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SERMON VIII.

The Spectators of the Crucifixion smiting their

Breasts.

A COMMUNION SERMON.

LUKE xxiii. 48.

And all the people, that came together to that sight, beholding the

things which were done, smote their breasts and returned.

W exceedingly changeable were the affections and sentiments of the Jews with regard to Jesus of Nazareth! In the course of his ministry, they had expressed the highest esteem of him. They had followed him to the remotest corners of the country, to hear his doctrines and see his works. When he entered into Jerusalem on a publick occa. sion, they received him with loud acclamations. There was a time, when they intended to take him by force and make him their king. But after they perceived, that his kingdom was not of this world, and that their earthly views were likely to be disappointed, their affection soon turned to resentment and hatred. Now they joined in the attempts to de

ChTheir clamarried to exeeir eyes, for him, wagside

stroy him, and were instant with loud voices to have him crucified. When the governüur declared him innocent, and proposed to release him, they spurned the proposal, and repeated their demand, Crucify him ! Crucify him!

Their clamours prevail. He is sentenced to death, and carried to execution. As he hangs on the cross, they feast their eyes, for a time, with the dismal spectacle. They pass by him, wagging their heads, and saying, “ Ah! Thou, who destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself, and come down from the cross.” They cast on him a scornful eye, and say, “He saved others ; himself he cannot save. Let him save himself, if he is a king."

But soon the scene changes. The sun withdraws his beams, and the heavens, at noon day, are wrapt in darkness; the earth trembles; the rocks are rent asunder ; the repositories of the dead are disclos. ed; and the insulted Saviour, commending his spirit to God, bows his head, and, in exclamations of anguish, expires.-Look on the multitude now

-see how they appear. They, who before had triumphed in his misery, are struck with deep astonishment. One says, “ Surely this was a righteous man.” Another says, “ This is the Son of God.And all the people, who came together to that sight, seeing what ħad past, smote their breasts and returned. They came to the execution with eager haste, and bitter zeal. They retired slow, silent, and pensive, with downcast looks and labouring thoughts.

Their smiting their breasts indicated some painful sensations within.

1. It expressed their conviction of the innocence and divinity of this wonderful sufferer.

Whatever sentiments they had entertained in the morning, they had now seen enough to extort

Vou. I.

from them an acknowledgment, that this was a righteous man--this was the Son of God.

This character Jesus had openly assumed ; and with unwavering constancy he maintained it to the last. Through ah his trials he never once dissem. bled it; nor, in the least degree, departed from it, to prevent danger, or avoid death.

Observe his calmness. Amidst the rudest and most provoking insults, he discovered no malice or resentment toward his enemies ; but all his language and behaviour was mild and gentle. When he was reviled, he reviled not again; but commit. ted himself to him who judgeth righteously.

See his benevolence. He attended to the case of his afflicted mother, and commended her to the care of his beloved disciple. He wrought a mir. acle to heal an enemy wounded in the attempt to seize him. He extended mercy to a malefactor, who was suffering by his side. He implored pardon for those, who were torturing him to death, and urged in their behalf, the only excuse which their case could admit-They know not what they

do.

Consider his humble piety. He maintained his confidence in God; called him his God and his Father; and into his hands committed his spirit.

Such distinguished piety, benevolence and constancy, under trials like his, shewed him to be a righteous man-to be more than man.

And heaven itself bare solemn testimony in his favour.

The darkness, which overspread the land, was evidently supernatural. It happened at the full moon, when there could be no natural eclipse of the sun. The total darkness, which, in a natural eclipse, can last but a few minutes, here continued for the space of three hours. At the time of his death, the great curtain of the temple, which sep

arated the most holy place from the common sanc. tuary, was torn from top to bottom. The earth was thrown into convulsions. The rocks were rent in pieces, and the graves, made in the rocks, were of course laid open. The dead bodies there deposited were exposed to view, and many of them rose after his resurrection. .

The concurrence of so many miraculous events at the time of his death, forced on the minds of the spectators a full conviction, that he was the Son of God.

2. Their smiting their breasts was expressive of their compassion for this innocent and glorious sufferer.

Their rage, which had been wrought up to the highest strain, now began to subside, and give way to the tender feelings of humanity. They had discharged their malice, they had seen Jesus bow his head in death, and heard him groan his last; and their pity could sleep no longer. It was natural for them to reflect, how barbarously he had been used, and how serene he appeared-how horridly he had been injured, and how meek was his temper-how cruelly they had mocked him, and how fervently he prayed for them-how confidently they had declared him guilty, and demanded his death ; and yet how innocent, how worthy of life. Here was the malicious execution of an innocent man. Here was goodness in its real perfection, suffering death in all its tortures. . Amidst these reflections, which must now rush into their minds, no wonder if compassion swelled too big for utterance-no wonder if, in the anguish of pity, they smote their breasts and returned.

3. This action expressed a deep remorse of conscience.

When they had seen such convincing demon. stration of the innocence of Jesus, and felt the return of natural compassion, they could not well avoid some reflections like these :-Why did we so clamorously demand his death? Why so rashly and resolutely urge his crucifixion ?-Why did we not consider and examine, before we acted ? Why did we not move for his deliverance ; at least accept it, when it was offered ?-How could we prefer an infamous robber to this holy and just one ? How shall we forgive ourselves in being so active to procure the death of one in whom no fault could be found ?

With such selfupbraiding thoughts, they withdrew from the execution. The declaration of the soldiery, that he was the Son of God, and the deep sense of anguish which the spectators expressed in smiting their breasts, may justly lead us to conclude, that conviction, compassion and remorse, now laboured in their minds.

We see what a mighty effect the sight of Christ's sufferings had on the multitude : Whether it ope. rated in any of them to a real repentance, we are not informed. But from the great success, which the preaching of the Apostles soon after had among the Jews, it is probable, that what they saw, heard and felt, on the day of the crucifixion, prepared the minds of many for a more ready reception of the

gospel.

“ A proper view of the sufferings of Christ, in their circumstances and design, has a powerful tendency to move and affect the mind, and dispose it to religion.”

To behold this divine Saviour in the flesh, and to see him expire on the cross, was the lot only of those, who lived in his day. But the frequent contemplation of his death, is a matter of so much importance, that he was pleased, just before he suffered, to appoint an ordinance for the purpose of exhibiting his death to our view, and bringing it to our remembrance.

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