« AnteriorContinuar »
form, let me entreat you, my brethren, to make some part of this day a season of self-examination; of inquiry into the present state of your feelings towards God, and the tenor of your past conduct before Him; of making a solemn resolution for the amendment of your future life, and of earnest private prayer to Him, without whose help and guidance, even our best future resolutions will be as vain as those which have preceded them. The return of days like these are as milestones in our passage through the world, but they differ from such way-marks, inasmuch as they respect the past alone. They tell us how far we have advanced, but they leave uncertain how short a course we may yet have to travel. Yet one thing they teach us, that our journey cannot be long, that we have most of us already passed too many stages to have many yet behind, while a retrospect of those which we have gone through, may assure us of the exceeding shortness even of those months and years, and tens of years, which as we advance towards them, appear so interminable.
Under the mildest suns and the most temperate climates of the earth, our course must be short, and its termination may, at any time be immediate. But here, where the lamp of life, even under the most favourable circumstances, must burn so rapidly, surrounded at every step with deaths and diseases, and placed under the constant influence of the most awful and destructive phenomena of nature, can we yet hope to prolong our days for ever? can we yet forget that God who only can defend us against the sun by day, the moon by night, the arrows of the sky, and the hand of the armed enemy? Here, if any where, in the midst of life we are in death! And of whom may we seek for succour, save of Thee, Oh Lord, who, for our sins, art justly displeased! Yet, Oh Lord most Holy, Oh Lord most Mighty, Oh Holy and Merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death! So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom! And, Oh Lord most Holy, Oh God most Mighty, Thou most worthy Judge eternal, suffer us not at our last hour for any pains of death to fall from Thee.
[Preached at Tanjore, March 26, 1826.)
Rev. i. 17, 18. He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not;
I am the first and the last; I am He that liveth and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, amen; and have the keys of Hell and of Death.
These were the gracious expressions of our glorified Lord to His faithful and most favoured disciple, when in the prison of Patmos, and amid the solitary devotions of a Christian Sabbath, the apostle St. John was visited by 6+ One like unto the Son of Man." The features yet remained distinguishable to the eye of ancient friendship, of Him whom he had known on earth as the lowly and the poor, whose afflictions he had shared, whose journeyings he had followed, and who with His dying lips had commended to His filial care the desolate old age of His mother! But He was now arrayed in long and kingly robes, His girdle was of gold, His eyes gleamed as the fire, His limbs were bright as burning brass, His voice as deep and tuneable as the sound of many waters. Seven stars were in His grasp; before His face a flaming sword went forth; and His countenance was as the sun when its light is strongest. “Fear not,” He said, as His ancient follower sank down in terror at His feet, “I am the first and the last, I am He that liveth and was dead, and be
hold I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of hell and of death."
In these few words are expressed or implied all the several and peculiar doctrines on which the Christian builds his hope of a life to come; and I have selected the passage for our devout consideration this day, because I know few other passages in Scripture which so concisely, so forcibly, and so majestically express the belief by which we are distinguished fom the Jews, the Mussulmans, and the Heathen. The eternity of Christ, with which His Divinity is closely connected, is expressly stated in the opening member of the sentence. His death and resurrection are no less explicitly laid down in the assertion that He “ liveth and was dead;" and the concluding proposition, that“ He hath the keys of hell and of death,” would be unintelligible on any other principle than that it is by His power, and through His merits only, that we are ourselves, in like manner, to burst the prison-house of the grave; that it is by His power, and through His merits only that the resurrection thus obtained for us can be a subject of hope and thankfulness.
Each of these distinct topics would afford abundant and useful matter for a sermon; but it shall be
endeavour at present to point out, so far as the time allows, how they materially confirm and illustrate each other, and more particularly connected with the blessed event which we are this day assembled to celebrate, how much both of probability, of reasonableness, of religious and moral consistency is derived, from a faith in the Divinity and atonement of our Lord, to the doctrine of His resurrection and our own.
It is certain that, unless the resurrection of Christ be true, His religion is itself a lie. This is the alternative expressly admitted by St. Paul; “ If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain ; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished."* The prophets had foretold, not only that the Messiah should die a bloody and painful death, but also that His soul should not remain in hell, neither should His holy person see corruption.* To this resurrection within three days Jesus had repeatedly appealed, as the fullest testimony of His divine commission, the crowning and consummating evidence of His religion. If, therefore, Jesus had not actually risen again, the conclusion must have followed, both that He had failed in one most essential and striking characteristic of the predicted Christ, whose character He assumed ; and that, in expressly foretelling so remarkable an event, and foretelling it in vain, He had proved Himself, beyond all shadow of defence, to be either deceived or a deceiver. It followed, that such who had grounded their hope of a future life on His promise, had but reared a baseless fabric; and that such as hoped for pardon of their sins in confidence of His intercession, had been treasuring up for themselvs the bitterest disappointment, if there were indeed another world and a day of dreadful retribution. Accordingly it shall be my endeavour, in the first place, to lay before you, in the least possible compass, some few of those arguments which appear to me most convincing for the reality of that extraordinary event which the apostles witnessed to the world, and for the sincerity of those persons who so boldly and constantly proclaimed it.
* 1 Cor. xv. 17, 18.
It is on this latter foundation, indeed, that the faith of Christians reposes. The reality of Christ's resurrection we receive on their testimony alone, and a moment's consideration may convince us that it is their sincerity only which can be called in question. It was a point on which they could not be mistaken. If their account be true, it was no single nor transient visit which their crucified Master paid them after His resurrection. He was in their company, at short and uncertain intervals, during forty days; He ate and drank in their presence; He allowed them to examine His person and His wounds; He discoursed with them in His usual manner; and, when He departed from them at length, He departed in the broad light of day, ascending upwards before their eyes till the intervening clouds prevented them from observing His further progress. To say that they were unlearned and
* Psalm xiv, 10.
superstitious persons, is to speak very widely from the purpose. Unlearned and credulous persons are as competent judges of the facts for which the apostles vouched, as the most skilful and cautious naturalist. It needs no physical knowledge to use the hands and eyes; it is not necessary that a man should be acquainted with the laws of refraction or electricity to enable him to swear to his having seen, in broad day-light, the person of a friend whom he had for three years together continually attended; and the circumstances under which our Lord exhibited Himself were such, if they are rightly described, as to render vain and impracticable all kinds of phantasmagoric illusion.
Let us see, then, what arguments the apostles were enabled to advance to convince mankind that they were not the preachers of a cunningly devised fable, and to gain credit for a fact so extraordinary as that a person, confessedly put to a public and shameful death, had resumed His life, had returned from His grave, and was at that time, under God, the invisible Governor of all things.
And here it must not be forgotten that the very improbability of this story, paradoxical as the assertion may seem, is, to a certain extent, a presumption of its truth. It is not like the invention of a religious cheat, or of a man or body of men, (some of them, to judge from their writings, of no inconsiderable talent and attainment) who were anxious, by a ready lie, to sustain the credit of a ruined cause, and to save themselves from sinking into that insignificance from which the eloquence and renown of their Master had originally raised them. A less daring forgery might have been sufficient for such a purpose ; nor is it likely that, had they been impostors, and been anxious in the name of Jesus to carry on the imposture which He began, they would have ventured on a tale so wild as that of His actual re-appearance in the body, when a pretended interview with His ghost would have better suited the prejudices both of their own countrymen, and of the Gentiles. Nor is this all, since as neither their countrymen nor the Gentiles had any pre-disposition in favour of their story; since, as on the other hand, the attributing such