There is a peculiar interest attaching to the writer of this epistle. Although it was probably in old age, when a large experience of labour and sorrow had chastened his spirit, and in prospect of martyrdom, that he composed these chapters, they bear unmistakable proofs of his own vigour of thought, and suggest many reminiscences of his remarkable life. Whether you regard him as a man, a Christian, or an apostle, he presents an illustrious subject for the student of these modern times. His history puts before us many and serious defects; but there is much more to approve and admire: and while a feeling or sorrow lingers over the one, the other is so marked and prominent that it secures your sympathy, and you are drawn towards the man with an ineffable affection. There is a candour, and honesty, and generosity, and heroism, which gives to his character a most healthy tone. The qualities of his mind and heart, when sanctified by grace, become really noble; and if it were right, you would like to forget his failings in presence of so much that is both manly and good.
His two epistles are a precious legacy to the Church. The first is addressed to the "scattered strangers:" but whether this expression refer to Jews, or converted Gentiles, or both, or to the "dispersed" of the ten tribes, there is no satisfactory evidence. We are in similar doubt as to the place from which it was written. The Church at Babylon is named in the last chapter; but there was a Babylon in Egypt, and another in Assyria, and Rome itself is thus figuratively designated.
The style of the apostle's writing is just what you would expect from the man himself. Vehemence, majesty, and, at the same time, ease and freedom, are manifest in every page.
The chief design of this epistle is to administer comfort to those already suffering; and to prepare others for the affliction they were about to endure. The first chapter adduces several considerations to uphold their constancy. One is that they are the chosen of God; "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied." Then, as the elect of God, they had a good hope of heaven. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time." A third consideration is, that though in the midst of trial, their Saviour was with them, and the end of their faith was sure. "Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls." And, finally, they were to remember that this subject of their salvation had been matter of earnest enquiry among the prophets, whose labours are now made to contribute to their comfort. "Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow."
I. -- THE STUDENT, AND
I. "The prophets have enquired and searched diligently."
The term "prophet" is most properly applied to one who is divinely instructed as to future events, and divinely inspired to make them known. In an accommodated sense it is given to the apostles and public teachers of the primitive Church. And now it is conventionally used to denote a somewhat less honourable class. "The prophets of our day" are many. From the positive style they have adopted, you would suppose that the gift of prescience had come upon them in a far more absolute form than upon the prophets of old. With more dogmatism and less authority do they pronounce upon "the times and seasons." Though failure on failure happens, this seems rather to nerve their confidence; and every successive mistake is followed by another guess with increased assurance.
1. Who are the prophets referred to in the text? They are the men to whom the term is strictly applicable. We do not forget such names as Moses and Samuel, and Elijah and Elisha, and others; but their prophecies are not given with the formality of those distinct books to which perhaps St. Peter refers. In point of time Jonah comes just with his message of woe to the city of Nineveh. Amos the herdman and Hosea his contemporary follow. Then Joel with his thunder, and Isaiah with his evangelism; Micah with his earnestness; Nahum with his sublimity; and Zephaniah with his severity, take their place in about equal succession. Jeremiah then appears with all his weightiness of matter and solemnity of manner. Habakkuk in briefer form takes up the same subjects. Daniel with great grandeur of style dwells on the topics of the text. Obadiah stands between him and Ezekiel as though to make them both more prominent. At a later period come Haggai and Zechariah; and then Malachi closes the illustrious train, taking the last pen from the wing of inspiration, or putting the signet upon the scroll of prophecy. Some of these may be especially referred to; but we include them all: for "to Him give all the prophets witness; that in his name whosoever believeth in Him shall have forgiveness of sins."
(i.) They were men; not angels, or belonging to some order of being superior to ourselves; but they were members with us of the same human family, and "subject to like passions as we are." They were sinners: born with the old taint of corruption; subject to hereditary guilt, depravity, and death, and exposed to all the evils to which flesh is heir. They were redeemed sinners, included in that same covenant of mercy of which we make our boast. They were therefore personally interested in those truths which became the subject of their search.
The original promise belonged to them as well as to us. They claimed an interest in the leading facts of patriarchal history, and in the gorgeous ceremonial of the Mosaic Institute. All the events of divine providence which were preparing the way for the Messiah's coming, and the predictions which they themselves uttered, had some personal bearing. They were not uninterested students of past history, of present circumstances, or of future events. Their own destinies were involved in the truths they taught.
