteous? or this, that "the angel of the Lord encamps about them that fear him, and delivers them?" or this, that "godliness has the promise of the life that now is?" I know not what fresh support these truths have found in the circumstances of his death; sooner should we think we found proof in them to the contrary. Besides, no one doubted of these truths, so as to require a renewed practical confirmation of them. If Christ confirmed anything by his death, it was his assertion on oath, with which he answered the high priest's question, "Are you the Son of the living God?" On account of this affirmation, they nailed him to the cross. But that true to his inmost conviction, he continued firmly to abide by it, he testified by his sanguinary death.
The fact that he died as such, certainly makes the mystery of his death complete; but the seals of this mystery are opened, and its depths revealed. Men enlightened from above, stand ready to afford us every wished-for elucidation. They draw near to us at the cross, from the times of both the old and new covenant, and their statements illumine, like the candlestick in the temple, the darkness of Calvary. One of the divine heralds heads the phalanx with testifying that Christ "restored what he took not away." Another exclaims, "He was wounded for our transgressions, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed." A third, "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!" A fourth, "God made him to be sin for us who knew no sin." And again "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us;" and again, "Christ has reconciled us by the body of his flesh, through death;" and again, "With one offering he has perfected forever them that are sanctified." And with the testimonies of these messengers of God, are combined these of the Lord himself. For instance, "The Son of Man came to give his life a ransom for many;" and again, "Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone, but if it die, it brings forth much fruit." And more especially, the words of the institution of the sacrament of his body and blood, broken and shed for the forgiveness of sins.
But it may be said, "We hear these words, but are not they which should explain to us this mystery themselves hieroglyphics which require deciphering?" They are so; and in order to understand them it requires a previous consecration, which, however, is not imparted by anointing or laying on of hands in temples of human erection, but in the privacy of the closet, amid grief and tears. Rouse yourselves, therefore, from your delusions: leave the magic circle of deception into which you are banned, and enter into the light of truth; and after having become acquainted with the Eternal, in his nature, as the thrice holy Lord God Almighty, in its whole extent, and having received an impression of the majesty of his law, investigate the nature of sin, reflect in what manner it is odious in the sight of God, then weigh yourselves in the balances in which God will at length weigh you, and, with your estrangement from God, become conscious of your need of reconciliation and redemption, and in a short time, the words you have just read, will burn like flaming torches before you, and the sanguinary and enigmatical exhibition on the cross, will become clear as the day before the eyes of your spirits. You will then behold in the Man of Sorrows, the Mediator between God and you, and rejoicingly embrace in his death, the sacrifice that outweighed all your guilt, and justified you forever in the sight of God.
''Father, into your hands, I commit my Spirit!" O what did he not commit to his Father's hands when uttering these words! "And being made perfect," writes the apostle, Heb. 5:9, "he became the author of salvation to all them that obey him." It was, therefore, necessary that he himself should be perfected, as righteous, by fulfilling the whole law; as holy, by victoriously overcoming every temptation; as Surety, by the payment of all our debts; and as Mediator and Reconciler, by emptying the whole of the cup of curse allotted to us. In all these respects he was perfected the moment he expired, and thus he deposited in his Father's hands, along with his spiritual personality, the basis of the new world, yes, his redeemed Church itself, as purified in his blood, arrayed in his righteousness, a pleasing and acceptable offering in the sight of God.
Now, if we are obedient to the Son of his love, we know that there is a city of refuge for us in every supposable case. Into whatever distress we may fall, we need not be anxious as to its termination. We read in Heb. 10:31, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." We say, no longer fearful, but wholly blissful to those who, after the example of their dying Lord, can believingly resign their spirits into his hands. If the world persecutes, or Satan tempts us, if death alarms us, or anything else excites apprehension, we courageously exclaim, while relying on the merits of Immanuel, "Because I have made the Lord my refuge, even the Most High my habitation, there shall no evil befall me." And we are sure that this high and lofty asylum is every moment open to receive and shelter us.
O the incomparable privileges which are granted us in Christ! Let us make good use of them, and cover the feet of Him, who acquired them for us, with reverential kisses. Let us peacefully go on our way, in the rainbow light which beams upon us from Calvary, and tune the strings of our hearts to gratitude and devoted love.
The Signs that Followed
Scarcely has the Lord of life and glory bowed his head and expired on Calvary, than the awful scene is changed. Heaven no longer withholds its recognition of the Man of Sorrows. The cry of the dying Mediator, "It is finished!" receives the most brilliant confirmation; and in lieu of the hostile tumult, which had hitherto raged around him, a sublime celebration of his incomparable triumph ensues. The manner in which this celebration is commenced in heaven and solemnized on earth, will form the subject of our present meditation.
Follow me first into the temple at Jerusalem. It is three o'clock in the afternoon, the hour, therefore, when the Israelites assembled in its sacred courts for the evening sacrifice. The priests begin their customary duties, when at the very moment in which Christ on Calvary exclaims, "Father into your hands I commit my spirit!" who can describe the astonishment of the sons of Aaron! The thickly-woven heavy veil, without being touched by any human hand, is rent in twain, in the midst, from the top to the bottom, and the mercy-seat with the ark of the covenant and the golden cherubim, that sacred depositary which the high priest alone was permitted to approach, not without blood, and only once a year, stands suddenly naked and unveiled to the view of every one.
It was the Almighty, at whose nod this event occurred. And what did it imply? First, a renewed intimation that the Levitical service, though divinely ordered, and prophetically significant, contained only types of a coming salvation, which, now that the latter was accomplished, were rendered void, even as the blossom is expelled by the fruit.
Secondly, a symbolical and obvious representation of the blissful effects, which should attend the bloody death to which the Lord of Glory had just devoted himself on Calvary. The most holy place in the temple was the shadow and type of the throne-room of heaven, from which we had been ejected and excluded by a divine decree. The veil which separated us from it, was our sinful flesh. "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, and who shall stand in his holy place?" had been the question hitherto; and the answer was, "He who has clean hands and a pure heart; who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity." But who could boast of being thus blameless in the sight of God? There was none righteous, no not one. "Who among us," was the inquiry, "can dwell with devouring fire? Who can dwell with everlasting burnings?" And the reply was, he who does righteousness. But what remained for any one, except the mournful ejaculation of the prophet, "Woe is me, for I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips!" Righteousness had departed, sin reigned. Suddenly, the sign in the temple announces that our position, as regards the habitation of the Most High, had undergone a great and thorough change. And such it actually experienced. That which hindered our access to the sanctuary of God, was done away. That which elevated itself as a wall of separation between us and him, fell down. No danger any longer threatened him who wished to enter into the heavenly abodes, over whose gates the inscription flames, "The Lord is far from the wicked." There is no longer any risk in casting ourselves into the hands of him, before whom even the angels are not pure. Embrace the cross, and then courageously say to Moses, "Tear up your roll of curses against me, I no longer owe you anything!" Believe, and then meet the infernal accuser with the exclamation, "The Lord rebuke you, Satan, yes, the Lord that has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!" Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and then you may boldly and with childlike confidence, enter the Father's holy habitation, which henceforward stands open to you day and night. Wash your robes in the blood of the Lamb, and then cast yourself, with childlike confidence, on the Father's heart, and pour everything that harasses and oppresses you into his bosom. O lay hold of the blissful idea, which, in God's intention, and by his immediate arrangement, the rent in the veil of the temple portrays to you! Your Savior, by his death, threw open every door and gate in heaven.
