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IT is a common, but certainly a very true observation, that the wishes and hopes of men are often very inconsiderate, and of such a nature that the Divine government, in its wisdom, cannot gratify them, and that a very small portion of happiness would fall to our share, if God were content with merely fulfilling our wishes. The fact is well known and requires no proof. But it is not the less true, that the benefits which Divine Providence really bestows on us, are seldom discerned in their full dimensions, and valued according to their actual worth. True as this two fold observation is, concerning the wishes which we entertain in respect of our earthly affairs and prosperity, and a multitude of Divine benefits, which we, on this account, are accustomed to call the unknown benefits of God; it is true also, of such as have reference to our higher and spiritual felicity, as those for 4which the Divine government is not less watchful and active, than for our temporal welfare. Amongst these spiritual blessings, for instance, there is none of greater magnitude, and of more inestimable value, than the Redemption which God has ordained through Jesus Christ. It was the greatest of all the benefits which the Jewish nation once implored of God, and it is the greatest which we Christians glory to have received from God: and this with the most perfect right. But the Jewish nation limited their desire almost entirely to a temporal deliverance; comprehended not, in its full extent, the blessing which God would impart to them through Jesus; and for the most part actually scorned it when offered to them, because it was not agreeable to their wishes. We Christians value the Redemption of Jesus higher; but I fear that even we sometimes limit it too much, and are desirous of its being such as, indeed, is scarcely possible. This appears to me, for example, to be the case with all those who confine it simply or chiefly to a deliverance from the penalties of sin, inasmuch as, according to the Holy Scripture and to truth, it extends much farther, and is in particular a deliverance from sin itself. I have, therefore, resolved to address you to-day on the right estimation of the redemption of Jesus. Our Gospel for the festival presents us with an unsought occasion, in the wishes and hopes of the disciples of Jesus. 5God only grant that we may form right notions, and thereby be led to a just estimation of it!
But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel.
WHEN the two disciples in our Gospel disclose their perplexity and dejection, on account of their Master’s unexpected fate, to Jesus, whom they did not then know, and at the same time confess, “But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel,” it is clear that they had not a true conception of the redemption which was to be effected, and which has been effected through Jesus. For they imagined its extent much too small, since they confined it to the Jewish nation alone, when they said, we trusted he should have redeemed Israel; whereas it was designed for the whole human race. Then again, they looked for a temporal redemption or deliverance, though the redemption of Jesus purported to be of quite a different kind, namely, a deliverance of the soul from sin, or a moral and spiritual redemption. I shall, therefore, take occasion to speak of the redemption, as it has actually been wrought through Jesus Christ. But I hope I shall best comprehend what appertains to the subject, if I dwell partly on that 6from which Christ has redeemed us, and partly on the condition under which this redemption may effectually avail us; and this, I trust, will lead the way to a very profitable application of my discourse.
In the first place then, from what has Christ redeemed mankind? There are three points in which this great work is contained, and in which it can be most clearly viewed. Christ has, namely, redeemed us; first, from all anxious and tormenting fear of God; secondly, from sin and its dominion; and thirdly, from the punishment of sin as its consequence, and from the apprehension of a future eternal condemnation.