(ii.) They were good men. That the Divine Being has sometimes made "false prophets" means of carrying out his purposes there can be no doubt. But he is a daring man who would venture from this either to justify or extenuate an impure ministry. Sanctuary services are too pure and solemn to be performed by any but "clean hands." The instruments which God ordains are holy. With a miserable exception here and there, even the enemies of truth have not denied to the ancient prophets the crown of a good character. Try them by any recognised standard of virtue, and they will not be found wanting. Trace the minutest circumstances of their private life; their self denial; their exposure to danger; their fearlessness in denouncing sin; their being proof against corruption; their zeal; their sympathy; their benevolence -- and they present a startling contrast with the priests of Paganism, or the false prophets among the Jews.
Call to mind the meekness of Moses; the heroism of Elijah; the gratitude of David; the sweetness of Hosea; the fervour of Isaiah; the tenderness of Jeremiah; the constancy of Daniel; the faithfulness of Ezekiel -- and you unhesitatingly endorse the inspired oracle, that they were "holy men." And although some of the prophets are remarkable for particular features of character, they are not wanting in all the others which are requisite to constitute goodness.
But what a magnificent portrait could you present to the mind as you review the whole! The characteristics of these different men meet and blend in the photograph; and you look upon a being -- human it is true, but sanctified by grace, and fitted to exercise "a more telling influence upon the destines of the world," than the mightiest statesman, or the profoundest philosopher, or the noblest warrior of which history can boast. Like the hues of the rainbow, which in all their softness and sweetness and sublimity, rejoice to span the heavens together, and make up one token of the covenant, do the prophets stand before us as one class of men, unfolding the covenant of mercy, and offering light and life to a dying and dark world.
(iii.) They were inspired good men. And here is suggested one of the most formidable dangers of the present day. An attempt is being made to dry up the most fruitful source of confidence which the Christian has in the truth of his Bible: -- viz., its plenary inspiration. We know that this is not new; but the lover of "the Book" had charmed himself with the hope that the controversy was over, and the truth triumphant. He is now, however, alarmed on finding that in addition to the old adversaries -- the infidel, the sceptic, and the profane -- he has to enter the lists with new combatants altogether; and among the rest, the descendants of those glorious Reformers, who, centuries ago, shook the papal power to its centre; melted the Bible's chain in the martyr's flame; and liberated the mind of a continent from the most crushing spiritual despotism the world ever knew. It is a distressing sound to hear those academic halls, which have been the greatness and the pride of Germany, resounding with pernicious error, not to say, positive blasphemy. Looking at the subject in the light of heaven we gratefully and confidently say that "the word of the Lord endureth for ever;" but humanly speaking, the Bible is in danger. And we must be prepared to meet it with a zeal, "such as in the martyr's glowed, dying champions for their God." The plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, and therefore of the prophets -- is our impregnable stronghold, and must never be abandoned. The apostle says, when referring to the Old Testament -- "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." And by this inspiration we do not merely mean that some general ideas were poured into their minds, which they clothed in their own language, and then published them to the world as a revelation from heaven. If the Bible be inspired at all, it is fully inspired. Otherwise, you cannot tell where to make the distinction between what is divine and what is human. You must either maintain the truth of the whole book, or abandon your conviction of its supreme authority. We adopt the statement that the prophets "composed their works under so plenary and immediate an influence of the Holy Spirit that God may be said to speak by them to man, and not merely that they spoke to men in the name of God, and by his authority." Mark the wide distinction which is here suggested. Take the case of an earnest and trustworthy minister. He tells his congregation that he is anxious to give them the truth; and has been to God in his closet asking for light. In answer to prayer he believes that the Holy Spirit has given him light; and, confident that it is the truth, he announces it to the people. But you would not say that that man is inspired. There may be much of what is fallible and human with what is truthful and divine. Suppose, however, that on some Sabbath morning, he could with authority stand up and say that what is now about to be declared is not his, but God's -- that he is in ignorance of what the utterance will really be, and that in simple fact, God is to speak through him, using his lips only as the medium of communication; you have here an instance of what is meant by plenary inspiration. And this we say is the case with the prophets. These "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth."