But would you still inquire, whether we are really justified in giving that rent in the veil of the sanctuary such an encouraging meaning; know that we are fully authorized to do so. Read what the apostle says in Heb. 10:19-23, "Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he has consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an High Priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water." You see, therefore, that access to the holy place is opened to us, and that the way to our Father's house is prepared for us. "By whom?" By Jesus Christ. "In what manner?" By means of a rent in the veil. This veil was the flesh of the great High Priest. The veil was rent when he offered up his human nature on the cross for us, after taking, by imputation, our sins upon himself. By this act of mediation, he answered and fulfilled everything requisite for our justification in the sight of God, and, therefore, also for our admission before the throne of God. Hence, at the moment when he expired, that took place substantially, which the same moment occurred typically in the temple.
We leave the edifice at Jerusalem, which has now lost its importance, and return to Calvary, where a second miracle meets us. "The earth quakes, the rocks rend." What does this imply? Something great and glorious. The death of the Mediator has decided the future of the old world. It is, with all its concerns, devoted to destruction, and awaits a great and comprehensive change. Hear what is said in Heb. 12:21, 26—"Whose voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, yet once more signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain." The present creation is not what it was originally. Sin entered into it and overspread it with the funeral pall of mortality, and the mourning dress of endless destruction. Innumerable relations in nature as well as in human society, contradict the divine plan of the Creator, and have disturbed the harmony which God introduced into the world. These discords were the consequences of the fall. But after sin had been again put away through the satisfaction made by the Redeemer, its consequences must also naturally find their grave. The blood of the Lamb demands the restoration of the original state of created things. And believe me, the quaking of the earth to its very foundations, the tottering of the hills and mountains, the rending of the rocks, which attended the Lord's death, all these are nothing else but an amen of Almighty God to the demand of the blood of his Son, clothed in the symbolical phenomena of nature. "The fashion of this world passes away," says the apostle, 1 Cor. 7:31, and the pleasing vision of John, recorded in Rev. 21:1-3—"I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away, and there was no more sea. And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God," must be fulfilled.
The third wonder ought to affect our hearts in the most powerful manner. Not only do rocks in the neighborhood of Calvary rend, but ancient sepulchers of saints, long fallen asleep, are opened, and the corpses they conceal, invigorated by new life, begin to stir and move, in order, after the resurrection of the Illustrious Sleeper, likewise to go forth from their chambers, and to appear unto many in the holy city.
What an event! It is certainly somewhat veiled in mysterious obscurity, and gives rise to a variety of questions. Was the awakening of these dead bodies complete at once, or was it accomplished by degrees? And if the former were the case, where did the reanimated forms remain until the resurrection of Christ? Did they continue in their sepulchers during that period? This is scarcely credible. And when they afterward arose, in what body did they appear? In that spiritual one spoken of in 1 Cor. 15? If in the latter, how can Christ be called "the first-fruits of them that slept?" You see, my readers, that the question is surrounded with difficulties. But it seems to me that the circumstance last mentioned of Christ being called the first-fruits of the resurrection, compels us to believe that at his death, the graves only opened as a preceding intimation of what would afterward occur; and as the first dawn of approaching life, prophetically flashing over the slumbering remains; while the reunion of the departed spirits with their bodies only took place three days after, on the great Easter morning. But the fact itself is beyond a doubt, and would stand fast, even without being confirmed by many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to whom the evangelists appeal for its historical truth.
But that which God intended by this miracle is sufficiently evident. The powerful effects of Christ's vicarious death reach down even to the domains of the dead. By the offering up of his own life, he became the Prince of Life. Even in the appalling regions of corruption, he overthrew the throne of him, who, according to the Scriptures, "had the power of death," and acquired the authority, not only to conduct the souls he had redeemed to the mansions of eternal peace, but also to wrest their bodies from the bonds of the curse, and in due time to present his people to his Father, entirely renewed to their original paradisaic form, in bodily as well as spiritual glorification. This truth the Almighty intended primarily to confirm by the miracle of the previous opening of the graves, which was connected with the death of Christ, and then by the actual resurrection of the bodies of the saints on the third day.
Who were these first trophies of the glorious conqueror of the king of terrors? Was Abraham among them, to whom it was promised that he should see, in a very peculiar manner, the day of the Lord? Was Moses, of whom the Apostle Jude relates, that Satan strove with the heavenly powers about his body? The narrative leaves us without a reply, and is also silent as to the appearance presented by the risen saints, who were made visible to many in the holy city; and when, where, and in what manner they were afterward taken up to heaven. The mission of those who were thus called from the dust of the grave, was limited to one thing, namely, to represent the death of Jesus as an event which operated with creative power, both in the past, the present, and the future, and not less in the depth than in the height, and to give actual proof of the exceedingly abundant and well-grounded cause we have to rejoice beneath the cross of Christ, and to say with the apostle, "O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law; but thanks be to God which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Cor. 15:55-57.
Thus the atoning death of Christ was solemnized in a majestic manner by divine signs and wonders, which commenced immediately beneath the cross. We are not indeed aware of any festive pomp, nor does the music of harps and cymbals meet our ear. But in the deepest center of the intellectual world, the bells ring, the garlands wave, and every feeling, which rises in the hearts of those who celebrate it at the cross, is like instrumental and vocal music. Who are these silent assistants at the solemnity? He who first attracts our attention is the Roman centurion, the commander of the band of soldiers who watch the cross. Mute, and apparently lost in thought, he stands and looks up to the cross of the Divine Sufferer. He has witnessed the whole course of the crucifixion. He beheld the admirable behavior of the Mysterious Man. He listened to the words which proceeded from his bleeding lips, and at the moment when the Just One expired, he felt the earth tremble beneath his feet; and he saw also with his own eyes, how the hills around tottered, and the rocks were rent asunder. The emotions, which had until then affected his soul, compressed themselves into one powerful and appalling impression, and he gives vent to his feelings in the loud and unambiguous exclamation, in which he praised the true God, the God of Israel, saying, "Certainly this was a righteous man, this was the Son of God!"