In order to appreciate, in their full value, the greatness and beneficial effects of this redemption, and especially of the first branch of it, according to which Christ has delivered men from all anxious and tormenting fear of God, it is necessary for us to take a view of the mode of thinking of the age in which Jesus made his public appearance, and endeavour to recur to the then prevailing notions of God, which have, in a great measure, become strange to us, who are born and educated in Christendom, by means of the superior information which we have received from our youth up. At that period, the only correct and gladdening representation of God as the Father of men, and the truth that he is a gracious, benevolent, and forgiving 7Being, were almost entirely extirpated; and in their place the contrary idea was prevalent, that he is a severe inexorable ruler, who infallibly punishes the smallest offences, from whom no pardon was to be expected, unless his anger were appeased by bloody sacrifices, costly gifts, and self-inflicted tortures of various kinds. This terror was at that time general, nor is it much to be wondered at, being so natural to uninstructed man. Men commonly conceive of the Deity as they are themselves, and transfer the sentiments and modes of acting, which they perceive in themselves, to God. Now, since no man, if he would not deceive himself, can be insensible that he errs in a variety of ways, whether with wilfulness or from indiscretion, and thus transgresses the commandments of God; and since we men, when our injunctions are violated and an offence is committed against us, usually fall into anger and demand satisfaction; we ascribe similar affections of the mind to the Deity also; and because we feel that his displeasure and wrath can make us extremely miserable, we bethink ourselves of means to appease this wrath, and to reconcile the Deity. Far as these conceptions are from being entirely erroneous, certain as it rather is, that God is the most declared enemy of sin, and that he inevitably punishes and must punish it; yet the men of that age erred too much in their representation of the greatness and inflexibility of Divine wrath, 8and still more in the means which were chosen to avert it. Instead of striving to be convinced that God is not an inexorable Being, that he does not keep his anger for ever, and that he is disposed to pardon the man who draws near to him with repentant feelings and a resolution of amendment; they believed they must accumulate sacrifices, expiations, and penances of various kinds. This proved a very great and two-fold disadvantage. At one time this idea filled the minds of men with fear and trembling before God, as the strict, inexorable, never-to-be-reconciled Judge; the thought a him, that is, of the best, most perfect, and most gracious Being, which otherwise possesses such a cheering and animating power, lost this beneficial power entirely; and what was most melancholy, men were nevertheless not improved by this constant fear, exactly because they believed that sacrifices and gifts were sufficient to reconcile the Deity and appease his anger. The wisest of the writers in, the Old Testament had, indeed, already endeavoured. to soften this alarming representation of God, and to weaken their belief in the atoning power of sacrifices; but their persuasions were ineffectual. They had declared, “the Lord is full of compassion and mercy, long-suffering, plenteous in goodness and truth.” “He forgiveth iniquity and sin, he willeth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live.” Isaiah 9 felt himself urged to call to the people, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me, saith the Lord? I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; who hath required this at your land? Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well11 Isaiah i. 11..” Thus had the wiser prophets of the Old Testament already taught; they had described God as gracious and merciful, and required amendment of life instead of sacrifices; as in like manner the Apostle Paul exhorts Christians in his epistle to the Romans; “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service22 Rom. xii. 1..” But they preached to deaf ears. Custom prevailed over the truth, the same ideas and sacrifices continued, the world dwelt in distressing fear of God, it propitiated him daily, and yet failed to reform.
But at last Jesus Christ appeared, and taught those truths more forcibly and clearly, exhibited the goodness of God in its full lustre, and sheaved that the only means of forgiveness were repentance and amendment. Thus he himself, and thus his Apostles instructed, and thus by his labours a Church was founded, in which more favourable notions of God prevailed, in which he 10was worshipped, not as a severe and wrathful judge, but as a kind forgiving Father; the members of which, when they assembled together, brought no offerings as a propitiation, but engaged themselves to an innocent course of life. In this manner. Jesus liberated the Christian world from the anxious fear of God, and from the most burdensome and unprofitable service. O, for ever let him be praised, that he has inspired us with trust in the pardoning grace of the Highest! For ever let him be praised, that we through his instruction rejoice in God, and no more tremble before him! Eternally let him be praised, that he has abolished sacrifices for ever, and taught us to offer up ourselves as a sacrifice to God! Thus he has established a real redemption; we now need no more offering for sin. Yet, my friends, Christ has delivered the Christian world not only from the anxious and tormenting fear of God, and from belief in the atoning power of sacrifices, but he has also, secondly, redeemed us from sin, and thereby from its penalties in the present and the future world.
But I must here obviate a misconception. This redemption from sin is not to be understood as if Jesus had taken away all sins, so that no more are to be found in the Christian world; for this would manifestly contradict daily experience. But his redemption consists rather in this, that he has made it possible to men to withdraw from the dominion 11of sin, having set forth to them the reasons for it, pointed out the means, and in general neglected nothing that would render deliverance from sin important and easy to them. So much is certain, that if man should be encouraged to escape from the trammels of sin, this cannot be more effectually done, than when sin is depicted to him in all its noxiousness, and on the other hand reformation and virtue in their advantages and rewards. So much is certain, that man cannot be rescued from the dominion of sin, so long as he is ignorant of its source, the manner in which it is originated, and the means whereby it may be prevented. So much is, lastly, certain, that man will not seldom grow weary in this contest against sin, if he may not promise himself a happy issue and the strength that is requisite, and if in this contest he has not an aim and a reward in his eye, the view of which invigorates him afresh.