2. Their Conduct. They "enquired and searched diligently."
(i.) What is implied in the search they made? It would seem as if for the moment the thought of their inspiration was dropped; and like other earnest students of the Bible, they now search to ascertain the meaning of their own, and each other's prophecies. There is here, however, an incidental, though strong proof of the justice of their claims. The predictions they uttered were not their own conceptions; not the product of their own reasoning; and perhaps not even engraven on their own memory. They gave expression to statements beyond themselves, and the meaning of which at the time, they did not understand. And when (if we may so say) the breath of inspiration had passed from them, they sat down to discover by diligent search the import of those utterances which they had made. They had written for the world: they now enquired for themselves. Their predictions are by the grace of God, the property of the Church: their search is for their own personal benefit. The truths they proclaim, become the power of God to their own comfort and purity.
The metaphor is taken from the employment of a miner who digs deeply into the caverns of the earth that he may find its treasures; and by their appropriation enrich himself. The prophets were not satisfied with the mere knowledge of the fact that the mine existed, and that its contents were more brilliant than any of Golconda, and beyond the price of rubies. They went to dig for themselves; and seizing the precious pearls of truth, they enriched and beautified and ennobled their own character, until their shining became too glorious for earth: they were then translated to heaven to sparkle amid eternal sunshine, and burn in glory for ever. How solemnly does the Great Teacher's injunction sound in our ears -- "Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of Me."
(ii.) The earnestness of their search. They "enquired and searched diligently." This word is forceful and signifies to trace out or explore thoroughly. The idea which the apostle intends to convey is thought to be this: "they perceived that in their communications there were so great and glorious truths which they did not fully comprehend, and they diligently employed their natural faculties to understand that which they were appointed to impart to succeeding generations." There is much of simplicity and power in the account which Daniel gives of his own search. "In the first year of" the reign "of Darius" -- "I (Daniel) understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. And I set my face (marking earnestness and diligence and resolve) unto the Lord God to seek by prayer and supplication" the meaning of these things. You are not surprised at the visit of the man Gabriel, who was caused to fly swiftly; and, touching him at the time of the evening oblation, said, "O Daniel I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. I will show thee that which is noted in the Scriptures of truth."
Now, if the prophets had thus with earnest diligence to search out the meaning of their own predictions, what but our capacity should be the measure of our toil? Nor is this labour to be confined to the pulpit. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him." If you want to know the meaning of your Bible, you must prayerfully study it. "These in Berea were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so."
Here then is our Student: himself a study for all who are anxious to comprehend this book. There are only three orders of being by whom God has spoken to the world: Christ; the angels; and men. And among these men the prophets hold the first rank. At an early period -- the elements of religion being already revealed -- a new method of communicating truth was employed; and man rose from the position of an observer, to the dignity and majesty of the prophet. In some instances he is removed at once into this office without previous training. But generally God walks among "the schools of the prophets;" and laying his hand upon the chosen one, He bids him go forth. His very call seems to constitute him an extraordinary man. Both his appearance and actions make him singular. He stands alone. The mountain or the sequestered vale is his abode; and he is only seen among men when he has some message from God. Clothed in his sackcloth, he appears at the court, the city, and the village; and having pronounced the coming woe, or stated the imposed duty, or offered pardon, he mysteriously disappears; and is seen no more, till the burden is again upon him, and forces him to come forth and speak. There is a fire in his eye, but it is inspiration, not wildness. There is a majesty in his gait, as though he is either great himself, or is employed by one who is. There is a solemnity of countenance and a nobility of manner, which say that he is not often among mortals, but dwells in a higher sphere. In language which more fully pertains to us as Christians, his "conversation is in heaven." Carried up by the Spirit perhaps to the summit of the mountain which covers his retreat, views of the future break upon his vision. His eye burns; his lips quiver; his bosom heaves. And opening his mouth, he pours forth in more than angelic cadences, the designs of God concerning men, and kingdoms, and the human race. It may be that to himself all this is a mystery. He therefore gathers up every utterance, and carries them to his mountain home. In that consecrated cave he spreads out the panorama; and lifting up his eyes to heaven for light, he traces the picture to see what "the Spirit of Christ which was in" him "did signify."
"Sweet is the harp of prophecy; too sweet
II. THE THEME. -- It is here presented in a twofold aspect. First, in its entirety: and secondly, in one of its branches.