We must not be too anxious to know what the centurion meant by the latter expression. He was certainly no dogmatician, nor a Jew instructed in the catechism, but only a poor, blind heathen. But according to all that he had seen of the Man of Nazareth, he doubted not that he must be more than a man, and according to the presentiment which had taken possession of his soul, he regarded him as, in fact, no other than the Son of God, foretold in the Jewish Scriptures. Nor did it require a very finely polished mental mirror to express the reflection of the divine dignity of Jesus. Even a crude, but honest heathen soldier's heart was a sufficient mirror for it, But see! Not only the centurion, but also several of his troop are overpowered by feelings similar to his own; and astonished and thrilled with a sacred reverence, join in his confession, or murmur something of the kind. What a pleasing and significant occurrence! A number of blind heathen, among them probably even those who had been the instruments of Jesus' crucifixion, at a moment, when, with his cause, he seemed irretrievably lost, give him, in spite of a world of opponents, the glory of the candid confession, that he is the Son of the living God, and surprise us, like a radiant constellation in the darkness of the night, with a truly heart-cheering anticipation of that which should in future come to pass.
O my dear readers, you have seen and heard not merely that which those heathens saw and heard, but something infinitely greater and more important. You are witnesses of the fact, that Christ's death on the cross not only rent the rocks and made the hills to tremble, but lifted the whole order of the old world from its joints and hinges, and pushed it into an entirely new path. You saw from that death, a resurrection-beam dart, not merely over a few bodies of sleeping saints, but the fiery stream of a new and divine life pour itself over the whole graveyard of the earth. You are not only aware of the rending of the veil in the temple, at the moment when the great Sufferer expired, but also of the rending of a prophetic covering which had existed for four thousand years, in order that what was concealed under it, as idea and image, might be realized in the world, even in its minutest features. You not only heard the dying Savior majestically gladden a single malefactor with the promise, "This day shall you be with me in paradise;" but are aware, that to this hour, no one under heaven glows, either with pure love to God, or attains to thorough peace amid the darkness and storms of this life, until he has lifted up the eye of faith to that thorn-crowned head, which benignantly beholds the human race for the last eighteen centuries, and continues unobscured, in spite of hell, for the consolation of every penitent sinner; and that the field, be it family, or state, or church, over which the cross does not cast its wonder-working shadow, produces only the hemlock and the bramble of perdition, but never "yields the scent of a field which the Lord has blessed." All these things have been brought before you, and you are daily conversant with them; and can you delay to detach yourselves, resolutely, from an unbelieving world, and to make the confession of those heathen soldiers your own; and while thus paying homage to the Son of God, mingle in their peaceful solemnization of his death?
The Roman mercenaries are not however the only individuals on Calvary who pay their tribute of reverence to the deceased Savior. It is done more profoundly and fervently by the group of weeping women who followed the Master from Galilee and ministered unto him. Even in death they cannot leave him. They still cling to him with their love and hope, like ivy to the fallen tree. Duly mark the sacred fire which burns in the center of their hearts. It is the fire of the purest enthusiasm for true moral greatness. This enthusiasm cannot weep hopelessly, much less rest on a mere deception. The kingdom of that which is venerable, noble, and beautiful, must have reality, duration, and existence. Christ is the king of this kingdom, and must forever continue to be so. You beloved souls, do not despair of this kingdom, even though the whole world should declare it to be an idle dream. It alone is reality, and will have the victory under all circumstances. Let us therefore all join ourselves to it. Let us all address the crucified Redeemer, and say, "We side with you, you beauteous Morning Star!" Let us give our word and our hands, that we will walk in his paths, through whatever straits and difficulties they may lead us. Extend toward us your hand, therefore, you who are estranged from all that is low and vain, and teach us to elevate our nature by following in your steps!
Let these be the ejaculations which rise from our breasts beneath the cross. But know that the celebration of his death does not terminate in such moral enthusiasm for the Lord and his kingdom. The women had found in Jesus more than a model of humanity and a guiding star in the path of virtue. They felt their need, above all things, of a Surety, who should mediate their reconciliation with God, in order that in the strength of this consciousness, and with the assistance of a reconciled God, the beginning of a new life might be made. And they believed that they had really found the object of their ardent desires in their great Master. But did they give up their belief at his death? It was doubtless deeply shaken by the sanguinary exit of their Divine Friend out of this life; but the signs they had just witnessed, swelled, like a favorable gale, the sails of their hope anew, and seemed to them nothing less than a voice of their heavenly Father, saying to them, "Endure and wait, for he is nevertheless the man whom you held him to be." And however weak might be the glimmering of their confidence, yet they celebrated their reconciliation through the blood of the Lamb, although more in hope than in a clear consciousness of its being the case. O let us enter into fellowship with them! The only real, true, and full celebration of the death of Christ is that which is based upon the song of the blessed above. "The Lamb that was slain, is worthy to receive praise, and honor, and glory!"
Let such be also our celebration of it. We read in the Gospel that many, who had likewise been witnesses of the divine wonders at the cross, returned to Jerusalem, in great amazement, beating their breasts. The state of these people points out to you the preparation for a real "Good Friday." O that there may not be one of my readers, who through divine mercy, is not placed in this preparatory state! Be aware what enormous guilt, apart from your other sins you incur, by so long refusing due homage and submission to a Lord and King so powerfully accredited as Jesus upon the cross. O that you would take it deeply to heart, and now begin to humble yourselves before God! You would then soon be able, with beaming countenance to sing,
"O for this love, let rocks and hills
Their lasting silence break;
And all harmonious human tongues
The Savior's praises speak!
"Yes, we will praise you, dearest Lord
Our souls are all on flame,
Hosanna round the spacious earth,
To your adored name!"
The Wound of the Lance
On our return to the scene of suffering on Calvary, we find a great change has taken place. Profound silence reigns on the three crosses. Death, the speechless monster, has spread his sable wings over the sufferers. The gazing crowd which surrounded the place of execution, has dispersed—in part, deeply affected and conscience-smitten. Even the little company of faithful women, almost ready to succumb with grief and sorrow, appear to have returned to the city. We therefore find only the Roman guard, and besides them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who, after he had safely lodged Mary in his peaceful cottage, could not resist the urgent impulse to seek again the place where he, that was all to him, hung on the cross. Who could we have wished as a witness to the last event on Calvary sooner than this sober-minded and sanctified disciple? He relates to us, in all simplicity, what he there beheld; but his deeply-affected heart lies wholly open before us, with all its thoughts and feelings, in his brief and unadorned narrative.
