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SERMON X.

BY HANSTEIN.

JESUS ALREADY GLORIFIED IN DEATH.

(FOR GOOD FRIDAY.)

186187

SERMON X.

JESUS ALREADY GLORIFIED IN DEATH.

(FOR GOOD FRIDAY.)

THE whole labour and life of Jesus Christ, whose death is to-day commemorated by his Church, was a glorifying of God among men. For what other object is apparent in his discourses and in his actions, in the institutions which he founded, and in the establishments which owe their existence to him, than to spread abroad a worthier perception and a purer worship of the Eternal, whom he called Father; to cause his name to be more revered by the world, his law to be more sacred to men, or, as he himself expresses it in his incomparable prayer, to hallow the name of God, to introduce his kingdom, the kingdom of his adorers, and to engender that regard to his will on earth, which is paid to it in Heaven. For this purpose did Jesus contend against the God-dishonouring superstition of the multitude, against that service of ceremonies 188and sacrifices, to which the blind leaders of the people had perverted religion; against the hypocrisy, which was an abomination to the saints in Heaven, and a disgrace to humanity. And how studious of the honour of God was the whole demeanour of Jesus Christ, our Lord! God was to him more sacred than all things. To God above he poured forth his prayers and supplications. From above, what he hoped and expected, descended upon him. From thence, what befel him here below, was directed. God was his whole thought, his consolation, his joy, until his eyes were closed. “I come to do thy will, O my God.” “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day, for the night cometh, in which no man can work1818   John ix. 4..” “All things must be fulfilled, which are written of me in the Prophets, which God has decreed for the Son of Man.” “Not as I will, but thy will be done.” This was the principle of his labours and his sufferings. Thus, as long as he was able and permitted to work and be active, he had but one aim in view; to do the will, to fulfil the appointment and the mission of his heavenly Father. Thus he knew in the days of sorrow but one law, the law of submission to the providence of God; but one comfort, the comfort of his paternal love and his gracious protection; but one hope, the hope that even death 189could not tear him from the hand and guardianship of God. Therefore was he “faithful unto death,” and “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,” and honoured, magnified, and glorified in this manner, by word and deed, by acting and suffering, in life and death, that God, of whom he constantly declared that “he had sent him.”

This retrospect of the life and end of Jesus Christ to the honour of God, enables us clearly to understand, when we hear him utter in his last prayer the emphatic words, “Father, I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gayest me to do1919   John xvii. 4..” Nor will it surprise us, that, prepared to take the last step, he begins the same prayer most worthy to be read and reflected on, with the words, “Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son. I have glorified thee, now glorify me also, O my Father.” Thus he, who never sought his own honour, full of confidence commits the saving of his innocence, the crowning of his work, the reward of his fidelity, the result of his self-devotion and sacrifice, to him who judgeth righteously, who leadeth all things to a glorious issue; full of confidence, and not in vain. Oh, God has heard this solemn prayer of the Holy Sufferer. He, who had glorified God on earth, was (thus the High and Mighty One in heaven rewards) glorified 190again; he who hallowed the name of God among men, to him has “God given a name, which is above every name,” and exalted him before the world; and all this not first on the day of his illustrious victory over corruption; no, even on the day of his death on the cross, even in the moments in which he gave up the ghost. If we meditate on this, my hearers, then will this day’s still and solemn memorial of his death, this day of universal mourning for the end of the holiest and first of the children of men, be changed into a festival of his glorification. May it become so to us all; that at the grave itself of the Redeemer of the world we may praise that God, who even in the death of his saints doth all things well, even at the grave of the just bringeth all things to a glorious issue!

Luke xxiii. 39-49.

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, &c.

AGREEABLY to the text, and the solemnity of this hallowed day, let the present subject of our contemplation be, Jesus Christ already glorified in 191death. 1st. By nature consecrating his end. 2dly, By the honourable testimonies of the witnesses of his death and the friends of his life. 3dly. By that which he himself said and did in his dying moments.