1. The great subject of prophetic enquiry is salvation. "Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently."
(i.) In its nature. Is there a word in universal language which has as much meaning in it as this word salvation? It takes within its range all time and all eternity. Though specially designed for man, it has its influence upon every order of being God has made, and presents the most glorious manifestations of God himself which the world possesses. It glares upon sin with indignation, but throws its arms of mercy around the sinner; offers to him a deliverance from the guilt and power and pollution and inbeing of evil; gives him the favour and image of his Maker; assures to him victory over his final adversary; introduces him to, and acquits him before the great white throne; and arrays him in all the glories of an everlasting heaven.
To understand it fully comes not within the range of angelic intellect; and yet it demands our highest regard, as it has had the attention of enquiring prophets. 'Tis true they had not the light upon it that a better dispensation has given to us. It is not to be expected that they should be penetrated with its glory as we ought to be; but they were so impressed by its grandeur, that their thoughts were raised above all merely temporal deliverances, and they felt that their own interests were wrapped up in the theme. "And thus," we are told, "did this sweet stream of their doctrine, as the rivers, make its own banks fertile and pleasant as it ran by, and flowed still forward to after ages; and by the confluence of more such prophecies, grew greater as it went, till it fell in with the main current of the gospel in the New Testament both acted and preached by the Great Prophet himself whom they foretold as to come, and recorded by his apostles and evangelists, and thus united into one river clear as crystal. This doctrine of salvation in the Scriptures hath refreshed the city of God, his Church under the gospel, and still shall do so till it empty itself into the ocean of eternity."
(ii.) This salvation in its provision, is of grace. "Who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you." The apostle does not mean to say by this clause, that there is something in the theme exclusively adapted to those to whom he wrote. But we understand him to mean, in general terms, that the ancient seers searched diligently into that system of mercy, which should in after times, and under the Christian dispensation, be more fully revealed.
The word "grace" may have reference to the manner in which this scheme should be made known; intimating that it was by divine favour that the new economy supervened upon the old. But we take it rather to denote the gospel salvation itself. It is altogether a system of grace. In its projection; in its development; in its accomplishment; in its application; in its final consummation, it is all of grace. "By grace ye are saved."
We are not among the number of those who doubt or deny the entire and absolute fall of man. Whatever good there was in him was then destroyed; whatever evil there is in him, was then induced. He is fallen in mind and soul and body. Physically, morally, spiritually, he is a wreck. But was no vestage left of that divine image in which he was created? Not one. No lingering desire to regain his glory and the position he had lost? None. Was he altogether dead to virtue and his Maker's claims? Yes, altogether. But was his nature so far polluted as that no trace of his original purity could be discovered? Not a trace to be seen even by an Omniscient eye. And was there left to him no inherent power to do that which is good? None whatever. "From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment."
Then see his position. If his fall, which is so entire, is his own act, he is as much amenable to his Maker as he was before. The fact of his fall will not lesson his obligations: nor will it impose upon God any necessity to show mercy. He therefore stands before his Judge a condemned criminal; and the course which the Judge shall take is entirely within himself. There is nothing which can force Him to show favour. If He say, die, He is as justly glorious as He was before. If then, there is no obligation upon God to save: and if He does determine to be gracious, the salvation must be of grace. Oh, is it possible to conceive the solemnity of that moment when the destinies of untold millions were in the balance? Can you picture the suspense of heaven and hell when waiting Jehovah's fiat? Surely for the moment the pulse of nature throbbed not; heaven's music ceased to flow, and the howl of the pit was hushed. Then God, on his azure throne, holding in one hand the sword, and in the other the sceptre, stretched out the sceptre saying, "Deliver him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom."
Your salvation is of grace. You are required to pray; but you are saved by grace. You are required to believe; but you are saved by grace. You are required to labour; but you are saved by grace. You are required to suffer; but you are saved by grace. You will have to die; but when you stand a spirit glorified before the throne, it will be by grace.
(iii.) Salvation in its object is the soul. "Receiving the end of your faith even the salvation of your souls." By the soul we understand the immaterial principle or spiritual part of man; which though united with the body, is perfectly distinct from it.