The priests and scribes, accustomed to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel, do not think of the heinous blood-guiltiness they had incurred, but only of the prevailing custom in Israel, to take down from the gibbets, where they had been exposed to public view, as a warning to others, the bodies of malefactors, and inter them before night. This custom was founded on an express divine command. We read in Deut. 21:22, 23, "If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall in anyway bury him that day; (for he who is hanged is accursed of God) that your land be not defiled, which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance." This is a strange and peculiar ordinance, which we should scarcely have been able to account for, had not the Spirit of the Lord himself presented us with the key to it. The fact that God points out those that are hung as especially burdened with his curse, compelled the more thoughtful in Israel to infer that there was something typical in it; because a wicked man, though not thus put to death, could not really be less accursed than one whose dead body was thus publicly exhibited. Thus the divine command to inter the body, and the promise connected with it, "So shall you bury with it the curse that rests upon the land," unfolded the consoling prospect that a removal and blotting out of guilt was actually possible. But since it followed, of course, that it could not be affected by the mere interment of executed malefactors, the idea must have occurred to them that in the divine counsels, the removal of the curse would, at a future period, be actually accomplished by the death and burial of some prominent mysterious personage. Now, when believing Israelites hit upon such thoughts, their ideas were in accordance with God's intention, who, in the ordinance respecting malefactors that had been put to death, had no other object in view than a prophetic symbolizing of the future redemption by Christ. The latter is clearly evident from Gal. 3:13, 14, where the apostle says, "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us (for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree) that"—instead of the curse—"the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ." Here Christ is undeniably set forth as the antitype of those who were hanged in Israel. On the cross he bore the curse for us, and in doing this, died the public death of a criminal. But after he had commended his Spirit, as a voluntary offering into the hands of his Father, the curse that lay upon the earth and its inhabitants, was actually interred with his body, since all that believe on him are freed from the curse, and become heirs of an incorruptible and heavenly blessing.
Hence, how deeply significant does the scene on Calvary appear, which we are now contemplating! The people that are acting there do not indeed know what they are doing. But this does not prevent them from being led, by an invisible clue, in the hand of divine Providence. Without reflecting further, they call to mind the letter of the Mosaic law, and believe they ought to hasten with the taking down the bodies from the cross, in order to their interment, both because the day began to decline, and because it is the preparation for the great Sabbath—that of the feast of the passover, and hence peculiarly holy. They, therefore, proceed in a body to Pilate, and request him to cause the legs of the three criminals to be broken, as was customary, then to be taken down, and afterward interred.
The governor does not hesitate to grant their request, and sends, at the same time, another guard to the place of execution to break the legs of the malefactors, and to convince themselves of their being really dead. It was considered an act of mercy to those that were crucified, to hasten their death by breaking their limbs with an iron bar, and then giving them a final coup de grace on the bosom. The beginning was made with the two malefactors, but when the turn came to the Lord Jesus, every sign of his being already dead was so apparent, that the breaking of his legs was thought needless, especially as one of the spearmen pierced his side with his lance, which alone would have sufficed to have caused his death, had the Divine Sufferer been still alive.
In the abstract, this occurrence appears of extremely trifling importance; but the Evangelist John, who so expressly states it, regarded it with other eyes. In the twofold fact of the Savior's limbs not being broken, and of his side being pierced by the lance, he recognizes a divine interposition, by which two ancient prophecies were fulfilled. "These things were done," says he, "that the Scriptures should be fulfilled. A bone of him shall not be broken." This was said in reference to the paschal lamb (Exod. 12:46), to which the evangelist here expressly attributes the significance of the type of the Lamb of God, offered up for the sins of the world. As a shadow of him that was to come, the paschal lamb was to be a male, and in order especially to intimate the holiness of him who was prefigured, it was required to be without blemish. But that not a bone of him was to be broken, was intended to point out, that Christ would offer himself as an atonement to God, whole and undivided; and those who desired to become partakers of his salvation, must appropriate him to themselves entirely. The Lord also, in that appointment, aimed at the establishment of an additional sign, which, when the Messiah should appear, would contribute clearly to make him known to every one. And John seems to say to us in his narrative, "Behold here the predicted sign!" The fact, that the sacred vessel of his body remained unmutilated, impresses the confirming seal upon the illustrious deceased, as the true atoning Paschal Lamb. He is the righteous One, of whom it is said in Psalm 34:20, "He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken."
In the wound with the spear, the evangelist sees the fulfillment of another passage of Scripture. "Again," continues he, "another Scripture says, They shall look on him whom they pierced." The word of the Lord by the prophet Zechariah, chap. 12:10, presents itself to his mind, where it is said, "I will pour upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications, and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced." This passage was an inexplicable riddle to the Jews, on which account, in the Greek version of the Septuagint, the original word, without any ground for so doing, instead of "pierced," has been rendered "degrade" or "despised." But the only true meaning of these prophetic words has, since then, been made evident to thousands, and will become so to thousands more—yes, even to the whole world, either in the day of grace or of judgment. Either they who have hitherto denied Christ the homage due to him, shall be laid hold of and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and with weeping eyes and supplicating hearts, shall look up to him, in the painful consciousness of having aided, by their sins, in crucifying the Lord of Glory; or they shall experience what the apostle announces beforehand, in the book of Revelation, "Behold he comes with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so. Amen."
Thus you see how the profound evangelist discovers, in all that occurs on Calvary, even in the most unimportant circumstance, a striking divine hieroglyphic, which has solely reference to the acknowledgment and glorification of Christ as the true and promised Messiah and Redeemer of the world. But who does not perceive, that in all these various events, the hand of a living God overrules, and causes them to occur in such a manner, that one passage of prophecy after another is fulfilled by them to the letter? How highly the evangelist estimates them as a means of strengthening our faith, he proves, very impressively, by the words, "And he who saw it, bare record, and his record is true, and he knows that he says true, that you might believe." It is not, however, the taking down from the cross, the wound of the spear, and the preservation of the sacred body of Christ from mutilation, that John has solely in view in the words above quoted; but it is, more especially, the effusion of the water and the blood from the Savior's wounded side, in which he recognizes nothing less than a profound and divine symbol of the saving power of the heavenly Prince of Peace.
The narrative states, that "one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith there came there out blood and water." It has been supposed that John laid so much stress upon this circumstance, because he believed it might serve to refute certain erroneous spirits of his day, who assigned to Christ an imaginary and not a real body. It is certainly possible that, in giving his account of the matter, he was partly induced by such a motive. But it is the miraculous nature of the event that chiefly excited his interest in it. In dead bodies the blood always coagulates, while from the wound above mentioned, on the contrary, it flowed clearly and abundantly, unmixed with the water which burst forth from the pierced pericardium of his heart, and ran down from the cross. It was as if the great High Priest intended to say, even in his death, "Behold, I shed my blood voluntarily, and offer it up in entire fullness for your sins." But that which most deeply affected the soul of the beloved disciple was the divine symbol he perceived beneath the wondrous event. In the water and the blood he sees represented the most essential blessings of salvation for which the world is indebted to Christ. We know that in his first epistle he points out the fact of his coming with water and blood, as well as with the Holy Spirit, as the most peculiar characteristic of the Redeemer of the world; and who does not perceive, in these words, that the wondrous event on Calvary must have been present to his mind?
