John 1.14. And the Word was made flesh
Dearly beloved brethren, from what I have taught you of late, that the humiliation of Christ in the flesh is only a part of the revelation of the WORD OF GOD; and, as it were, one scene in the great act of the Son, who devoted Himself from everlasting to the work of manifesting the grace of God, by taking upon Him the nature of fallen sinners; I would not have you to infer that I do thereby undervalue the veiled and suffering humanity of the Lord, as a most necessary part in that whole, to the comprehension of which I would endeavour to enlarge your mind. The manifestation of the Son of God in flesh fulfilled all that went before in the promises and revelations of God, and prepared the way for all that followed after ; but it was not that which went before, nor was it that which followed after. The covenant with Abraham is something, and the Mosaic economy is something, and the present dispensation of the Spirit is some- thing, and the glorious age that is to come is something each bearing relations most important to, and mainly depend- ing upon, the humiliation and fleshly tabernacle of Christ; incomplete without it, and to be diligently studied in connexion therewith, but not to be set aside nor superseded by the single contemplation of that mystery which is only a stage the great progression of the world’s redemption. Christ in flesh embodied in Himself, and personified, every rite and ordinance, type and symbol, of the former dispensation, which stood in carnal observances. His human soul was the living law, his body was the living temple, his flesh was the living sacrifice, which when he offered upon the cross the law was fulfilled, the sacredness of the temple was profaned, the sin offering was made to cease, and the former dispensation had attained its end of righteousness, and was finished, as having completed the purpose of God in its construction. The Jerusalem on earth had served her purpose when she had brought forth Christ. She was his mother, according to the flesh; and having rejected the holy child Jesus, in whom she held all the promises, and out of whom she had no title to any, the least, privilege, she was cast out, and hath continued vagabond since, without king, or priest, or sceptre, or land, or settled habitation. And this is one great end of the Incarnation, to complete the fleshly temple, which was then beginning and building up of Christ, and of which Christ was the chief corner-stone, as he is also to be brought out, with strength, as the chief corner-stone of the spiritual temple, which at present is building up.
The ceremonial part of the former dispensation was, as it were, the rudiments of the body of Christ, which is the reality of it all, even as his glorious presence in the future dispensation will be the reality of all that we now believe and hope for in the Spirit.—The temple, in all its parts, was but the symbol of his holy human nature; and the word of Jehovah who dwelt in the temple, and gave his oracles there, was but the presentiment of the fulness of the Godhead which was to dwell in him bodily.—The common court of Israel, where the nation might assemble, and in whose precincts the daily sacrifice was offered, with its morning and evening prayer, was the emblem of that communion and converse which he carried on in the presence of all the Jewish people (for he was “a Minister of the Circumcision”) who came to him, in the days of his flesh, offering their prayers for every want, affliction, and distress, which he remedied; and in whose sight, also, he offered the paschal lamb, the great atonement-sacrifice, which for ever perfected all that are sanctified.—The holy place, in which was the candlestick and the shewbread, the two great symbols of light and life, was the emblem of that more close and internal converse to which he admitted his faithful disciples and elected ones, “the royal priesthood and people for a possession,” with whom almost every discourse he held, as it is recorded in John, doth proceed upon his office as the light and life of man.—And for the holiest of all, which was the abode of the Godhead; into this mysterious part of his being, his Divinity, few of his disciples were able to enter, until his flesh had been rent, which, so far from being the revelation, was the veil before the most holy, which needed to be rent in twain upon the cross, that by the Spirit we might enter into the Divinity of Christ, which is the abode of the Father, and our abode through faith; through which veil the Apostles had occasional glimpses, yet could they not wholly penetrate the mystery, until the Spirit was given; for which reason it was needful that he should go away. And, dear brethren, it seemeth good to me to warn you, that at this time the clear insight into his Divinity appears to be departing from the church, whereof they hold not the high discourse, nor shew the deep and full conviction, which gave such glory to the days of other times.— And, finally, to complete this emblem of, and preparation for, the Incarnation; as there was a court for the Gentiles, where they might behold, though at a distance, and witness the going in and out, and hear as it were the rumour of the holy things, so our Lord might not, while incarnate, nor his ministers, profane the children’s bread, by giving it unto the dogs, though he refused not to feed them with the crumbs, and to encourage them with the hope of a speedy admission into the holiest place. So that our Lord’s flesh was the true temple, the pure and holy temple: as he said, the first time he was revealed unto the people, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again; speaking of the temple of his body.” And in this, I think, consists a great use of the Incarnation,—to interpret the former worship, and realise all its shadows; to fill with meaning all its words, and all its ordinances with power. In this sense the Incarnation was the perfection and accomplishment of religion to the Jew; but to the Christian in this sense it is of a very secondary use, because upon the cross that fleshly tabernacle was rent, and with it that whole dispensation passed away, whereof it was the living reality which had taken life for the very end of being crucified and slain, and carrying flesh to the grave, and with it all fleshly ordinances: now, when the reality ceased, surely much more did this shadow cease.