As to its nature, it is possessed of intelligence, volition, sensation. It has capacities for enjoyment and suffering: for both good and evil. Its immortality is assured to us by the mouth of God. It may be lost. With all its dignity and glory, it may be for ever crushed by the divine hand, but never destroyed. While, however, it may be lost, it may be saved. The grace which can calm its fears, and satisfy its hopes, and purge its impurity, and consummate its bliss is now manifested. How insignificant does everything appear when compared with its salvation. The blotting of the sun, the desolation of an universe is a trifle when put in the balance with an immortal spirit. Let the sceptic doubt its immortality, and the atheist deny, and the scoffer jest; but let us look forward to the judgment-seat and beyond it, for "the soul, immortal as its sire, shall never die."
(iv.) Salvation, in its attainment, is by faith. "The end of your faith."
There is no article of our religion more plainly revealed than this -- "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but hath eternal life. He that believeth shall be saved." Faith is the simplest operation of the mind; and may therefore strictly be said to be incapable of definition. Still it is easy to say what is meant by the term when applied to personal salvation. It means the trust of the heart on the atonement of Christ, as the condition of pardon. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." It is however of the highest importance that the thought of its simplicity be made prominent. Let us not undervalue religious knowledge; for to some extent it is absolutely necessary. But do not mystify the plan of mercy, and perplex the anxious seeker by requirements which the gospel has not made prominent. Many a poor sinner exercises faith in Christ who cannot give a philosophical disquisition as to its nature. It is not necessary to be thoroughly acquainted with the science of optics in order to see. A man may look through a telescope before he can define the refraction or reflection of light. Now all that is included in the word salvation hangs on this simple condition.
The question may be regarded perhaps more nice than wise as to why such a condition should have been appointed; and yet it will sometimes force itself upon the thoughtful mind. The answer to it must in great measure be conjectural, but may we not suppose that one design of it was to do away with the last vestige of self-righteousness in man? If Moses had struck the rock with something more powerful than the little rod, the gushing of the waters might have been attributed to his own strength. If Jericho had been taken by a regular siege, the glory of its conquest would have been ascribed to military science and the prowess of arms. If some heavy conditions had been imposed upon the sinner, he would have claimed his pardon.
"But, 'how unlike the complex works of man,
2. The apostle next concentrates attention upon one leading branch of this great theme.
Having put the whole subject before us in the word salvation, he now fixes our thought upon the relation which Christ sustains to it. "Searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." The testimony which is here said to be borne to Christ, is by the Spirit, and the signification of the Spirit in the testimony is that which the prophets sought. He who in the text is called "the Spirit of Christ," in the following verse is designated the Holy Ghost, so that there can be no doubt as to the person referred to. He is variously spoken of as "the Spirit of God" -- "the Spirit of the Father" -- "the Spirit of the Son" -- "the Holy Spirit," and He is the third person in the Holy Trinity. "In the entire and undivided unity of the Godhead, there is a Trinity of personal subsistences; consubstantial, co-equal, and co-eternal." It was this "Spirit of Christ" who inspired the prophets; for these "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
(i.) They sought the signification of the Spirit as to the Saviour's person. "Searching what." This expression is said to mean either what time; or what people; or what person. But looking at the whole passage it seems most naturally to refer to Him who is the subject of these predictions. They therefore diligently enquired as to who He was, of whom they, under inspiration, had been speaking.
(ii.) They also studied the prophecies as to the time of his coming: "What manner of time?" This phrase has a twofold application. It may refer to that particular period of the world's history when the Saviour should come to endure his sufferings and enter into his glory. So Daniel reckoned up the number of the weeks, and sought to understand the time.
It may also have reference to "the character and condition of the age" when He should become incarnate. "What manner of time?"
We are now brought to the testimony itself which the Spirit beforehand gave.
(iii.) The Saviour's sufferings, in their relation to our salvation. "The sufferings of Christ."
We limit ourselves to two thoughts: these sufferings were predicted, and those predictions were fulfilled. Nearly the whole of the Old Testament has a connection with them. They are predicted by the very page which records the fall. "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." Under the patriarchal economy there was a significant allusion to them in the offering up of Isaac. The Mosaic types were prophecies. The paschal lamb; the smitten rock; the brazen serpent; and the scape-goat on the day of expiation, exhibited this feature of Messiah's character. Well nigh every page of the prophets is marked by blood and sorrow. The Psalmist, in thrilling tone, enquires, "My God, my God why hast thou forsaken Me?" And in the last struggles of death Jesus quoted the passage in its application to himself. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is an unapproachable description of a suffering person. Its reference to Christ has been extorted from the Jew, and is confidently believed by every Christian. The notion of two Messiahs -- the one suffering and the other conquering -- is an unworthy subterfuge, and stands opposed to both fact and Scripture. Daniel is second only to Isaiah in his minute and powerful description of the Redeemer's sufferings. Zechariah almost closes the book by the startling cry, "Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered; and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones."