But Jesus bas most completely satisfied all these wants by his instruction, and thus has made the most desirable redemption from sin possible. For this reason he taught, that it is only sin which renders men unhappy, and deprives them of the favour of God and of felicity; for this reason he assured them, that the forgiveness of God and deliverance from the penalties of sin, are not attached to propitiatory sacrifices, which never could possess this power, but to contrition 12and steady amendment, which alone are well-pleasing to God; for this reason he inculcated, that man must watch over his heart, consider this as the real source of sin, and suppress the rising lusts in their first movements, if he would prevent their bursting forth, and be secured from actual sins; for this reason he admonishes that we must diligently strengthen ourselves by good resolutions, and implore God for power to perform them, in the firm persuasion, that he who promotes all that is good, will least of all deny us his Spirit and the strength requisite for our improvement; and, that we may never grow weary in this zeal, be points out the great worth of a clean heart before God, and the rewards of eternity. This is the redemption from sin which Christ has actually instituted.
Once more; it is not then to be understood, as if he had so taken away all sins that no more remain in the world, nor as if he had made sin impossible to man, and the use of the means of improvement unnecessary. Nothing less than that; for the former would contradict the most evident experience, and the latter would be at variance with the freedom of the human soul, which it was not his design to abolish. But his redemption consists in this, that he has made it possible and of importance to man to be redeemed: and how could it be effected in rational creatures in any other way, without infringement on their liberty? Or how could he do 13it in a more effectual manner than by convincing them that sin would be productive of unhappiness, that it disturbs the conscience, that it robs us of the favour of God, that there are no offerings for its penalties, that repentance alone and steady amendment bring forgiveness and salvation? Does not amendment now become of greater importance to us, the more we desire pardon from God? Do not our own heart, and the wish not to be miserable, urge us to the most earnest self-improvement, and to a participation in this redemption? And does not Christ redeem every one from sin, who will suffer himself to be redeemed through him?
Lastly, my friends, the redemption of Jesus extends also to the penalties of sin. And this part of redemption he has doubly effected. Since, namely, he has assured the world of the gracious disposition of God, he has thereby delivered it from the apprehension of never-ceasing punishments; and since lie teaches us to avoid sin itself, he thereby delivers us also from its penalty. To comprise it in a few words, the redemption of Jesus amounts to this,—that he has exhibited God to us in his true and gladdening form, that he has inspired us with trust in his forgiving grace, that he has placed reformation and virtue in the room of sacrifices, and that he has shewn us the possibility of avoiding the dominion of sin, and consequently its temporal and eternal punishments. How great and inestimable is this 14benefit! If I had the liberty to choose for myself any happiness, could I wish for any greater than this redemption? than the consciousness of a merciful God before whom I need not tremble? than freedom from the bondage of sin? than a joyful prospect of a happy eternity? This, this is the redemption which Jesus has established! How much more comprehensive it is than that which the Jews and even the disciples of Jesus hoped for!
But now a question may be suggested, “Will then all men partake in this redemption?” The answer is, If they perform one condition; and this we will inquire into in the second part of our contemplation.
The redemption, my friends, is now completed. Every thing is done on God’s part. But what must man do on his side, in order to profit by this redemption? The short answer is, He must assist in redeeming himself. And this in fact is not so difficult. It is resolved mainly into two points, which we will shortly discuss. The first thing which a man must do; who really desires to be redeemed through Christ, is to believe the assurances of Jesus respecting the merciful and forgiving disposition of God, and to seek to convince himself more and more firmly of their truth. As long as man distrusts the goodness of God, or as long as he thinks he must be propitiated by any thing else than by amendment, so long certainly the redemption 15of Jesus from the tormenting fear of God cannot be of service to him. But how easy is this persuasion of the goodness of God! how ready the heart is to entertain it! what grounds for it present themselves on all sides! It is reasonable to believe, when I cast a glance at nature, that the God, who has every where diffused the most palpable marks of his enriching bounty, who has created the world to be the scene of his goodness, and men for the enjoyment of it, it is reasonable to believe, that this God has not destined any creature to eternal pains and never ceasing misery. It is not probable that he will aggravate the natural consequences of sin by arbitrary punishments, which are not designed for the improvement of man, but to render his wretchedness interminable; and that he will make man still more unhappy than he already is, through sin and its necessary consequences. And is it not probable, that God will at least be as kind as a human father is? But as the latter inflicts punishments only as salutary and correcting chastisements, and derives no pleasure from the suffering of his child, shall it not be so and much more with God? That my reason teaches me. The more I think of God in this manner, the more strongly I seek to be convinced of his goodness, and how far he is from feeling any malicious joy or delighting in vengeance, so much the more my heart listens to the instructions of Jesus, that with God 16there is mercy, and that “there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.” And if we would, therefore, facilitate the appropriation to ourselves of the atonement of Jesus, and be delivered through him from an anxious and painful fear of God; it is necessary that we open our hearts to these representations of the clemency and love of God; that we drive away from our souls the alarming images of a dreadful tyrant, and substitute in their place the lovely portrait of a benevolent and bountiful Father, such as nature exhibits him to us.