This leadeth us to observe a second, and yet more ancient, intimation and introduction of the Incarnation, contained in the institution of sacrifices; and a second use of the Incarnation, that thereby he might become the true, the only real, sacrifice. His living body was the temple, his dead body was the sacrifice. From the first creation of man, the word of God unto his creature was, “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shall surely die.” And that the creature died not in the day that he ate thereof, is the greatest mystery upon record. Let any man unfold to me why man died not when he disobeyed the commandment, which said, Thou shalt die when thou dost transgress. In the very staying of that word of God, we, who have been enlightened in the nature of sin, can discover the mystery of the Godhead. It is nothing to say, that from thenceforth, in the word of God, it hath been a constant manner of his to threaten and not perform. That doth only magnify and multiply the difficulty. Why always threatening, and always withholding? What meaneth this recession and shrinking in the Divine mind; in the True One; in the Almighty; in the Unchangeable; in the Creator of the steadfast world? He who hath put all things under such invariable laws and ordinances, doth himself only change and fluctuate! This, the character of the first threatening and every succeeding one, hath explanation only by the separation of the personality of THE WORD. The holy will of God declareth its holy purpose of justice and righteousness; The Word refuseth not to declare it, but addeth thereto words of grace and mercy. Whence come these? From his own independent being and self-existence; from his own unconstrained love; from his everlasting dedication of himself to redeem us: which though the Father was well pleased withal, yet did he continually declare his holiness, and execute it also; which the Word failed not to declare, adding thereto the declaration of mercy and hope descending through the channel of his mediation, by virtue of his own free-will offering of himself.
But that man might know, that the curse of death still depended over him—and that a death by violence, by slaying—sacrifice was instituted, and became universal upon the earth; and that the sacrifice by blood, not the offering of first-fruits merely. The offering of first-fruits was a confession that he held the earth of God’s mercy: but this was not enough; he must offer blood, in order to shew that he held life also of God’s mercy; that life was yet to be required, and the curse yet to be accomplished; the foil curse—as it is written, ” In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die:” that is, that human nature, wrapt up in thee, shall die: human nature in its perfection and completeness shall die: thou, sinful Adam, art not now worthy to be the sacrifice: another Adam, sinless and spotless, of whom thou, O man, art the type, and thou, O woman, the mother, shall die, to purchase life for himself and for all who are chosen, in him, to suffer with him and to live with him. And to the end of symbolising this great truth, and preserving it in an ordinance for ever, sacrifice was appointed. For, brethren, I hold with the old school of divines, in believing that sacrifice was in the world from the Fall, because it is the first act which is recorded after the Fall; and that it contained in itself a threefold use—first, the declaration of sin; secondly, the signification that by blood the guilt of sin was to be cleansed away; and thirdly, that by fire the purification of all which sin had defiled was to be accomplished. The substance of which symbol Cain did deny, and so despised and desecrated the ordinance of God; wherefore God forsook him, and he became a murderer and a vagabond upon the earth, the proto-apostate from the church, as Abel was the proto-martyr. For it is the way of the Lord to come swiftly in judgment upon the first breach of any ordinance: as we see in Corah’s rebellion, in Achan’s transgression, and in Ananias’s lying unto the Holy Spirit: by which swift vengeance I am the more convinced that sacrifice was an ordinance of God from the beginning: in the observance of which, Noah took possession of the earth by sacrifice; and Abraham took possession of the promise by a more clear and significant sacrifice of his own son, which was done in spirit, though not in the very act; and the children of Israel took possession of the land, and kept possession of it, in the daily offering up, evening and morning, of a sacrifice, and annually on the day of atonement; and, as Paul well concludes, “almost every thing under the Law was purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.”Whereby it was always signified that every national, and personal, and natural blessing, the people of God, yea, the whole world (for Adam and Noah were the fathers of all), did hold only in the anticipation of that great sacrifice of his body which the Son of God had provided from all eternity, when he said, “Sacrifice and burnt-offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou provided me:” or, in other words, that from the fall man was possessed of nothing in his own right, no, not of his own life, but held every thing in the right of that woman’s Seed which was promised to our first parents, and of that atonement, or satisfaction, or purchase, or redemption, which he was to offer up; in the expectation of which the very world had its being preserved, and was peopled with animation, with spiritual promises enriched, and with a dispensation of grace and of glory over-canopied. But if there were no spiritual guilt, why be at such endless pains to translate it into sensual signification? What mean those bloody conditions of every blessing, this dark foreboding of some future pledge and title, if so be that man stood free before his Maker, clothed with rights in himself, and invested in his own rightful possession? Adam and Abel and Enoch, Noah and Melchizedek, Abraham and the Patriarchs, Moses and the Prophets, and every one in whom any light abode, knew their true standing before the Lord, and regarded themselves but as pilgrims and sojourners, permitted to live and breathe, privileged to believe and hope, until He should come who, in his own title of perfect and sufficient man, should purchase back the right and title of man to the earth, which had been lost by the Fall; should roll back the tide of sin and death which had burst in by that gate, opened of Satan; and gather up again unto himself, as the Head, those disjointed fragments of being, which would never have been disjointed and dispersed had not the first Adam fallen from his high estate. For this end, therefore, he became manifest,—not only to complete the typical temple, by giving it a fleshly, living reality; but to accomplish that redemption and reconciliation of the Creator to the creature, which the service of that temple had signified; which his life and death did accomplish. And for this end it was necessary that he should be the self-existent Jehovah, as well as the son of man, in order that, by the humiliation of the former to the mortal conditions of the latter, he might take up the latter into the Divine conditions of the former; the Divine nature being as the golden altar upon which he offered the sacrifice of his human nature.
The third great intimation and introduction of the Incarnation was in the prophetic dispensation completed and fulfilled in Christ. By which I do not mean that his incarnation fulfilled all the prophecies which went before upon him—a monstrous figment, which neither Jew nor Christian can believe, otherwise than by blinding their understanding, or spiritualising away the letter and substance of all the prophecies, whereof by far the greater part, I might say almost nine out of ten remain to be completely accomplished in his second coming;—but I mean what Daniel expresseth, “to seal up the vision and the prophecy;”‘ which he did by becoming the Prophet and Teacher of his church. In connexion with the primitive dispensation of sacrifice, and the primitive worship, which were embodied into a national form by the Mosaical economy, there was also a dispensation of word or prophecy; which is revelation, properly so called; being, as it were, the voice of the universal reason speaking to the reason of man from the body of those visible ordinances which stood before his sense. For there never was an ordinance or institution without a word of prophecy which portended that the great Prophet would come when the substance of these shadows should come. Therefore Noah was a prophet, and Abraham, and Moses, and David, and every one who had any hand in the building up of God’s worship and the preservation of his laws; and when the race of priests was reserved for the family of Levi, a race of prophets was raised up of all tribes, as it pleased the word of God to visit them: who were the interpreters of Providence, the denouncers of wickedness, the guardians of the moral law, and, in short, the preachers of spiritual righteousness. As the priests waited upon the temple, and were, so to speak, the body-servants of Christ; so the prophets waited upon the word of Christ, and were the forerunners and messengers of his counsels—not those who sat in council with him; for who hath been