That these Scriptures have been fulfilled who can doubt that believes the gospels? Just before the Saviour's ascension, and while yet partaking of the valedictory feast with his disciples, "He said unto them, these are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms concerning Me. Then opened He their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day." We pass by the pain and hunger and thirst which are the attributes of humanity; but from his very incarnation may it be said that his sufferings began. Mark the meanness of his birth; the poverty of his circumstances; the persecution which drove Him from his infant-home, and think of his manner of life prior to the public announcement of his character, and you say with the prophet -- "A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief."
Now look into Gethsemane's innermost recess and you see an amount of suffering unendurable except under heavenly strengthening; "And, being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him." Betrayed by a disciple, He is apprehended by the "multitude with swords and staves:" then arraigned before the high priest; then before Pilate: then taken before Herod and clothed in the purple; then bound and dragged again before Pilate: then smitten by the ruffianly attendants, and forsaken by his followers He is condemned to die. After the Roman fashion He is led away bearing his own cross to the fated hill. Here is the consummation of their cruelty, of his suffering, and of heaven's suspense. The leader of an army to the battle-field looks with anxiety to that moment of the day which decides the conflict; and either covers him with a nation's glory, or overwhelms him in a nation's disgrace. The fate of empires has hung on the actions of an hour; and the liberties of a continent have trembled for an instant in the balance. But the salvation of a world was hanging on Calvary till the Sufferer exclaimed: "It is finished."
You will not suppose that we have exhibited all, or even a principal part of "the sufferings of Christ." We do not wish to underrate this bodily distress; but oh, compare it not with the depth of the soul's agony. The hand of man which smote Him was malignant and painful too; but the hand of God with the sword of justice in it, fell in dreadful weight and pierced his spirit. His being betrayed and forsaken by the disciples was a source of pain; but it was when the Father hid his face that his sufferings were complete. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken Me?"
In addition to the general scope of prophecy, there are many minute and particular predictions of suffering which were fulfilled. The Psalmist says -- "Yea mine own familiar friend in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me." And you call to mind the betrayal of our Saviour. David says again, "They pierced my hands and my feet." And when He was crucified the nails were driven through these parts of the body. Isaiah says, "He was numbered with the transgressors;" and we know that He was crucified between two thieves. Prophecy says, "They part my garments among them, and casts lots upon my vesture." History says, "And they crucified Him, and parted his garments casting lots." Prophecy says, "A bone of Him shall not be broken." History says that when the soldiers "came to Jesus and saw that He was dead already, they brake not his legs." Prophecy says, "They gave me also gall for my meat, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." History says, "They gave Him vinegar to drink mingled with gall," when He said "I thirst." You are not surprised then, that after the fulfilment of so many and varied predictions, Jesus should have spoken to the two doubting disciples with a somewhat sterner voice than was his wont: "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken, ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory."
(iv.) See the connection between this salvation and the Saviour, with regard to the glory resulting from his passion and death. "And the glory," or glories, "that should follow." We distract not your mind with the many meanings of the word "glory." In the text it signifies the honour accruing to the Redeemer himself, and the benefit resulting to the world from his sufferings. It will apply to his resurrection; for even of this the prophets had some knowledge. "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." It has also reference to the Saviour's exaltation to and session at the right hand of the Father: for this is the result of his humiliation. "We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man." But it has another meaning. The glory resulting from "the sufferings of Christ," is to be seen in the carrying out of his own scheme of mercy, and the universal happiness of man. Nothing short of this can satisfy the scope of the text; the expectation and claims of the Messiah; or the call of the Church. It was no less an object than this -- the saving of a whole world -- that brought Christ from heaven and raised up the Church on earth. If you look or labour for anything short of this, you degrade your Master and dishonour yourselves. You have got too large a machinery at work for anything less than this. You will cripple the energies and damp the ardour of our Captain's embattled hosts, if you are satisfied with anything short of the conquest of a world. The question therefore is, have we any fair prospect of, and guarantee for, universal glory?