But what do these three elements imply? And, first of all, the water—does it imply baptism? Doubtless it has a remote reference even to that ordinance. But water chiefly symbolizes to the evangelist, in accordance with the figurative language throughout the Holy Scriptures, the moral purifying power of the word of Christ—yes, the atmosphere of his kingdom. Wherever the Gospel penetrates, it changes the moral aspect of nations, apart from regeneration and conversion, in the more limited and specific sense of these words. Decorum and mental culture expel barbarism. Discipline and order take the place of a licentious service of sin. Animal carnality finds at least its bound, in the rising apprehension of a superior ideology of human life. The consciences of the children of men become more sensitive and refined; and modesty, as the keeper of good manners, erects among them its throne. Even as justice establishes its claims in legislation and civil institutions, so does also love. Men become conscious of the obligation for mutual assistance and kind offices. Attention to the poor and the sick erects its hospitals, and opens to the destitute its places of refuge. There is nothing which is not cemented, ennobled, and transfigured, as soon as affected by the gentle breath of the Christian religion. Compare even the most degraded of the nations of Christendom with any of the heathen, and even with the Mohammedan, and say, if in comparison with these, they may not, in a general sense of the word, be termed regenerated? It is in these effects that the water-power of Christ and his Gospel manifests itself. It was these results, especially, which the Almighty had in view when he promised by the prophet Ezekiel, chap. 36:25, saying, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean. From all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you." The apostle doubtless refers to the same effects in Heb. 10:22, when he speaks of "having our bodies washed with pure water." And, in the same manner, John the Baptist, when he said, "I baptize you with water," while referring, at the same time, to another baptism—that "with the Spirit and with fire," which he alone could accomplish who should come after him.
Suffice it to say that by means of his word, and the planting of his Church, a moral purification, ennobling and transforming the human race, emanates from Christ, and to these results, the water which flowed from Jesus' opened side, symbolically points.
But water alone would not have saved us. We are deeply involved in guilt in the sight of God; and though we might cease, from this time, to accumulate fresh guilty yet our former offenses would not, on that account, be undone and blotted out. Besides, notwithstanding all the cleansing and ennobling of our lives by the Word—when measured according to the model of the divine requirements—we remain poor sinners as before, and exposed to the curse. We therefore need, besides a moral reformation, and more urgently than that, a deliverance from the sentence of condemnation which impended over us, and a being replaced in a state of grace. For this necessity—the most urgent of all—that which is requisite is supplied by the blood we see streaming, along with the water, from the wounded side of Jesus. It points out the ransom paid for our guilt, once for all before God; as well as the atoning sacrifice, by means of which the reconciliation of divine justice with God's love to sinners is brought about, and our acceptance without any infringement of the former rendered possible. The blood flowed separately from the water; justification must not be mingled with, much less exchanged for, personal amendment. That which again recommends us to the love of God is solely the merits of Christ, and by no means the piece-work of our own virtue. Certainly, union by faith and life with Christ is requisite on our parts, but in Christ's righteousness, and in that alone, do we receive the absolution from deserved punishment; even as, for its sake alone, we are reinstated in the privileges of divine adoption. Conversion makes us capable of blessedness; but the blood of the Lamb alone renders us worthy of it.
But we know that water and blood by no means exhaust the exhibition of the saving efficacy of Christ's merits. There are three, says the apostle, that testify for him and of him on earth—the water (the moral power of the Word), the blood (the atoning and peace-bringing effect of his vicarious sufferings), and the Holy Spirit, who not merely amends, but renews; not only prunes away the twigs from the tree of sin, but roots it up, and plants in its place the scion of an essentially new being and life. He who passes through the world adorned with the threefold seals of such powerful credentials, cannot be otherwise than from above, and must be the Redeemer and Messiah ordained of God. John regards it as scarcely possible that any one can mistake this, and vehemently urges us to swear fealty to him along with himself, while most impressively and affectingly exclaiming, "He who saw it bare record, and his record is true; and he knows that he says true, that you might believe."
Let us, then, also believe, dear readers, that we may likewise experience the Lord of Glory as Him who comes with water, blood, and the Holy Spirit—that is, cleansing, reconciling, and regenerating. Let us give ourselves wholly and without reserve to Him, after he has thus given himself up to death for us, and say with the poet,
"Let the water and the blood,
From your wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse us from its guilt and power."
After all the heart-affecting and appalling scenes we have been witnessing, how beneficial to our spirits is the solemn stillness that now reigns on Calvary! It is the preparation for the Sabbath, and to us it seems just as if we heard the gentle sound of the Sabbath-bells reaching us from a distance. The Gospel narrative which details to us the circumstances attending our Lord's being taken down from the cross—his being laid in the grave—and the watch which was set over it—produce in us a tranquil and peaceful feeling. It is our last meditation on the history of our Savior's passion. May the peace of God, which passes understanding, be the precious fruit that we shall derive from it!
The crowd have vacated the summit of Calvary. The Roman guard, however, remains. Whether John was also there, we are not informed. Profound silence reigns around. The bodies of the two malefactors are taken down from their crosses, and their graves are being dug. The crucified Redeemer, with his head crowned with thorns, and reclining upon his bosom, still hangs solitarily between heaven and earth. You inquire what will next occur to his lifeless corpse? We need not be anxious, my readers. His heavenly Father has already made every arrangement. The grave-diggers are ordered, and the vault prepared. Who is to inter him? According to the law, it was the duty of the executioners to bury him on the place of execution. But God ordered it otherwise. After the great High Priest's atoning sacrifice had been offered up, he was not to be subjected to any further ignominy. This would have been contrary to the order of the divine statutes. If he had brought his cause to a successful and triumphant termination, honor and glory alone were henceforth his due. Such was also the judgment of Almighty God. A funeral was to be given to his Son, in the circumstances attending which, even the blindest might perceive the overruling hand of Eternal Love. Two honorable men—honorable not only in the eyes of men, but also before God—are entrusted with the interment of Immanuel's corpse; and a company of tried female disciples, to whom it will be a consolation to be permitted to bathe the sacred body with their grateful tears, are to be joined with them.