his counsellor? the Child that was to be born, his name was to be called The Counsellor—but the messengers of his counsels, his forerunners, who warned the nations what and what manner of person He was to be whose goings forth had been from everlasting. When the Word became incarnate, this dispensation also came to an end; as the planets disappear at the rising of the sun, or as the ambassadors fall into the train of servants upon the appearance of their king and lord. When it is said, that “the Word became flesh,” it is not meant merely that he became body, but that he became also a reasonable human soul, shewing to our body its perfect holiness, and to our mind its perfect holiness. He was the clear and bright intelligence, the consummate wisdom, the pure reason, the perfect righteousness of man, as well as the outward and undented, the holy and harmless body of man. Now, this is what is meant when we say he was our Prophet: that there is nothing, within the compass of human reason and power, which he possessed not, and which he declared not. With respect to the sciences and arts which concern the visible world, and enter by the sense, our Lord possessed them, as Adam did, by instinct; wherefore all elements obeyed him: but he revealed them not to his people, because they help not, neither are congenial to, that spiritual dispensation devoid of outward power which his incarnation ushered in; but they are outstanding to the hope of his people, when he shall come, clothed with power, to bring them into the possession of the earth with sacerdotal and royal state; as heretofore Adam had possession of the garden of Eden—happy type of this purified world! But of the spiritual and invisible he revealed the perfect consummation; and nothing hath been, nor can be, added thereto. And, observe you, when he afterwards appeared unto John in Patmos, to make known the glory of his coming kingdom, he appeared in person, and did not by his Spirit inspire, but came and gave that which God had given unto him; wherefore it is entitled, “the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him.” And be it further observed concerning this Revelation, that it was given in his character of our risen High Priest, not of incarnate Prophet; for the reason, that his priesthood was not entered into till after his death, when he ascended up on high; nor the power given into his hand over heaven and earth. And not before the beginning of that book styleth he himself the Prince of the kings of the earth. “Which book of the Revelation is the successive acts of his Father, in putting all enemies under his feet, before bringing him in glory into the earth. Since his resurrection, Christ hath become not only the Head of his church on earth, but the Ruler of the nations; and that book of the Apocalypse is nothing else than the acts of Christ, the eternal King, immortal and invisible, the only living and true God. With respect to the writings of the Apostles which are preserved, and their infinite discourses which are not preserved, they were the seeds which the Incarnate Word had sown in their hearts, ripened by the Spirit, who was promised to bring all things to their remembrance. And this is manifest from the continual appeal of the Apostles to the Prophets when discoursing with the Jews, and, doubtless, to the very words of the Lord when discoursing to the believers. Nay, but what else are the Gospels than the record of Jesus, which these Apostles were wont to give in all their ministrations? Whence it came to pass, that when Paul was called to the Apostolic office he received instructions directly from the Lord himself, and resteth his authority as an Apostle upon that foundation. The Spirit ripened the spiritual seed which the Son of Man had sown; gave at Pentecost the first-fruits; and is yet to give the latter rain upon the earth: after which cometh the harvest. And believe what I am now to say, brethren; that there are in this book of God’s holy word more seed still unquickened than hath yet quickened in all the commentaries of the church, or been accomplished in the providence of God; and which shall quicken in the fulness of the times. It is in this office of the Prophet that he becomes the object of all faith, is the wisdom of his church, is both the sower and the seed which is sown, the householder and the treasure from which the stewards and the household are supplied with their food; “for it is of his fulness that we all receive, and grace for grace.” And of Him, in this office, the Prophets were the continual admonitors and heralds of his coming: as it is written, “The spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus.”