The text itself affords ground of hope that in the Scriptures we shall find all we desire. An intimation is given that the prophets themselves not only predicted it, but by their diligent search, apprehended and believed it. And let us not suppose that our faith in a happy world rests on a few dark or obscure expressions thinly scattered over the Bible, and requiring more than ordinary penetration to find them at all. Science by gigantic strides seems almost to have reached its perfection. We are told that by its light the philosopher can, from a single bone put into his hands, discover the existence of a "great wingless bird" of another hemisphere, and can construct "its skeleton so exactly, that when all the bones" arrive in this country "the correspondence between them and their conjectural portraits" is complete; that the astronomer is able by his calculations to tell the existence of a planet, which observation proves to be strictly true. But wonderful as is all this, we are not reduced to any such necessity with regard to the future of the gospel. We have not to take a few dark sayings, or enigmatical expressions, or hieroglyphic inscriptions, and as we best may spell out the universal spread of truth. As with the light of a sunbeam, or with "the point of a diamond," is it revealed. He that runs may read. Abraham saw it: "And in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." Jacob saw it: "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be." David saw it: "Ask of Me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." Isaiah saw it: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them." Oh what a state of security and peace!
"Lift up thine eyes round about, and see; all they gather themselves together, they come to thee; thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side." Let the Church no more hang down her head with grief. Look up, and see what is approaching. "All they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side." A general confluence of the nations is at hand, and all will flow into the church. "Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee." The vast-swelling multitude with their wealth shall come and beg admission. "We have now to beg people to come into the church: the day is coming when they shall ask permission. "Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?" Who are these myriads making their way to Christ? "And as the doves to their windows?" There is a storm at hand: the people foresee it, and run for refuge. "Thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day or night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought." So constant is the pouring in that the doors must be kept open. It is now a rare thing to see a convert approaching; but then the stream will be continuous, and the houses of prayer open night and day.
"Thou shalt also suck the milk of the Gentiles, and shalt suck the breast of kings: and thou shalt know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob." The very wealth which is now in heathen hands shall be consecrated to the further spread of the gospel. "And thou shalt suck the breast of kings:" for they shall become "nursing fathers and queens nursing mothers;" and the reign of the Messiah shall be one of peace. "Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders: but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise. The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended. Thy people also shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified. A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the Lord will hasten it in his time." Do not say that this glorious chapter is exceptional. It is only a sample, and the bulk is equal in beauty. If the Bible, then, be true, a redeemed universe is hastening upon us. Paradise created even cannot put before us the glory of paradise restored. All the events which are passing over us -- even those which appear the most alarming -- are under an influence which will make them tributary to the final issue. "Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things, and blessed be his glorious name for ever; and let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen."
1. Let us learn a lesson of veneration for the Scriptures. Unless it be the great doctrine of atonement, there is no truth to which the Christian clings, assailed with greater bitterness in our days than the plenary authority of the Bible. Moreover the low views on this question which many professing Christians hold and teach, are most deplorable and damaging. We expect opposition from the avowed adversaries of the Book; but, the source of truth is now imperilled by indifference and treachery. The whole volume has a divine origin. "God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past by the prophets hath in these last days spoken to us by his Son."
2. A lesson of love to the Saviour. "He hath died" for us, "the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." Do not forget your personal interest in those sufferings to which the text refers. They are in the strictest sense vicarious. He suffered not for his own sins, but for yours. You may realise their saving efficacy, and be "made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light." How great are his claims upon our affection and service!
3. A lesson of duty to the world. The salvation of the whole race is provided by "the sufferings;" and is included in "the glory." A sanctified universe is to be the result of the Saviour's cross: and to a large extent He has made the Churches responsible for the conversion of the world. A weight of obligation rests upon each member which cannot be put into language. The wailings of a dying race call loudly for our zeal. The groans of the lost gather strength as they ascend the pit. The voice of heaven, from angels, saints, and God, urge us onward in the discharge of duty. Oh, the wreck is on the billow; hasten with the means of safety. The plague-spot is in the camp; offer the incense of atonement. And let all your efforts be put forth in faith, and under a deep impression of the truth of Cecil's memorable words: "Faith is the master-spring of a Minister," as well as of every Christian. "Hell is before me, and thousands of lost souls are shut up there in everlasting agony. Jesus Christ stands forth to save men from rushing into this bottomless abyss. He sends me to proclaim His ability and love. I want no fourth idea."