* * * * *
God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
We all remember the story in the Gospel, of the different treatment which our Lord met with in the same house, from the Pharisee, who had invited him into it, and from the woman who came in and knelt at his feet, and kissed them, and bathed them with her tears. Our Lord accounted for the difference in these words, "To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little;" which means to speak of the sense or feeling in the person's own mind, "He who feels that little is or needs to be forgiven him, he also loves little." And this same difference which existed toward him when he was present on earth, exists no less now, whenever he is brought before our thoughts. The same sort of persons who saw him with indifference, think of him also with indifference; they who saw him with love, think of him also with love. There is no art, no power in the world, which can give an interest to words spoken concerning him, for those who feel that little is and that little needs to be forgiven them, or to those who never consider about their being forgiven at all. To such, this day, with its services, what they hear from the Scriptures, or what they hear from men, must be alike a matter of indifference: it is not possible that it should be otherwise. Yet, God forbid that we should design what we are saying this day only for a certain few of our congregation, as if the rest neither would nor could be interested in it. So long as any one is careless, he cannot, it is true, be interested about the things of Christ; but who can say at what moment, through God's grace, he may cease to be careless? Is it too much to say, that scarcely a service is performed in any congregation in the land, which does not awaken an interest in some one who before was indifferent? I do rot say a deep interest, nor a lasting one, but an interest; there is a thought, a heeding, an inclination of the mind to listen, created probably by the Church services in some one or other, every time that they are performed. As we never can know in whom this may be so created, as all have great need that it should be created, as all are deeply concerned whether they feel that they are so or no, so we speak to all alike; and if the language does pass over their ears like an unknown or indistinct sound, the fault and the loss are theirs; but the Church has borne her witness, and has so far done her duty.
But again, for ears not careless, but most interested; for hearts to whom Christ is more than all in the world besides; for minds, before whom the wisdom of the gospel is ever growing, rising to a loftier height, and striking downwards to a depth more profound, -- yet without end in its height or its depth; is there not, also, a difficulty in speaking to them of that great thing which the Church celebrates to-day? Is there no difficulty in awakening their interest, or rather how can we escape even from wearying or repelling them, when their own affections and deep thoughts must find all words of man, whether of themselves or others, infinitely unworthy to express either the one or the other? To such, then, the words of the preacher may be no more than music without any words at all; which does but serve to lead and accompany our own thoughts, without distinctly suggesting any thoughts of another to interrupt the workings of our own minds. We would speak of Christ's death; most good it is for us and for you to think upon it; so far as our words suit the current of your own thoughts, use them and listen to them; so far as they are a too unworthy expression of what we ought to think and feel, follow your own reflections, and let the words neither offend you nor distract you.
I would endeavour just to touch, upon some of the purposes for which the Scripture tells us that Christ died, and for which his death was declared to be the great object of our faith. This done in the simplest and fewest words will best show the infinite greatness of the subject; and how truly it is, so to speak, the central point of Christianity.
First of all, Christ died as a proper sacrifice for sin; as a sacrifice, the virtue of which, is altogether distinct from our knowledge of it, or from any effect which it has a tendency to produce on our own minds. We are forgiven for his sake; we are acquitted through his death, and through faith in his blood. What a view does this open, partially, indeed, -- for what mortal eye can reach to the end of it? -- of the evil of sin, and of God's love! of what God's justice required, and of what God's love fulfilled! This great sacrifice was made once, but it will not be made again; for those who despise this there remains no more offering for sin, but their sin abideth with them for ever.
Secondly, Christ's death is revealed to us as a motive capable of overcoming all temptations to evil. "How much more shall the blood of Christ purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" "He suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God;" that is, that a consideration of what Christ's death declares to us should have power to melt the hardest heart, and to sober the lightest: that, when we think of Christ dying, dying for us, and so purchasing for us the forgiveness of sins, and everlasting life, such a love, and such a prospect of peace with God, and of glory, should in the highest degree soften and enkindle us; and from love for him, and confidence of hope through the prospect which he has given us, we should be able to overcome all temptations. "I am persuaded," says St. Paul, "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Thirdly, Christ suffered for as, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps. He left us an example of all meekness, and patience, and humility; he left us an example of perfect submission to God's will; he left us an infinite comfort by letting us feel when we are in any trouble, or pain, or affliction, that he was troubled too; that he knew pain, and endured affliction. Above all, in that hour which must come to all of us, he has left us the greatest of all supports; -- for he endured to die; and we may enter with less fear into the darkness of the grave, for even there Christ has been for our sakes, and arose from out of it a conqueror.
Fourthly, Christ died that he might gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad; he died to purchase to himself his universal Church. So it is said in the Scriptures: and on this particular purpose of his death, it may not be amiss to dwell, for none so needs to be held in remembrance. Many there are, and ever have been, who have rested their whole hope towards God on his sacrifice; many who have learnt from his cross to overcome sin; from his resurrection to overcome the world; many who, amidst all the troubles of life, and in the hour of death, have been supported by the thought of his example. But where is his universal Church? where the company of God's children gathered together into one? where is the city set upon the hill, that cannot be hid? where is the visible kingdom of God, where all its people are striving under one Divine Head, against sin, the world, and the devil? This is the sign which we look for and cannot find; this is the fulfilment of the prophecies for which we seem destined to wait in vain.