From these three intimations and indications of Messiah, contained in the Sacrifices, in the Levitical Priesthood, and the Prophetic Vocation, it is manifest that there will be found many mysteries in the person of the man Christ Jesus; though in respect to these his various offices, as Sacrifice, High Priest, and Prophet, there be no more doubt than that the sun shineth in the heavens and giveth light unto the earth. Into the mystery, for example, of the union between the Divine and human nature, it is hard to enter; and those who have dared it too far, have most frequently lost themselves in error. It is revealed that his body was created by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, that he might be the woman’s Seed, according to the promise. He grew in wisdom as he grew in years, like any other child; though he was from the womb the very Word of God, which had created the heavens and the earth, and spoken by the mouth of all the Prophets; who was conscious of the eternity of his being, and of the blessedness thereof, before the world was. And he was obedient to the Law, in its letter and in its spirit; and he made the word of God his meditation, as we do; and he lived by faith upon it, as do all his people. He prayed, and was strengthened by prayer, as we are: he was afflicted with all our afflictions, and tried with all our trials, and was sustained by the power of the Holy Ghost, even as we. For we are not to suppose, with the early heretics, that his body was only an appearance, or illusion, but a real manifestation of the Second Person of the blessed Trinity as man. He was not the only begotten in the bosom of the Father, at the same time that he was the Messiah on earth; but he was the only begotten, come out of the bosom of the Father, in order to become the Messiah upon earth. The Word had been revealed in the universal creation once, but now He is to be revealed in the individual man. In the former work, the individual was seen in the universal; in the latter, the universal is to be revealed in the individual, and gathered into him. It was a high honour put upon human nature; but it was for a very high object; which we know only in part, and which will doubtless illustrate the being and glory of the Godhead more than the creation of the heavens and the earth. No wonder that the Word of God, foreseeing this great act of his incarnation, should speak of it by the mouth of all his prophets: for it is a singular act, whose extraordinary wonderfulness shall reach through all eternity. No wonder that the rumour of it came before, nor that sacrifice should be instituted to signify it, and the tabernacle to witness it, and the temple to confirm it, and the whole Jewish state to be, as it were, the womb of this great conception; in the foresight of which the Prophet bursteth forth so sublimely: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” He was anointed to his holy office by the Spirit in the form of a dove; and declared to be the Son of God, whom the people were to hear. And it was by the Spirit that he was led into temptation; and it was by the Spirit that the man Jesus Christ prevailed. Whatever power he might possess otherwise, it is certain he prevailed against Satan by that word and Spirit by which we are to prevail. He was travelling in the valley of humility; and it was no pretence of doing so, but it was so. He was emptied: he did not seem to be emptied, but he was so. And he preached by the Holy Spirit, which was upon him, and with which he had been anointed. And in the power of the Holy Spirit he went about doing good, and healing them that were possessed “with the devil.” And the Chief Shepherd of the sheep offered himself by the eternal Spirit. And he was justified in the Spirit, by the resurrection from the dead.—So that in very deed, and in very truth, he was the man Christ Jesus, the Son of man, the Second Adam; who hath now joined the human nature to the Divine, and is become a quickening Spirit; baptising with the Holy Spirit all who believe in his name, and receive him as the Prophet of God; he stowing the regeneration of the Holy Ghost, the fellowship of his Priesthood, and the inheritance of his glorious Kingdom. Without, therefore, adventuring into that subtle speculation in which so many of the early heretics lost themselves, I would rather proceed humbly, with the holy Scriptures in my hand, to set forth in order the work of the humiliation and ministry of Christ Jesus in the flesh: which I conceive to be of the last importance in this argument of the Incarnation: being, in truth, both the meritorious and prevailing cause of our justification before God, and the great example to every child of the Holy Spirit— that is, to every member of his church. From the day of his baptism until the day of his death I conceive that he sustained the very trials, and achieved the very victories, into the fellowship of which we are called from the day of our baptism to the day of our death, and into the actual fellowship of which we enter from the day of our regeneration by the Holy Spirit, until we are delivered from this body of sin and death, under which we, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, do groan.