On the very day of his death on the cross, in the very moments in which he expired, began the exaltation and glorification of the divine Sufferer, which he was so fully confident the Almighty and gracious Being would cause to succeed the gloomy lot of his clouded life, and the dishonour of his name and his innocence by injustice and violence. It did succeed. We have before stated, by what means the dying day and the death of Jesus Christ were so particularly distinguished; how that great day of days, that Greatest of all mortals, was so solemnly glorified. 1st. That nature itself consecrates the end of the Redeemer, that extraordinary movements and appearances in the inanimate creation distinguish the day and hour of his death, is a circumstance, my hearers, which we must at least not overlook; because certainly those agitations of the quaking earth, that opening of the rocky graves, those hours of night at mid-day, that rending of the sacred veil, were the working of that higher Power, which prescribed laws to Nature, the ordinance of that higher Wisdom, which, not without aim and design, permitted all this to take place precisely at the hour when it did take place. It is 192true that of all the. events in nature which the Evangelists record, not even one was unnatural or contrary to nature. Even earthquakes and their effects, even obscuration of the sun and nocturnal twilight in the day-time, are, though not quite common, at least, entirely natural phenomena. And though convulsions of the earth and bursting of rocks are somewhat strange and unusual in our northern countries, yet they are not so in those warm regions of the east, they were not so namely to the inhabitants of Syria and Palestine. And though an eclipse of the sun at the time of full moon, and that of three hours’ duration, is an impossibility, when one reflects that these eclipses are occasioned by the intervention of the moon between the sun and the earth, and can be calculated centuries before by those skilled in the knowledge of the heavens, still was a darkening of the sky, of the light of day, and of the noon-day sun itself, not seldom the immediate indication or consequence of earthquakes in those countries, where the sun glows with greater heat, and the exhalations issue stronger, and the vapours and fogs thicker, from the bosom of the earth; and the trembling earth can split rocks, open graves hewn in stone, and tear asunder its own surface, as well as throw down palaces, remove walls, sink mountains, and convert inhabited and fruitful places into lakes and abysses. In this manner then all these events happened, not contrary 193to the order of nature, not unnatural nor preternatural, and were therefore, in this sense of the word, not exactly miraculous appearances.

But who can take from them the character of extraordinary, surprising, resembling a miracle, and having the appearance of a miracle, which they must especially have had at the moment when they occurred; which they then had and must have had, even if the people who were thereby impressed with seriousness and alarm, had not been so fond of wonders, so desirous of signs, and so accustomed to astrology? It certainly resembled a miracle, that at the time of full moon the sun lost its brightness, and “there was darkness over all the land” for three hours. It was doubtless surprising, that when “the earth quaked, and the rocks rent,” as Matthew adds in his Gospel, “the graves” also (probably those cut in the rocks) “were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and appeared unto many.” It was certainly most striking, that, during the general concussion, even the walls of the temple trembled in their foundations, and the strongly-woven double curtain, which divided the holy place in the temple from the holy of holies, was rent by it, and thus in an instant the entrance to the inner sanctuary of the nation, allowed to the High-Priests alone but once a year, was laid open!

O, my hearers, even reflecting and considerate persons might, without indulging in a foolish and 194idle interpretation of signs, when these disturbances of nature occurred, cry out with astonishment, what a wonderful coincidence with the event of the day! The Innocent condemned, he who was rejected in the tumult of the people, he who was sacrificed to the envy and hatred of the priesthood, dies, and the sun withdraws its light, as though it mourned for his death; voices are heard out of the depths, as though they accused both judge and people; the graves are opened, as though the kingdom of the dead was in agitation at the crime of the living world; the sacred veil was rent, as though, after this victim, the service of sacrifice, the service of the temple, and the whole constitution of the religion of Moses, should, if not actually cease, at least sustain a violent convulsion: all, as if the heaven itself could give a mark of its displeasure at that deed of sinners, and a testimony of approbation to that holy and guiltless One, who was betrayed unto death! Yes, even we, my hearers, who, after the lapse of centuries, only hear and read of this coincidence of circumstances with the history of those days, of the unusual agitation of nature with the remarkable end of the holy and divine Nazarene, cannot refrain from observing, “This was the finger of God.” These were accusations and. rebukes of the crime completed at Golgotha; significant omens of the things which should come; and, at all events, memorable distinctions of the great Sufferer, and of the never-to-be-forgotten 195hour in which he gave up the ghost, holy and innocent, and yet as a malefactor. Yes, it was as though the saying of the prophet Amos should then be fulfilled: “Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein? And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day. And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation.” Yes, it was as though entire nature deplored the just One dying, as though the sun hid in darkness; the earth convulsed to its centre, solemnized the moment when he cried out, “It is finished.”

Secondly. Yet more conspicuously still, than inanimate nature in her powerful and significant, yet dark and mysterious language, do the tongues and actions of men glorify him who expired on the cross. We may now remark the declarations of the witnesses of his death, or have regard to what was done by the friends of his life. Both are honourable to him, the humiliated, and redound with glory in his ignominious end. Hear the witnesses of his death. One, indeed, of the crucified malefactors railed on him, incredible and unnatural as this rude levity, this wanton coarseness may seem; but then the other more intelligent, better disposed, and more feeling fellow-sufferer declares the innocence of Jesus, and rebukes the first: 196“Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we, indeed, justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds, but this man hath done nothing amiss.” This sinner, brought to reflection and thoughtfulness, turns full of confidence to the dying Friend of man, and honours him by the intreaty full of faith and hope, “Lord; remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom?'