Should we then bring a heart so prepared to the instructions of Jesus and the holy Scripture, how easily shall we find it to be true, that God is merciful and compassionate, and that we require no oblations to propitiate him! How easily will Christ then accomplish in us that part of his redemption, which consists in a liberation from all disquieting and tormenting fear of God! That is the first condition which we must fulfil, if we really desire to be redeemed through Christ. And the second is this; if we, besides that fear of God, wish also to be delivered from the penalty of sin, we must necessarily be redeemed from sin itself. It is plain that it cannot be otherwise. Punishment is the consequence of sin, sin the cause of punishment. But is it possible that the consequence should cease, when the cause remains? Is it possible, that I should be released from a disorder, 17if I continue to commit the excess which generated the disorder? Is it possible that a man should be freed from punishment, when he repeats the same crime which subjected him to the punishment? Can the punishments or the chastisements of God cease, before the object of them, reformation, is attained? “Be not deceived,” I might say to such persons, “God is not mocked.” Do you think to be saved, because we are redeemed? Is Christ the minister of sin? Shall we sin for this reason, “that grace may abound?” Do we hope to escape future wrath, merely because we are called Christians? Should we not then evidently be in the same case as the Jews, who hoped to be exempted from punishment, because they had Abraham for their father? No, my friends, it remains an eternal, irrefutable truth, that whoever would escape punishment, must first renounce sin. The redemption of Jesus cannot else avail us.
This contemplation, my friends, is abundantly fruitful in profitable applications, if we will use it to this purpose. I will call your attention to a few of them.
In the first place it is manifest, that this redemption, which Christ has wrought for the human race, is a far greater and more salutary one, than that which the disciples of Jesus imagined and wished for. It is greater, because it is not confined to one people, but embraces all those nations to whom the 18Christian religion is known or shall hereafter be known. It is moreover greater, because it makes us perfectly free, free in the noblest sense of the word. For what is true liberty? wherein does it consist? Is he free who is oppressed by a tormenting fear of God, who is a slave to sin, who is ruled and led captive by vicious desires, whose conscience distresses him, who trembles at the thought of death, whom the future overwhelms with despair Or is he free who has trust in God, who is not afraid of himself, who can look forward to futurity with a calm aspect? Freedom from sin is the true freedom; and that is the freedom which Christ has given us. Thanksgiving, eternal thanksgiving be unto God, for that he has performed more through Christ, than Seven his disciples ventured to hope! They trusted he should have redeemed Israel; and he has redeemed a far greater portion of mankind. They feared their expectation was disappointed; and never was its fulfilment nearer.—Above all things, my friends, let us represent to ourselves the redemption as it really is, and not let ourselves be led away by the imagination that Christ has already redeemed us from the penalties of sin, whilst we are not yet freed from sin. I do not wonder that men are so corrupt as to adopt that part of redemption which favours their evil propensities, namely, faith, and that they are forgetful of that which is troublesome to them, namely, amendment. But ye, who so divide 19redemption, and flatter yourselves with such hopes, ye deceive yourselves, ye desire an impossibility. For, “if ye sin wilfully, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins33 Heb. x. 26.,” and thus ye are in no sense of the word redeemed. For “whosoever committeth sin, is the servant of sin44 John viii. 34..” “Whosoever abideth in him, sinneth not; whosoever sinneth, hath not seen him neither known him55 1 John iii. 6..” Finally, my brethren, let us so reflect on this, that we may live as redeemed creatures. What an excellent sanctification of this festival, if we now resolve before God to rise from the sleep of sin, from which Christ seeks to awaken us, and to live to that righteousness to which he exhorts us! Let each one then amongst us be renewed and converted from his sin, that the redemption may not have been in vain, but, that he also may indeed participate in it. Thou thyself, O God! wilt impress these considerations strongly on our hearts through thy Spirit. Amen.2021
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