And yet I approach this subject with a certain awe, which nothing can overcome, save the necessity, to the establishment of the church, that you should be well acquainted with your great Prototype, the Author and Finisher of your faith: for the mystery of it is very great. I confess that it has been a relief to me to look at it under the veil of the Levitical dispensation; and I tremble to approach the confines of the naked sufferings of the Lord. For he condescended to dwell in concert and communion with flesh; to look up through fleshly eyes; by fleshly senses to converse with the great wickedness of the earth; and through the faculties of the human soul to commune with every impious, ungodly, and blasphemous chamber of the fallen intellect and feeling of men. Whereof, brethren, the condescension overcometh me: I cannot attain unto the understanding of it. For the Divine and Almighty Creator to empty himself of himself, to take the limitation of a creature, and bind himself under the appointed law of the action and suffering thereof, is very wonderful; but for the Holy Creator, the thrice-holy One, by dwelling therein, to bring himself into actual communication with, real sense of, and sympathy in, all the wickedness of this world, passeth all humiliation which can be conceived. That his Divine nature should suffer such contradiction of sinners as he endured, and bear such limitations of power; should endure such a pressure of iniquity as his human nature, his sin-bearing body, brought him into the sense, feeling, bondage, and suffering of; is the depth of the mystery of godliness. And herein consisteth the greatness of his love in enduring, the greatness of his Father’s love in giving him up to endure, our nature. It is not in the kind of life or kind of death; it is in the life and the death of the Man-God that we are to find the great merit of the love. The humiliation was the sacrifice; the becoming man, the being made flesh. For the rest, it is only, as it were, the wise adaptation of the act to something past and to something future: the act itself is that in which the marvel lies. The Gospels of his human life are of great value, as containing the ratification and fulfilment of the former covenant, as laying out the platform and scheme of the new covenant or spiritual dispensation, and presenting us with the pattern of the perfect man before the Lord; but it is the fourth Gospel, that of St. John, as commented upon and broadly illustrated in St. Paul’s Epistles, which makes us familiar with the fulness of the Godhead manifested in him bodily. And here I must declare, that I love not the carnal estimate of Christ’s visible sufferings as a man, and of his death as a man, save only as they give heart to his disciples passing through the same scenes of trial, and shew us the reality of his passive manhood. But as the measure of what all his elect would have had to suffer through all eternity, and a set-off against this, in the way of barter or exchange, I must confess it appears to me to be a poor, petty, dishonourable, insufficient view of the matter, which the thinnest-witted Socinian will blow to atoms by a breath. The whole act of the Incarnation is a mystery to the fleshly man, and ought not to be debased down to his fleshly sympathies. It is the basest part of Popery to have done so, with their crosses and relics, and their true blood, true tears, and true sweat. The spiritual have nothing to do with such matters. Let it abide a mystery of love for the heart and mind, as they are enlightened and purified of the Holy Spirit, to enter into, further, and further, and still further, until they be separated from this spirit-clouding flesh and carnal mind: for it is only to be apprehended according as we have Christ formed within us by the Holy Spirit; when, not by the natural mind, nor the natural heart, but by the spiritual mind and heart, we do enter into the great mystery of the sufferings of the Son of God while incarnate in a fleshly body:—as we now proceed to shew in this discourse, praying the Holy Spirit to be our guide through the deep valley, while we descend into those lowly abasements of being into which the Son of God descended for our sakes.
Now, in considering this great subject, it falleth asunder before my thoughts into these two great divisions.
First, All that he passed through till death, in the face of men.
Secondly, All that he went through, between death and the resurrection in the disembodied soul, by his descent into hell.
I. Of these, the former falls again apart into these three subdivisions. First, His struggle with, and victory over, Satan and the evil angels;—secondly, over sin in human nature;—and, thirdly, over that confederacy of wickedness into which these two great co-operating causes of evil have wrought the world of wicked men. For these three, Satan with his host, sin in flesh, and sinful men confederate in the world, did chiefly mar the glory of God, and eclipse it over all this world, and over all to which this world, in the purpose of God, may be intended to administer. Besides, who knows the evil influence and effects which may have been, or might be, brought over the unfallen hosts of heaven, by perceiving a world framed for holiness and excellence and beauty, usurped and gotten possession of, as it were against God’s will (though in truth by his permission, for far greater ends), by the prince of evil and apostate son of the morning? It was therefore no small work to take off the eclipse which the Almighty had thus permitted to come upon the face of his glory, and to re-establish that almightiness of power which seemed to hang in doubt, and plant the stability of all things upon a new basis, by redeeming and recovering the lost world, and making it more glorious than ever; while the evil powers, which had dared to peep and to mutter against him, and to stir up strife anew, should be utterly undone, and left in everlasting passiveness of suffering and miserable abjectness. And as the end to be accomplished was truly very great, yea, the greatest possible (creation being nothing so great a work as the redemption of creation against all power and might), so the labour and travail which had to be undergone for its accomplishment was proportionably great, yea, I may say, stupendously, inconceivably great. Into the mystery of which travail of the Son of Man to accomplish the same, I would inquire, that we may be a little able to measure the greatness of the achievement, by the greatness of the endurance in compassing it. Now, because the object was threefold,—to retrieve God’s glorious and almighty power out of the controversy and debate of Satan and his power; to retrieve God’s goodly work of man from the oppression of sin and death, and renew man in his image, in righteousness and true holiness; and to recover this world from that wicked confederacy of evil beings who have grieved and afflicted its peace, who have wrecked and ruined its prospects since the Fall;—therefore have I said that the travail of the Son of Man, in this great undertaking, was also threefold: First, in engaging with Satan and his host, in judging him, and destroying his works; secondly, in engaging with sin in flesh, and overcoming it, and condemning it; thirdly, in wrestling with the confederacy of the wicked world, and finally overcoming it. Into these three things let us now inquire in order.