The people, indeed, who, urged by curiosity, passed by in throngs, and whose inflamed passions were not even yet appeased, since their dreadful cry “Away with him, crucify him,” had been complied with, blasphemed, and “wagged their heads at him” in scorn; yes, even elders of the nation, scribes, and chief-priests could mock him, could mock his dignity and power, and that protection above, in which he trusted, at the very moment when that blood was upon them, which they had wildly and barbarously called down on themselves and their children. But on the other hand the sight of his martyred form, his tranquillity and resignation, his magnanimity and dignity in the pangs of death, moved many a heart of those who beheld the terrible spectacle; and the voice of God in nature struck many a conscience of those, who had consented to the death of the innocent. “All the people,” our text relates, when they saw what was done, “smote their breasts and returned.” The soldiers, indeed, joined in the mockeries and 197revilings of the Jews, in the same unfeeling manner as they parted his garments amongst them, and cast lots for them under the eyes of Him that was dying: but then their captain felt the silent power of suffering innocence, the irresistible force of that greatness of soul, which knows how to encounter death itself, and praised God, and said, “Certainly this was a righteous man.” And all who watched the cross together with him, “when they saw the earthquake and those things that were done, they feared greatly,” and, carried away by a natural feeling of reverence for the invisible God, exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God.” Oh, what honourable testimonies, when we reflect, that they were uttered by the mouth of a Roman and a soldier, by the dying voice of a penitent criminal, and also by a part of the people whom the death of the Just One had called together! Now was fulfilled what the Lord had said before to this people; “When ye have lifted up the Son of Man, then shall ye know that I am be, and that I do nothing of myself, but as my Father hath taught me I speak these things2020   John viii. 28..” And to all this let us add the resolute act of the friends of Jesus Christ, which the Evangelist records. He who died as a malefactor, should be buried also as such; and no doubt his irreconcileable foes with great satisfaction intended for him this ignominy also, that his corpse should 198waste in corruption on Calvary. But he who was to have “made his grave with the wicked,” resembled “the rich in his death.” Two generous, honest men, members of the high court which had condemned Jesus, but secret reverers of his deeds and his words, Joseph and Nicodemus, who had not assented to the counsel of their brethren, besought Pilate for the sacred body; who willingly makes some little reparation for the evil he had done through fear of man, and is glad, by granting their request, to reconcile himself, at least in some degree, to his heart and conscience, having, up to the fatal moment of decision, always spoken for Jesus. At once it is, as if all the shame were removed and changed into honour, as the anguish of sorrow and the agony of death subsided at once into peaceful stillness and the repose of a refreshing slumber. Oh, truly, truly, already in death was Jesus Christ glorified and highly honoured, and to him and his glorious burial, the completest application may be made of that prophetic word, “His rest shall be honourable.” And now the body of Jesus is interred, as that of a person of distinction; a new family sepulchre receives it, and is thereby consecrated; precious spices and costly ointments are prepared for embalming the holy dead, and his friends, both men and women, are allowed to assemble at the sacred place, where he shall sleep.

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3dly. And yet, my hearers, the tribute paid to his glory in death by friends and enemies, by the tongues of men and the voice of nature, seems smaller and of less importance, when we turn our thoughts to that which he himself spake and did in the last moments, by which he himself, when actually dying, crowned his character and his life, and acquired a just title to perpetual renown and the most reverential memory.

Look back once more with your mind’s eye to the cross of the expiring Redeemer, and when you there hear his last words, admire his last directions, and bow yourselves low before the high dignity of his mind and heart; Oh how soon the tauntings of the rough multitude, the contumely of his virulent haters, and the insults which were heaped upon him throughout his death and his rejection, are forgotten! How the darkness of night disperses, which shrouds the place of the death of Jesus Christ in mourning, before the holy splendour of virtue, which proceeds from the sublime Sufferer, the great and glorious Being put to death! For—name a more sublime, a more honourable death, than that which Jesus Christ died!

