« AnteriorContinuar »
eclipse of the sun, because that cannot happen but in the new moon; whereas this was at the feast of the Passover, which was always celebrated at the full moon. It is taken notice of by several ancient writers, both Heathen and Christian; and Tertullian expressly declares, that it was mentioned in the Roman archives.* From whence it appears, that it was not confined to the land of Judæa, but extended itself, as it is expressed by St. Luke, over all the earth.†
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani ?" that is to say, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" We are not from hence to imagine, that Jesus meant by these words to express any distrust of God's favor and kindness towards him, or any apprehension that the light of his countenance was withdrawn from him. This was imppossible. He well knew, that under that load of affliction which for the salvation of mankind, he voluntarily took upon himself, he was still his heavenly Father's "beloved Son, in whom he was well pleased." These expressions therefore of seeming despondence, were nothing more than the natural and almost unavoidable effusions of a mind tortured with the accutest pain, and hardly conscious of the complaints it uttered; of which many similar instances occur in the Psalms. Indeed these words themselves are the beginning of the 22d Psalm, which perhaps our Lord recited throughout, or at least undoubtedly meant to apply the whole of it to himself. And this very Psalm, although in the outset it breaths an air of dejection and complaint, yet ends in expressing the firmest trust in the mercy and the protection of God. And our Lord himself, when he breathed his last, committed himself with boundless confidence to the care of the Almighty. "Father into thy hands I commend my spirit."
Then some of them that stood there, when they heard him crying out "Eli, Eli," deceived by the similitude of the sound, said "This man calleth for Elias. And
Tertull. Apol. c. 21, t Luke, xxiii. 44.
Luke, xxiii. 46.
straitway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink." This as St. John tells us, was done in consequence of Jesus saying, "I thirst." The rest said, "Let be; let us see whether Elias will come to save him." "Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, gave up the ghost." This was about the ninth hour, or three in the afternoon. And as he was crucified at the third hour, or at nine in the morning, he had hung no less than six hours in agonies upon the cross. And this, let it never be forgotten, was for us men, and for our salvation! "And behold the vail of the temple was rent in twain, from the top to bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept, arose and came out of the graves after his ressurrection, and went into the holy city, and appear
ed unto many.
Such were the convulsions into which the whole frame of nature was thrown, when the Lord of all yielded up his life.
The vail of the temple, we are told, in the first place, was rent in twain, from the top to the bottom.
The Jewish temple was divided into several parts ; the most sacred was called the Holiest, or the Holy of Holies, into which none but the high-priest might enter, and that only once in a year. It was considered as a type of heaven; and was separated from what was called the holy place, or the place where divine wor ship was celebrated, by a curtain of rich tapestry, which is here called the vail of the temple. This vail, when our Saviour expired, was rent in twain, from the top to the bottom; by which was signified the abolition of the whole Mosaic ritual, the removal of the partition between Jew and Gentile, and the admission of the lat ter (on the terms of the Gospel covenant) into heaven, or the Holy of Holies. "And the earth did quake, and the rocks rent." This earthquake is mentioned by heathen authors as having, in the reign of Tiberius, de
stroyed twelve cities in Asia.* "And the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of their graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many."-Who the holy persons were which then arose from their graves must be matter of mere conjecture; but most probably some of those who had believed in Christ, such as old Simeon, and whose persons were known in the city.
Now when the centurion, and they that were with him watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this man was the Son of God."
The centurion here mentioned was the Roman captain, who, with a guard of soldiers was ordered to attend the crucifixion of Jesus, and see the sentence executed. He placed himself, as St. Mark informs us, over against Jesus. From that station he kept his eye constantly fixed upon him, and observed with attention every thing he said or did. And when he saw the meekness, the patience, the resignation, the firmness, with which our Lord endured the most excruciating torments; when he heard him at one time fervently praying for his murderers, at another disposing with dignity and authority of a place in paradise to one of his fellow sufferers; and at length, with that confidence which nothing but conscious virtue and conscious dignity could at such a time inspire, recommending his spirit into the hands of his heavenly Father; he could not but conclude him to be a most extraordinary person and something more than human. But when moreover he observed the astonishing events that took place when Jesus expired; the agitation into which the whole frame of nature seemed to be thrown; the supernatural darkness, the earthquake, the rending of rocks, the opening of graves; he then burst out involuntarily into that striking exclamation, "Truly this was the Son of God."
* Taciti Annal. 1. ii. c. 47. Suet. in Tib. vi. 448. Plin, Nat. Hist. 1. ii. c. 84.
Here then we have a testimony to the divine character of our Lord, which must be considered as in the highest degree impartial and incorrupt: the honest unsolicited testimony of a plain man, a soldier and a heathen; the testimony, not of one who was prejudiced in favour of Christ and his religion, but of one, who by habit and education, was probably strongly prujudiced against them.
And it is not a little remarkable, that the contemplation of the very same scene which so forcibly struck the Roman centurion, has extorted a similar confession from one of the most eloquent of modern sceptics, who has never been accused of too much credulity, and who, though he could bring himself to resist the evidence both of prophecy and of miracles, and was therefore certainly no bigot to christianity, yet was overwhelmed with the evidence arising from the character, the sufferings, and the death of Jesus. I allude to the celebrated comparison between the death of Socrates and the death of Jesus, drawn by the masterly pen of Rousseau. The passage is probably well known to a large part of this audience; but it affords so forcible and so unprejudiced a testimony to the divinity of Christ, and bears so striking a resemblance to that of the centurion, that I shall be pardoned, I trust, for bringing it once more to your recollection, and introducing it here as the conclusion of this Lecture.
"Where, (says he,) is the man, where is the philosopher, who can act, suffer, and die, without weakness and without ostentation? When Plato describes his imaginary just man, covered with all the opprobrium of guilt, yet at the same time meriting the sublimest rewards of virtue, he paints precisely every feature in the character of Jesus Christ. The resemblance is so striking that all the fathers have observed it, and it is impossible to be deceived in it. What prejudice, what blindness must possess the mind of that man, who dares to compare the son of Sophroniscus with the Son of Mary! What a distance is there between the one and the other! The death of Socrates philosophizing calmly
with his friends, is the most gentle that can be wished; that of Jesus expiring in torments, insulted, derided, and reviled by all the people, the most horrible that can be imagined. Socrates taking the poisoned cup, bleses the man who presents it to him; and who, in the very act of presenting it melts into tears. Jesus, in the midst of the most agonizing tortures, prays for his enraged persecutors. Yes, if the life and death of Socrates are those of a sage, the life and death of Jesus are those of a GOD."
IN the preceding Lecture we closed the dismal scene of our Lord's unparalleled sufferings; on which it is impossible to reflect without astonishment and horror, and without asking ourselves this question, Whence came it to pass that so innocent, so excellent, so divine a person as the beloved Son of God, in whom he was well pleased, should be permitted by his heavenly Father to be exposed to such indignities and cruelties, and finally to undergo the exquisite torments of the cross? The answer is, that the occasion of all this is to be sought for in our own sinful nature, in the depravi ty and corruption of the human heart, in the extreme wickedness of every kind which overspread the whole.. world at the time of our Lord's appearance upon earth, and which must necessarily have subjected the whole human race to the severest effects of the Divine displeasure, had not some atonement, some expiation, some satisfaction to their offended Maker, been interposed between them and the punishment so justly due to them. This expiation, this atonement, the Son of God himself voluntarily consented to become, and paid the