1. The subtle devices of Satan and his angels, with their innumerable snares; the fierce and fiery assaults of spiritual might, brought forward with that array of angelic light and glorious appearance which Lucifer the son of the morning can trick himself withal; all the mystery of deceivableness with Which every member of Christ, and the whole body of Christ, hath been assaulted and overcome; were, there can be no doubt, combined and concentrated against our great Covenant-Head and Surety during the days of his flesh. Into which field of spiritual warfare the spiritual only can enter; and they but very imperfectly; forasmuch as we are not now exposed defenceless, but have obtained, through Christ, a shelter and a shield against his fiery darts, and have to deal, as it were, with a beaten and conquered foe, who is enraged, but is not empowered, against us; whereas the Son of man had the unhumbled conqueror to conquer, and the proud captor to lead captive, the possessor to disinherit, the strong and mighty usurper to cast out. A most unbridled and unrestrained commission that was which Satan had given to him against Job, whose humiliation was yet but the type of that which was to come in Christ; and Job was sore distressed for a while, but not given over to death: for, after he had suffered a while, God did recover him, restore him, and enlarge him exceedingly: but Satan had power against the Son of Man to bereave him of all comfort, and to eclipse his Divinity of all glory, and to spread the heavens with sackcloth, and to seal up every star, to bring him into a fearful pit of darkness and tribulation, and even unto the dust of death. He who came to destroy the works of the devil must be prepared against the devil’s utmost might: and doubt there can be none, that not a power in the air or in the earth, in the grave or in hell, but was moved, and to the uttermost stirred up, to tempt, and overcome, and utterly overwhelm the Son of God. Into which I feel myself wholly unable to enter, being content to know that the power which heretofore prevailed to raise rebellion in heaven, and to introduce death into the world, and which is nearest to the power of God—so near to it, yea, and, in the appearance of this fallen earth, so much above it, that the ancient heretics of the early church were always equalising them; and certain apostate churches to this day do worship the devil rather than God;—this power, I say, of strength, and seduction, and cruel trial, which I can neither understand nor describe, I am content to know, and do most certainly believe, was wrestled with by the Son of Man during all the days of his flesh, and overcome, and condemned; and though for a while left still at large, in order to prove the election and shew forth the power of Christ in them, is soon to be restrained and imprisoned for a thousand years; and, after being brought up for trial, to be condemned, and stripped, and made passive and miserable for ever and ever. Which bereaving of spiritual wickednesses in heavenly places, as I believe it to be the chief end and greatest achievement of the Incarnation, so I believe it to have cost the most fearful pains and agonies; whereof the deep seated source and extreme suffering is hid from all but the most spiritual, and to these but very imperfectly revealed. If the Apostle Paul, when summoning the Christian soldier into the field, and clothing him in all his armour, doth, in order to put him on his guard and call forth all his strength, tell him that he had to wage a battle not with flesh and blood only, but with principalities and with powers, with the rulers of the darkness of this world, with spiritual wickednesses in high places; then may I well say that the Captain of our salvation, in whose footsteps we tread, and in whose all-victorious name we charge the enemy, did certainly wrestle not against the infirmities and temptations of human nature only, but against all the host of the high ones which are on high, Satan and his angels, the rulers of the darkness of this world, the spiritual wickednesses in high places. Wherefore it is written in the Colossians, “Having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in himself.” That this was one great, and indeed the great end of his incarnation and death, we are expressly assured by the Apostle to the Hebrews; “Forasmuch, then, as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, he himself also took part of the same, that by death he might destroy him that had the power of death, which is, the devil.”