If we did not even once think of that which concerns us so much, and which makes this day a festival; that he gave up his life, freely and without sin, gave it up for the truth of God, for the great and momentous cause of the enlightening and redemption 200of the world; that he, as a Martyr and Saviour shed his blood and bowed his head to death; if we did not at all think of this,—Oh, let us hear the manifestations of that Divine mind which he maintains to the last moment of life, the expressions of that high tranquillity of soul and conscience, which remains his beautiful imperishable jewel, of that benevolent love, which treats and blesses both friend and foe with equal gentleness and forbearance, of that most firm faith in God and a state of endless duration, which strengthens his heart and encourages him in the last struggle; let us but admire this, and we shall confess all more honourable to him than the glorious signs of mourning nature; more honourable to him than the costly burial which was allotted him was his deportment in death itself, and that which he said and did in the last moments. With what inward peace does he, who could say in the last evening of his life, “Father, I have glorified thee on earth and finished the work which thou gayest me to do,” now look back from the hill of his cross upon his active and laudable, his holy and blessedly completed course of life! with what tranquillity of soul does he, in sight of death, of eternity which brings all things to light, and of him who maketh just retribution, at length cry out, “It is finished!” I have accomplished that which I had to perform, I have undergone that which I had to suffer. With what incomparable 201love for his enemies does he, the much and grievously afflicted, the man of sorrows, and at the same time the man without sin, pray for those who prepared for him the cup of death, and treated him as criminals alone are treated! “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

With what gracious kindness, full of sympathy and consolation, he speaks. to the dying man near him, who had a foresight of a higher destiny and an anticipation of immortality, and says, “Verily, I say unto thee, to-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” With what tender, grateful, and, to the last, faithful affection, does the expiring Son look upon his mother, bowed down with grief and speechless, in order to mitigate the pain, when now the sword went through her soul, and to heal her breaking heart with the word of comfort, “Woman, behold thy son.” It was John, his most intimate and faithful follower, to whom he bequeathed the precious legacy, “Behold thy mother.”

Lastly, with what unshaken faith his heart rests in the moment of his last agony on Him, whom he called Father, and whom he taught men to call Father, and on futurity and eternity, for which he waited, and to which he pointed, as long as he had walked on earth. God is still his Father, and into his hand, the hand of Almighty power and grace, he commends his spirit. There he is not lost, there no evil touches him, there he is safe from the troubles 202and cares of mortality, and delivered from the grave’s consuming power. “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

These were his last words, the triumph of his faith, of his trust in God, of his hope. He then “bowed his head and expired.” Thus he departed into the rest above which awaited him, into the immortality in which he trusted, into the glory which the Father had given him before the world was. Yes, more glorifying than the mourning, with which nature solemnly celebrated his end, more glorifying than the declarations and actions of the witnesses of his death and the friends of his life, was his death itself, and that which he said and did in his last moments. His sentiments and faith in death were the crown of his Divine life.

Let me, my hearers, conclude this discourse with a short exhortation in three parts. The first; If we regard the death of the Redeemer in this point of view, then the day which celebrates him can surely not be a day of tears, a mourning solemnity; then this commemoration of his death and burial becomes a festival of his glory. Praise God, therefore, not only for the whole life, but also for the death of his Holy Son. Thank God and praise his glorious name, because Jesus Christ so honourably attained his end, because, even before he died, be was crowned with praise and glory, after the endurance of pain and sorrow, ignominy and humiliation, 203and because his death was the diadem of his life.

Let not pain and grief,—no, let a holy joy possess and penetrate our minds, when we think of the hour in which Jesus Christ finished his work, and God glorified him who had glorified God on earth.

The second exhortation; Mourn not for the good, whose end was peaceful and blessed, as that of Jesus Christ, lament not the dead who lived and died worthy of future fame, as be was. Who does not now think of his own departed, of their life and their end, of their last struggle, their last words, their last blessing, and of the moment when they closed their eyes, of the terrible moment when their coffin was closed, and their remains let down into the silent chamber of corruption? Oh, if they lived religiously, and were virtuously disposed, and feared God, and did what was right, if they crowned their godly life by faith and hope, by love and fidelity in death, so that their memory was blessed amongst us; then let the tear of pious recollection, of grateful love, of melancholy feeling flow this day; but mourn not for them who sleep in peace, deplore not those who finished their course, and fought the good fight, and preserved their faith unto the end. Their rest is also honourable, and how desirable in these times of disorder and trouble, in these regions of wretchedness and grief! Happy they, whom God has perfected! Blessed are all they who died 204in the Lord! To them truly was “the day of death better than the day of their birth.”

The last exhortation: Mindful of Him, yea, mindful of thee, thou perfected and glorified Mediator, and of thy holy and blessed death, we have all doubtless but one wish, That we may die thy death, O thou Righteous! that our end may be as thine was, Holy and Blessed! Oh let us also finish that which God has given us to do; let us also keep the faith, and a good conscience, and a clean heart, even to the end; and whether the end shall arrive soon or late, let us also then depart with a forgiving benevolent temper, let us resignedly and quietly endure what it may then be our lot to suffer, let us also with confidence and faith recommend our spirit to the Father, and full of joyful hope pass into the land of eternal peace. Then, O then we die thy death, thou Just One! Then will our end also be as thine. Amen.

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