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I. That the distinguishing merit of Christ arises from his having redeemed us to God by his blood.
II. That this part of his character engages the attention and the adoration of the heavenly world.
I. That which distinguishes the character of Christ from all other beings, is his condescension for the salvation of men.
1. The Scriptures uniformly teach us to look upon the death of Christ in a light totally distinct from that of any other person. Considered in itself, it is not at all extraordinary; for in every age we find examples of those who have sealed the divine truth with their blood. We learn from the New Testament that such was the end of Stephen, of James, of Paul, and of Peter. It is one of those trials which Jesus warned his disciples to expect; insomuch, that to be prepared at his call to surrender their lives was an inseparable condition of becoming his followers. But to none of their sufferings were such purposes assigned, such effects ascribed, as are uniformly ascribed to the sufferings of the Saviour.
“ Precious,” indeed, “ in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints ;” but it is never represented as having the remotest connexion with the remission of sins. They are never represented as set forth for a propitiation. Where is the death of Peter, or of Paul, spoken of in such language as this ?—“ He who knew no sin was made sin for us; that we might become the righteousness of
God through Him:"*_“ He laid on him the iniquity of us all : the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we were healed :”” “He was delivered for our offences, and rose again for our justification :” 1-not to mention innumerable other passages, equally clear and decisive ? What language, that bears the least resemblance to this, is applied to any other subject ? The great apostle speaks of Christ's dying behaviour as a part of his character which was altogether inimitable : “Was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul ?”
2. Accordingly, the inspired writers never mention the death of Christ without emotions of devout rapture. The prayer of Paul for his christian converts was, that they might “ know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge. ” || It is the grand argument which they employ, to enforce the obligation of christians to love each other, “even as Christ also hath loved us, and given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour.” “Herein is love,” John exclaims, “not that we loved him, but that he loved us, and gave himself for us. "** This love was the motive which, with a sweet but irresistible violence, impelled them to devote themselves entirely to his service. “ The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge,
* 2 Cor. v. 21.
† Isaiah liï. 5, 6.
Rom. iv. 25.
that if Christ died for all, then were all dead : and he died, that they who live should not henceforth live to themselves, but to him who died for them.”* As the morality of the gospel is distinguished from that of the world, by being founded in love; so the devout contemplation of the love of Christ is the grand principle which kindles and inflames it.
3. When the great Ruler of the world was pleased to accomplish his secret purpose of reconciling the sinful race of man to himself, by the pardon of their sins and the renewal of their natures, he saw fit to appoint his Son to be their surety, to assume their nature, and to die in their stead : “Great is the mystery of godliness; God manifest in the flesh.t Instead of endeavouring to explore all the secret reasons of this wonderful economy, it rather becomes us thankfully to accept, and devoutly to adore it. It is sufficient for us to perceive, that no method within our comprehension could have equally provided for the display, at once, of his justice and of his mercy; his spotless purity, and his infinite compassion. In making his Son the sacrifice, justice appears in its utmost splendour ; while, in freely “giving him up for us all,” mercy appears in its most attractive form.
The highest lessons of purity and holiness are learned at the foot of the cross; and if we are desirous of discovering an effectual antidote to the love of sin, it must be the serious and steady contemplation, by faith, of Christ crucified.
* 2 Cor. v. 14, 15.
+ 1 Tim. iii. 16.
4. Salvation through the blood of the Redeemer, though it forms the distinguishing feature of the christian system, was not peculiar to it. It entered into every dispensation of religion communicated by God. A multitude of types and figures were employed, to shadow forth the great expiatory sacrifice, previous to his manifestation in the flesh. He was the Paschal Lamb whose "blood sprinkled on the posts and lintels of the doors,”* secured the families of Israel from the destroying angel, in the night when God slew the first-born of Egypt: “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.”of He was prefigured by all those burnt-offerings which were daily offered in the temple, and especially on the day of annual atonement, when the blood of the victim was carried by the high priest into the holy of holies. The goat that was slain on that occasion, and whose blood was presented before the mercy-seat, prefigured the vicarious death of Christ, and his entrance into heaven; the other, called the scape-goat, which, after having the sins of the congregation *
II. This part of our Saviour's character engages the attention and adoration of the heavenly world. * Exod. xii. 7, 13.
1 Cor. v. 7. Lev. xvi. 2, 20—34. Heb. ix. 7--15.
1. They adore this matchless display of love in his condescending to become man, to endure reproaches and sufferings, and at length to expire on the cross, to rescue the guilty from ruin. These benevolent spirits are not unaccustomed to perform kind offices for men : they often appeared, under the ancient economy, in visible form, to warn, to instruct, and to comfort ; so they are still “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.”* But nothing which they ever performed bore any resemblance to the incarnation and sufferings of Jesus Christ.
On no other occasion did love ever stoop so low, endure so much, or operate in so free and spontaneous a manner. He who assumed nothing in making himself equal with God, “took upon him the form of a servant, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.”ofu In his mysterious descent, he passed by superior orders of being, to invest himself with human flesh. He who was the “ Wonderful, the Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father," condescended to become the “Son given,” and the “child born.” And never was humiliation so deep, never was there reproach and infamy so extreme as that which he endured. Loaded with the most shameful appellations, and persecuted throughout the whole of his life, in its last scenes he was arraigned before Pontius Pilate, smitten on the * Heb. i. 14.
† Phil. ii. 7, 8.