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ransom required for our deliverance by his own death upon the cross. "He gave himself for us, as the Scriptures express it, an offering and a sacrifice to God. He was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. He suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; with his stripes we were healed. In his own blood he washed us from our sins; in his own body he bore our sins upon the tree, that we being dead unto sin might live unto righteousness."* This is that great doctrine of R EDEMPTION, which is so fully explained and so strongly insisted on in various parts of the sacred writings, which forms so essential a part of the Christian system, and is the grand foundation of all our hopes of pardon and acceptance at the great day of retribution.
This mode of vicarious punishment, this substitution of an innocent victim in the room of an offending person, can be no surprise to any one that reflects on the well known practice of animal sacrifices for the expiation of guilt, which prevailed universally, not only among the Jews, but throughout the whole heathen world; and which evidently proves it to have been the established opinion of mankind, that (as the apostle expresses it)" without blood there could be no remission."+
Still it must be acknowledged, that in the stupendous work of our redemption, there is something far beyond the power of our limited faculties to comprehend.
That the Son of God himself should feel such compassion for the human race, for the wretched inhabitants of this small spot in the vast system of the universe, as voluntarily to undertake the great and arduous and painful task of rescuing them from sin and misery, and eternal death; that for this purpose he should condescend to quit the bosom of his Father and the joys of heaven;
Ephes. v. 2. Rev. xiii. 8. 1 Peter iii. 18. Isaiah liii. 5. Rev, i. 5. 1 Pet. ii. 24.
Heb. ix. 22.
should divest himself of the glory that he had before the world began; should not only take upon himself the nature of a man but the form of a servant; should sub. mit to a low and indigent condition, to indignities, to injuries and insults, and at length to a disgraceful and excruciating death, is indeed a mystery, but it is a mystery of kindness and of mercy; it is as the apostle truly calls it, "a love that passeth knowledge;"* a degree of tenderness, pity, and condescension, to which we have neither words nor conceptions in any degree equal. It is impossible for us not to cry out on this occasion with the Psalmist, "Lord, what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the Son of man, that thou visitest him?"t
But what effect should this reflection have upon our hearts? Should it dispose us to join with the disputer of this world in doubting or denying the wisdom of the Almighty in the mode of our redemption, and in quarrelling with the means he has made use of to save us, because they appear to our weak understandings strange and unaccountable? Shall the man who is sinking under a mortal disease, refuse the medicine which shall infallibly restore him, because he is ignorant of the ingredients of which it is composed? Shall the criminal who is condemned to death, reject the pardon that is unexpectedly offered to him, because he cannot conceive in what manner and by what means it was obtained for him? Shall we who are all criminals in the sight of God, and are all actually (till redeemed by Christ) under the sentence of death; shall we strike back the arm that is graciously stretched out to save us, merely because the mercy offered to us is so great that we are unable to grasp with our understandings the whole nature and extent of it? Shall the very magnitude, in short, of the favour conferred upon us be converted into an argument against receiving it; and shall we determine not to be saved, because God chooses to do it, not in our way, but his own? That our redemption by Christ. is a mystery, a great and astonishing mystery, we rea* Ephes. iii. 19.
† Psalm viii. 4.
dily acknowledge. But this was naturally to be expected in a work of such infinite difficulty as that of rendering the mercy of God in pardoning mankind, consistent with the exercise of his justice, and the support of his authority, as the moral Governor of the world.Whatever could effect this must necessarily be something far beyond the comprehension of our narrow understandings; that is, must necessarily be mysterious. And therefore this very circumstance, instead of shocking our reason, and staggering our faith, ought to confirm the one, and satisfy the other.
After the crucifixion of our Lord follows the account of his burial by Joseph of Arimathea, who went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus; and having obtained it, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. On this I shall make no other observation, than that it was the exact fulfilment of a prophecy in Isaiah, where, speaking of the promised Messiah, or Christ, it is said," he shall make his grave with the rich."* And accordingly Joseph, we are told, was a rich man, and an honourable counsellor.†
Now the next day that followed the day of the preparation (that is on the Saturday) the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, "Sir, we remember that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, after three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night and steal him away, and say unto the people, he is risen from the dead; so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch, go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch."
Here we see the chief priests using every possible precaution to prevent a fraud. For this purpose they went to Pilate to beg for a guard, immediately after our
* Isaiah liii. 9.
Matth. xxvii. 57. Mark xv. 43.
Lord was buried. It is indeed here said that they went the next day that followed the day of the preparation, the day on which Jesus was crucified. This looks at the first view, as if the sepulchre had remained one whole night without a guard. But this was not so.The chief priests went to Pilate as soon as the sun was set on Friday, the day of the preparation and crucifixion; for then began the following day, or Saturday; as the Jews always began to reckon their day from the preceding evening. They had a guard therefore as soon as they possibly could, after the body was deposited in the sepulchre; and one cannot help admiring the wisdom of Providence in so disposing events, that the extreme anxiety of these men, to prevent collusion, should be the means of adding the testimony of sixty unexceptionable witnesses (the number of the Roman soldiers on guard) to the truth of the resurrection, and of establishing the reality of it beyond all power of contradiction. It is only necessary to add on this head, that the circumstance of sealing the stone was a precaution of which several instances occur in ancient times, particularly in the prophecy of Daniel, where we read, that when Daniel was thrown into the den of lions, a stone was brought and laid upon the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords, that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel.*
The chief priests having taken these precautions, waited probably with no small impatience for the third day after the crucifixion, when Jesus had foretold that he should rise again, but when they made no doubt that they should find the body in the sepulchre, and convict him of deceit and imposture.
On the other hand, it might naturally be imagined that the disciples, after having received from their Lord repeated assurances that he would rise on the third day from the dead, would anxiously look for the arrival of that day, with a certain confidence that these promises would be fulfilled, and that they should see
Dan, vi. 17.
their beloved Master rescued from the grave, and restored to life.
But this seems to have been by no means the real state of their minds. It does not appear that they entertained any hopes of Jesus's resurrection. Shocked and confounded, and dismayed at finding him condemned to the ignominious death of the cross, they forgot every thing he had said to them respecting his rising again. When therefore he was led to punishment, they all forsook him and fled. Most of them seem to have kept themselves concealed during the whole time of Jesus being in the grave, and to have given themselves up to sorrow and despair. They had not even the courage or the curiosity to go to the sepulchre on the third day to see whether the promised event had taken place or When two of them going to Emmaus met Jesus, their conversation plainly shewed that they were disap pointed in their expectations. "We trusted (said they) that it had been he which have delivered Israel;"* and and when the women who had been at the sepulchre told the apostles that Jesus was risen, "their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not."†
The women, it is true, came to the sepulchre early in the morning of the third day; but they came to embalm the dead body, and of course not with the hope of seeing a living one.
So far then is perfectly clear, that the disciples were not at all disposed to be over credulous on this occasion. Their prejudices and prepossessions lay the contrary way; and nothing but the most irresistible evidence would be able to convince them of the fact, which they appeared to think in the highest degree improbable.
Let us now then see what this evidence of the resurrection was. In the beginning of the 28th chapter, on which we are now entering, St. Matthew informs us, "that in the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn towards the first day of the week; that is, according to our way of reckoning, very early on the Sunday morning (our Lord having been crucified on the Friday) t Luke xxiv. 11,
*Luke xxiv. 21.