Let us not anticipate the narrative. We leave Mount Calvary for a few moments, and take our stand in the city of Jerusalem. Who is it that is walking so hastily up the street that leads to the palace of the Roman governor? The man seems to be the bearer of some important commission. His countenance expresses it, and his haste betrays it. Who is he? Jerusalem knows him, and numbers him among her principal and most estimable citizens. It is Joseph, surnamed of Arimathea, his birthplace, which lay on the mountains of Ephraim—a man honored with the universal confidence of his tribe, and at the same time a member of the highest Jewish court of justice—the Sanhedrin. As such, he had been personally present at the whole of the proceedings against Jesus; and in the course of them had acquired a vital conviction, not only of the perfect innocence of the accused, but also of something more. He "had not consented to the counsel and deed" of his associates, but yet he had not had the courage to enter a strong and decided protest against it. The sentence pronounced upon the Just One had excited his abhorrence; but a lamentable fear of man had prevented him from doing more than withholding his consent. Christ was led away to execution, and Joseph, in spirit, with him, so far as he was severely judged and condemned by his own conscience. The bloody execution took place. We know not whether Joseph beheld it from a distance, or learned its details from another. Be it as it may, before he was aware, and while under the influence of a powerful presentiment that the affair would terminate differently, the startling announcement reached his ear, that the Man of Nazareth had just given up the spirit on the cross. What was still wanting of an appalling nature in this intelligence, was fully made up by the terrific phenomenon of the earthquake, which occurred at the same moment. We then see him sitting solitarily in his chamber at Jerusalem, and hear him say in broken sentences, "He is therefore dead! They have slain him whom they ought to have bound to the earth by a thousand ties of love. Woe to the murderers! They have extinguished, in his own blood, the fairest star that ever shone from heaven upon the world. They knew not what they did, but I knew. Why did I not appear in his behalf? Why did I not confess myself to be his disciple? Without him, the world is a waste and life worthless to me. But human favor was my idol, and of more value to me than the honor which comes from God. For the most trifling price I have denied the Lord of Glory. He is now dead, and his ear will no longer hear the confession of my repentance, nor is his mouth able to speak a word of forgiveness to me. But is he really dead, and will death be able to retain him? The Man of Nazareth was either the promised Messiah, or the predictions of the prophets have failed, and will never be fulfilled. And yet I never bowed the knee to him, and suffered him to be slain without solemnly protesting against it!" Such was the language which we may suppose Joseph uttered to himself in his solitude, while, with a grieved heart, he covered his face with his mantle. But suddenly rising up, he exclaims, "You whom I ought to have honored in life, let my homage in death be acceptable to you! So saying, he leaves his chamber and his dwelling, and mingles with the crowd which throngs the streets.
What is Joseph's object? He is proceeding directly to the governor to ask his permission to take down the Savior from the cross, and honorably inter him in his own family sepulcher. He arrives at the Roman palace, and after having been announced, he appears in the presence of Pilate, and says with firmness and in plain terms, "I am come to beg of you one thing—that you would give me the body of Jesus that I may prepare an honorable grave for him as he deserves."
Pilate is not a little astonished at such a request from the lips of a Jewish senator; but, evidently to conceal the feelings which are excited within him, he expresses his astonishment, first of all that the Nazarene should be already dead. To assure himself of this, he immediately sends for the commander of the guard; and on his appearing, inquires most carefully respecting the three men that had been crucified. But in spite of the quiet official mien which he seeks to put on, it does not escape us, that he sympathizes with the deeply affected senator, although in a smaller degree. Nor can he call to mind the image of the murdered Nazarene without feeling pervaded by emotions of decided veneration. Even in the surprise with which he hears the news that Jesus is already dead, I think I see reflected something of the powerful presentiments, which his soul was unable to resist, at the thought of Him who was crucified. Besides, his conscience accuses him respecting his conduct toward One whom he knew to be guiltless; and that he should experience, now that he was dead, an honorable funeral, such as Joseph intended, corresponded so entirely with his own wishes and feelings, that he readily gives his permission, as if his own heart were relieved by so doing.
Joseph heartily thanks the governor, and hastens from him as joyfully as if he had gained a great treasure, in order, first of all, to purchase the finest linen he can procure, and at the same time the most costly ointment and spices. And if the whole world should wish to know for whom they were intended, he would have testified aloud that they were for his Lord and King. And though the Sanhedrin should warn, or go so far as to threaten him with a removal from office, or even something worse, let them do so. Joseph will then still more loudly exclaim, that it is for his King, his Lord, and his Prince of Peace, that he is making these funeral preparations. The narrative states, that "he went in boldly to Pilate;" but to him it did not seem too bold. He would gladly have sacrificed anything for Jesus, if by so doing he could have made amends for what he had neglected to do while he was living.
We leave him, and return to the place of execution. O see, who has meanwhile arrived there! We recognize the man, who is standing, mute and motionless, like a statue, beneath the cross, and is looking up with devout and tearful eyes to the deceased sufferer. Joseph finds in him a companion in spirit; for he has to repent of the same thing, and burns with desire, like him, to make amends for his fault. And who is this contemplative stranger? We are as well acquainted with him as with Joseph. It is Nicodemus, Joseph's colleague in office, that Pharisee who came to Jesus, desirous of learning and anxious for salvation, but by night; because in him also, the fear of the Jews at least equaled his love for the truth. He, likewise, has thrown aside the disgraceful fetters which bound him. Truly we see marvelous things occurring in the vicinity of the cross. If we were to say to one ignorant of the facts, "Observe two individuals, belonging to the first ranks in society, who, when Jesus still walked abroad in the majesty of his supernatural acts, did not venture to make known their favorable impressions respecting him, for fear of being condemned by public opinion—now that the termination of his course seems to have stamped him as a pitiable enthusiast—honor him as their King before all the people, and with uplifted hands swear fealty beneath the tattered banner of his ruined kingdom"—would he be able to believe it? Sooner would he credit anything else; and yet such is the case. Now that, with one single exception, all his disciples, and even his most confidential ones have forsaken him—now that Jesus no longer rebukes the winds and the sea, but swims in his blood, being himself overcome just now when nothing but defeat is apparent in him—at the moment when his cause seems to suffer the most decided shipwreck—both of them lay aside the mask, and come forth from their retreats, freely and openly, with the frank confession, that they join the cause of the crucified Jesus, and thereby tacitly condemn his execution as a judicial murder, and accuse, in particular, the whole Sanhedrin of the crying sin of having imbrued their hands in the innocent blood of the Holy One of Israel. And who is it that has thus suddenly opened their eyes? It is the Spirit of the living God. The germ of faith which, all at once, manifests itself so gloriously and so fully developed, had long lain in their hearts, though bound, and as if under the sod. From out of the thunder-cloud that brooded over Calvary, abundant grace has proceeded, and hence it is that we see it so freely and powerfully manifested.
After Nicodemus had meditated awhile with unspeakable emotion at the sight of the cross, Joseph also reaches the summit of Calvary; and how cordially does he greet his associate in mind and spirit! Then, after conversing a short time confidentially together, and making the soldiers acquainted with the permission they have received from the governor, they begin their mournful and yet blissful labors. Ladders are fetched, and planted against the cross of the Prince of Peace, and they reverentially ascend to the corpse, feeling at the same time, as if they were mounting the steps of some sacred temple. Lovely scene! a scene full of profound meaning, and, while viewing it, we join in the words of the poet, and sing—
"Sweet the moments, rich in blessing,
Which before the cross we spend,
Life, and health, and peace possessing,
From the sinner's dying Friend.
