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where divine worship 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 latter (on the terms of the Gospel covenant) into heaven, or the Holy of Holies.
66 And the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.” This earthquake is mentioned by heathen authors as having, in the reign of Tiberius, destroyed twelve cities in Asia.*
66 And the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the 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. l. 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 prejudiced 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, blesses 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."
MATTHEW xxvii.- xxviii.
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 depravity 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 ransom required for our deliverance by his own death upon the cross. “ He
himself for us, 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 redemption, 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.
* Ephes. v. 2. Rev. xiii. 8. 1 Pet. iji, 18. Isa. liii. 5. Rev. i. 5. 1 Pet, ii, 24,
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; should divest himself of the glory that he had before the world began ; should not only take upon himself the nature of man, but the form of a servant ; should submit 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 inan that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man, that thou visitest him ?"}
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 redeem
* Heb. įx. 22,
+ Ephes, iii. 19,
† Psalm viii. 4.
ed 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 readily 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 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
So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.”I
Here we see the chief priests using every possible precau
* Isaiah, liii. 9.
+ Matth. xxvii. 57. Mark av. 43. # Matth. xxvii. 62–66.