And what if, on the contrary, that which is called the Church act rather the part of the world; if our worst foes be truly those of our own household: if they who should have been for our help, be rather an occasion of falling: if one of our greatest difficulties in following Christ steadily, arise from the total want of encouragement, yea, often from the direct opposition of those who are themselves pledged to follow him to the death; if that Church, which was to have been the clearest sign to the world of the truth of Christ's gospel, be now, in many respects, rather a stumbling-block to the adversary and unbeliever, so that the name of God is through us blasphemed among the heathen, rather than glorified; may we not humble ourselves before God in sorrow and in shame? and must we not confess, that through our sin, and the sin of our fathers, Christ, in respect of this one purpose of his death, has as yet died in vain?
Israel after the flesh, lamenting their Jerusalem which is now not theirs, and mourning over their ruined temple, in all their synagogues repeat constantly the prayer, O Lord, build thou the walls of Jerusalem! O Lord, build! O Lord, build! O Lord, build! is the solemn chorus, marking by its repetition the earnestness of their desire. And should not this be the prayer of the Israel of God, scattered now as they are into their thousand divided and corrupted synagogues, and no token to be seen of the pure and universal Church, the living temple of the Spirit of God; should not we too, privately and publicly, join in the prayer of the earthly Israel, and pray that Christ would build for us the walls of our true Jerusalem? For only think what it would be, if Christ's Church existed more than in name; consider what it would be if baptism were a real bond; if we looked on one another as brethren, redeemed by one ransom, pledged to one service; if we bore with one another's weaknesses; if we helped one another's endeavours; if each saw and heard, in the words and life of his neighbour, an image of Christ, and a pledge of the truth of his promises. Consider what it would be, if, with no quarrels, with no jealousies, with no unkindness, we sought not every man his own, but every man also another's welfare; as true members one of another, -- of one body, of which Christ is the head. Consider what it would be, if our judgments of men and things were like Christ's judgments; neither strengthening the heart of the careless and sinful by our laxity, nor making sad the heart of God's true servant by our uncharitableness; not putting little things in the place of great, nor great things in the place of little; not neglecting the unity of the Spirit; not stickling for a sameness in the form. Or, if we carry our views a little wider; if we look out upon the world at large, and hear of rumours of wars, and see the signs of internal disorders, and perhaps may think that the clouds are gathering which, herald one of the comings of the Son of man to judgment, whether the last of all or not it were vain to ask; how blessed would it be, if we could see such an ark of Christ's Church as should float visibly upon, the stormy waters; gathering within it, in peace and safety, men of various dispositions and conditions, and opinions; those who held much of truth, and those who had mixed with it much of error: those whom Christ would call clean, and those, too, whom some of their brethren call unclean, but whom Christ has redeemed, and will save no less than their despisers; all, in short, who fled from sin and from the world to Christ, and to the company of Christ's people! O if we could but see such an ark preparing while God's long-suffering yet withholds the flood! O that all God's scattered and divided children would join together in one earnest prayer, O Lord, build thou the walls of Jerusalem! O Lord, build! O Lord, build! O Lord, build!
Yet, for this, among other purposes of mercy, did the Son of God, as on this day, suffer death upon the cross: he died that we might be one in him. Let us turn, then, from the thought of the general temple in ruins, and let us see whether we cannot, at any rate, within the walls of our own little particular congregation, fulfil also this object of Christ's death, and be one in him. Let us consider one another, to provoke unto love and to good works: we too often consider one another for the very contrary purpose, to provoke to contempt or ill-will. True it is, that if we look for it we can find much of evil in our brethren, and they can find much also in us; and we might become all haters of one another, all in some sort deserving to be hated. But where is he who is entitled to hate another's evil when he has evil in himself; and when Christ, who had none, did not hate the evil of us all, but rather died to save it? And is it not true also, that, if we look for it, we can also find in every one something to love? something, undoubtedly, even in him who has in himself least: but much, infinitely much in all, when we look upon them as Christ's redeemed. Not more beautifully than truly has it been said, that Christian souls --
"Though worn and soiled by sinful clay,
They have the seal of belonging to Christ; they are his and our brethren. And, as his latest command, and his beloved Apostle's also, was that we should love one another; so, if we would bring all our solemn thoughts of Christ's death to one point, and endeavour to derive from it some one particular lesson for our daily lives, I know not that any would be more needed or better for us, than that we should especially apply the thought of Christ dying on the cross for us to soften our angry, and proud, and selfish feelings; to restrain us from angry or sneering words; from unkind, offensive, rude, or insulting actions; to excite us to gentleness, courtesy, kindness; remembering that he, be he who he may, whom we allow ourselves to despise, or to dislike, or to annoy, or to neglect, was one so precious in Christ's sight, that he laid down his life for his sake, and invites him to be for ever with, him and with his Father.