"Here we'll sit forever viewing
Mercy's streams in streams of blood;
Precious drops, our souls bedewing,
Make and seal our peace with God."
The two friends have just reached their departed Master's wounded feet. There they devoutly bow their heads, and cover them with kisses and tears, for he is worthy of it. They then ascend higher to his lacerated head. It is not tender sympathy, but something more, with which they behold his blood-stained countenance. They do not fail to perceive what lofty majesty sits enthroned on that pallid brow, and that over the closed eyelids, something hovers like the dawn of resurrection. Their minds are deeply affected by the anticipation of what may still come to pass respecting him; and they then begin, tenderly and gently, to draw out the nails from his hands and feet. The precious corpse reclines upon their shoulders, and after they have wrapped it in linen, they gently let it down from the cross to the ground.
Let us imitate their example, dear readers. Jesus teaching at Nazareth, or preaching on the mount of the beatitudes, or even transfigured on Mount Tabor, will not suffice us. Christ crucified must be the object of our affections. Therefore ascend to him on the spiritual ladder of sorrow for sin, longing for mercy, and belief in the efficacy of his sufferings and death. Detach him from the accursed tree, and deposit him in your hearts, as your only consolation in life and death. That it is the real saving love to Jesus which burns within us, and not a mere caricature of it, may be best ascertained by its being first enkindled by the sight of him, bleeding and dying on the cross, and then embracing him as the ever-living One. He, on the contrary, who turns away from the dead Christ, and imagines that the living Christ, going about doing good, teaching, and setting an example, suffices him, miscalculates, and on the day of his coming, notwithstanding his greeting of "Rabbi! Rabbi!" will hear from his lips the awful words, "I know not whence you are, I never knew you!"
Let us return to our two friends. We see them descending the hill with their precious burden. The funeral is without pomp, but rendered distinguished by the tenderness and courageous conduct of the two who carry the corpse. No mournful peal, indeed, accompanies the quiet procession, but in the future it is so much the more abundantly celebrated. From how many thousand towers in the present day, do the solemn bells resound over the cross and grave of Jesus, on the annual return of the day which is sacred to the memory of his death and burial? No mournful dirge precedes it, no funeral torches flame. But what more costly flambeaux can there be than those of inextinguishable love and reverence, the offspring of heaven? And, only listen; there is also no want of a burial-service. An inspired prophet has chanted it nearly a thousand years before, the prophet Isaiah in chapter 53:9, "His grave was destined to be with the wicked, but he found his resting-place with the rich; because he had done no violence, neither was deceit found in his mouth."
We have reached the place, and enter a quiet plot of ground, partly inclosed by rocks. It is Joseph's garden. The sun is just casting its last rays upon it, and the twilight of evening its first cool shades. In this peaceful seclusion, the Holy One is to find his last earthly resting-place. He who had not where to lay his head, possessed no grave of his own, and, therefore, required that one should be lent him for his transient repose. But how happy Joseph thought himself to have the honor of being permitted to prepare him a sepulcher; and how pleasing is the prospect to him of eventually, when his last hour shall arrive, entering, in death, into the closest fellowship with him, whom in life he had, alas! so basely deserted!
When the two friends reach the rocky grotto with their beloved burden, they perceive that there is no want of a train of mourners. The faithful women, Mary Magdalene, Mary Joses, and many other courageous female friends had followed them at some distance; for they also were anxious to see the place where the object of their entire hope and love was to be deposited. Joseph and Nicodemus heartily welcome them, and gladly accept of their services to aid them in the interment. The sacred body is then gently laid on the ground, and, while the women, almost more with their tears than with the water they have brought, wash the bloody spots from his head and bosom, the men fill the white linen, in which the body is to be wrapped, with myrrh, aloes, and other of the most costly spices, of which they had brought a large quantity with them; Nicodemus even a hundred pounds weight Then, after having wrapped the body in the customary linen bandages, they once more look in silence at the pallid yet regal face of the dead, and spread the napkin over it, which was probably done by the hands of Mary Magdalene.
The entire business of interment is, however, not yet ended; but the nearness of the Sabbath requires them to delay the actual embalming until the close of that festival, and, for the time, leave the corpse simply with those preliminary labors of love. If Mary, the sister of Lazarus, was also among the burial train, she would remember that no further work of that kind with the Master's corpse was necessary, since, according to his own express assurance, he had already received from her hands in Bethany, the anointing for the day of his burial.
The friends now again lift up the beloved corpse, and bear it, gently and, solemnly, into the new, clean sepulcher in the rock, where they softly lay it down to rest, as though it were only asleep, in a large and high-arched niche. Once more they look at it deeply affected, then forcibly tear themselves away, leave the vault, roll a great stone before its door, and because the Sabbath lights are already seen glimmering from a distance, return to their dwellings in profound sorrow, but not without hopeful anticipations.
We leave them, and linger a few moments longer at the sepulcher, from whence a vital atmosphere proceeds, and the peace of God is breathed upon us. There he rests, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. How grateful is the feeling to us, after all the ignominy and suffering he has endured, to see him, at least once again honorably reposing, and that too upon a couch, which love, fidelity, and tenderness have prepared for him! Who does not perceive, that even in the circumstances of his interment, the overruling hand of God has interwoven for our consolation, a gentle testimony, that his only-begotten Son had well accomplished the great task which he was commissioned to perform? How clearly the taking down from the cross, and the interment of the Redeemer before the setting in of night and the Sabbath, shows the fulfillment of the ancient ordinance of Israel respecting those who were hanged on a tree! And how distinctly are we convinced, to a demonstration, that the curse is now removed from a sinful world, and that the eye of God again looks graciously and well-pleased, down upon the earth!
There he slumbers. Well for us, dear readers, that he was willing to pass through even this dark passage on our behalf! Nothing hindered him from taking up his life again on the cross, and returning from thence immediately to his Father. But had he done so, our bodies would have been left in the grave, and you know how much more we are accustomed to fear the grave, than even death itself. There, where corruption reigns, it seems as if the curse of sin still hung over us, and as if no redemption had been accomplished. In order to dispel this terror, and to convince us, by means of his own precedent, that even with the interment of our bodies in the gloomy cell, there is no longer anything to fear, but that a passage into life is opened for us out of this dark dungeon, he paternally took into consideration all our necessities, and suffered himself to be laid in the grave before our eyes. He did not indeed see corruption, because he was only imputatively and not substantially a sinner. "You will not suffer your Holy One to see corruption," said David in Psalm 16:10, impelled by the spirit of prophecy. Our flesh, on the contrary, which is poisoned by sin, must necessarily pass through the process of the germinating seed-corn, and be dissolved into its original element before its glorification. But the difference between our lot and that of our Divine Head is not an essential one. The chief thing continues to be this, that we know that even our bodies are not lost in the grave, but that they rest there in hope. This is confirmed and guaranteed to us by Christ. The way we have see him go, we shall also take. That which his obedience merited for him as the Son of Man, it merited and acquired for us, because Christ yielded it in our stead.
If, therefore, the second Adam's rest in the grave was only a peaceful sabbatic repose, ours cannot be anything more. If, on the third day, he was called forth from the prison, in which the king of terrors had confined him, and was crowned with glory and honor; the same thing, in due time, awaits our bodies, if we have entered into union with him by faith and love. If, henceforth, we say that Christ by his burial has consecrated and shed light upon the darkness of our graves, we give utterance to something incomparably more than a mere poetic mode of speaking. When we look down into our sepulchers, as into a silent, solemn resting-place, we do not dream, but see that which is real and true. The Apostle Paul in writing to the Corinthians, 1 Cor. 15:13, feels so assured that our bodies will be raised again, as to affirm, that if this were not the case, Christ himself would not have risen. Who therefore will deny that grave-yards may not justly be termed, "Resurrection-fields!" Yes! those who are bought with the blood of the Lamb, rest even in their graves under the Almighty's wing, and over their moldering remains, a divinely sealed hope casts a radiant and transfiguring light.
The Prince of Peace reposes in his sepulcher. A venerable man approaches it in silent devotion, it is Paul of Tarsus, and writes upon the tombstone a mighty inscription. You may read it in Rom. 6, where it is testified, that we are not only dead with him but buried with him. But even as we are planted together in the likeness of his death, so shall we be also in the likeness of his resurrection. What is the meaning of this inscription? It asserts nothing less than this, that Christ has endured the curse of sin on the cross for us. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit." But even though regenerate, we still bear the remains of the old sinful nature in and upon us. This is our grief and cross, and impels us to utter the anxious inquiry, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!" May God enable us to say, with him who uttered it, "I thank God, through our Lord Jesus Christ!"
The first night which succeeded the great and momentous day, is past. The body of the deceased Redeemer slumbers solitarily in the prison of the tomb. The morning at length dawns, and movements are heard about the sepulcher. They are no longer the beloved forms of his friends that we see hastening so early through the garden. The latter, accustomed to obey every commandment, remain quietly in their habitations during the great Sabbath. It is enemies whom we see so active and busy at the first dawning of the morning. The previous evening, an anxious solicitude had seized their hearts. Their excited evil consciences saw visions. The remembrance of so many sayings of the Nazarene occurred to them, in which he had most clearly announced a resurrection, by which his heavenly Father, after his crucifixion, would glorify him before the whole world. The hypocrites pretended, indeed, that they were far from supposing that such fanatical fancies of One who had now been so completely put to shame, would ever be realized; but they think otherwise in their hearts. Even in death the crucified Jesus asserts his regal influence on their minds, and in his grave terrifies them by his majesty. Careless about the Sabbath or the passover festival, the high priests and Pharisees go, in solemn procession, to the governor's palace, in order to induce him to take measures for securing the grave of the crucified Jesus. They are admitted into the presence of Pilate, who is not a little surprised at such an early visit from the notables of Israel.
"Sir," say they, "we remember that that deceiver (shame upon them to speak in such a manner of the Holy One of Israel, contrary to their better light and knowledge) said, while he was yet alive, After three days, I will rise again. (Thus they confirm it, that he had really asserted this.) Command therefore that the sepulcher be watched until the third day, lest his disciples come by night and steal him away, and say unto the people, he is risen from the dead, so the last error shall be worse than the first."
Observe how cunningly these wicked men try to conceal their real thoughts and feelings. One would suppose that they were only afraid of a possible deception. But if they were merely anxious to repel the poor disciples, would any such measures as they demanded have been requisite? Would not a handful of minions, such as were always at the beck of the Pharisees, have sufficed to protect the tomb against those defenseless men? But the mighty acts which they had seen the murdered man perform, cause them to think everything possible; and the terrific events, which had accompanied his death, were not calculated to dispel or alleviate their anxiety. They scent the air of Easter morning, and are, in fact, afraid of a resurrection of the buried corpse. But if the latter were to ensue, of what avail would be a guard, or the lime and plaster with which they intended to fix the stone? So we might well inquire, and doubt whether any serious apprehensions of Jesus' restoration to life could have actuated his enemies. But fear is foolish, and sin is blind, and gropes in the dark, however wise it may think itself: Pilate, who probably felt very peculiar emotion thrill through him, while listening to what the rulers of Israel had to say, very willingly granted their request, and, pointing to a band of armed soldiers, which he saw parading before the palace, says, "You have there a watch, go your way, make it as sure as you can."
Not a little pleased at having attained their object, the deputation, together with the Roman guard, repair to Joseph's garden. After having convinced themselves by inspection that the body still lay in its place, the heavy stone, which they had rolled away from the mouth of the sepulcher is replaced, and the work of fixing and sealing commences. This is a remarkable scene—a singular campaign. Such preparations are made, as if nothing less were intended than to expel a hostile force from Joseph's garden. It is related of a German emperor of a former age, that, borne about in his open war-chariot completely armed, he put a whole hostile army to the rout, even when dying. In the quiet garden there is even more than this. It is true that, in the present instance, the adversaries act as if they were the victors, but inwardly they are the vanquished. The slumbering Hero of Judah took from them the armor of careless confidence, and filled their souls with a cloud of terrific and oppressive forebodings. What do they mean by their extensive preparations? They are fighting for the cause of death against life; and would gladly establish and maintain the throne of the former, and keep down and immure the latter. Let them do their utmost. An all-overruling God controls their designs, and permits them to assist death, by still more strongly forging his fetters, in order that the bursting of them may appear so much the more glorious. And thus they are suffered to deprive life of all scope, and to wall up every outlet, that when it bursts through every barrier, it may the more evidently prove itself to be divine.
We depart from the sepulcher of our Lord—not in grief and sorrow, but full of joyful expectation of what is shortly to take place. We already behold in spirit, the first glimmer of the dawning resurrection-morn upon the rocky tomb. Only twenty-four hours more until the trumpet of God shall sound, and Joseph's garden present a different spectacle. Then every seal will be broken, not from the Redeemer's tomb only, but also, from the mystery of the whole of his passion. An "Amen!" from on high, the most glorious and stupendous that ever resounded under heaven, will then announce to the world that reconciliation has been made, and that the Prince of Life, crowned with glory and honor, as the conqueror of all the terrific powers which were opposed to us, offers the first Easter salutation of peace to the favored race of man, from the ruins of his shattered tomb. Let us then tune our harps, and hold our festive garlands in readiness, while awaiting the mighty moment that shall put an eternal end to all the sadness and anxiety of the human heart!