2. The second great head of our Lord’s humiliation was his contest with sin in the flesh; which brings us properly into the regions of humanity: and to understand which, it is necessary to have a sufficient and worthy idea of the Divine Law; for “the strength of sin is the Law.” Which holy and just and venerable Law is become very terrible to a fallen creature, meeting him on every side, and engirdling him with a thousand deaths. Every commandment saith, Do this or die; and nature replies, But I cannot do it. Die then, saith the inexorable Law.—Dost thou love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and strength and mind? No. Then die thou must.—Dost thou love thy neighbour as thyself? No. Then thou must die.—What! for one sin death? Yea, death for the least transgression. And, moreover, if thou keep the whole law, and offend but in one point, thou art guilty of all.—”The law revived and I died.” Oh, fearful condition, into which the Fall hath brought mankind! an estate truly of sin and misery! Now, brethren, this Law, this inexorable Law, stood around the Son of man with its fiery points of death, as it standeth around every one of us. For he had come into humanity’s accursed region: and his flesh, his human nature, was as assailable on every side as is ours: otherwise it had not been human nature. “Forasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, he himself also took part of the same.”…”In all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren.”…”In that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.”…”For we have not an high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are.” Wherefore I believe that the Son of Man was assailable on the side of his flesh, or human nature, with every temptation, with every infirmity, to which I or any one now hearing me is obnoxious. Did not Satan address the sense by its strongest sternest craving, when he tempted the hungered Son of Man to turn the stones of the wilderness into bread? Did he not tempt the lust of the eye, when he shewed him all the kingdoms of the earth, for the guerdon of which to worship him? And with what craftiness and mystery of arch-angelic deceit wrought he upon the faith of the Son of Man, when he quoted Scripture, and dared him to put it to the proof! Did I but say that I believed the Son of Man was proved and tried with all the proofs and trials which my human nature, and the human nature of every one hearing me, is or hath been tried withal? I should have said, that he was tried with every trial with which it is possible for human nature to be tried by the putting forth of all the subtlety and power of Satan. For how were he able to succour all them that have been, that are, or that shall be tempted, if he had not undergone the sum and substance of all possible temptation? Therefore is it most true that he bore our sicknesses and carried our sins; that “he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
Behold, then, the Son of Man compressing within the short period of his prophetic office the sum-total of all mankind’s liability to be tempted unto sin: conceive every variety of human passion, every variety of human affection, every variety of human error, every variety of human wickedness, which hath ever been realised, or is possible to be realised, inherent in the humanity and combined against the holiness of him who was not only a man, but the son of man, the heir of all the infirmities which man entaileth upon his children, which he took freely and fully upon him, all to bear; and, bearing all, to annihilate all; and to bring in a righteousness, universal as the Fall and the temptation was universal: and then shall have you an idea of the Son of Man’s oppression and load; against whom, thus on every side beset behind and before, stood up the Law, as widely comprehensive as the temptation, and said to him, Thou art man, very man, though thou be very God: as very man receive thou these continual assaults; and yield to one of them, and thou also shalt die.—The Son of God die? The Life die? Brethren, I know it could not be, I know it hath not been; but I am shewing you the proof to which the Son of God was put, the hideous and enormous proof to which he was put: for otherwise you shall neither have an adequate idea of the truth — the comfortable, the all-comforting truth—of his manhood; nor an adequate idea of the almighty power and infinite love of his Godhead. Sin had its fullest range against the Son of God by virtue of his being the Son of Man. The Law laid its full curse upon him. His divinity screened him not a jot. It bore him through it, but it saved him not a jot. We had not known the power of the Divinity to contend with sin, otherwise than by the Incarnation. Sin would have seemed omnipotent, and death inevitable, and Satan invincible; having an indefeasible right, an unanswerable claim, and a power never to be gainsaid nor to be cast out, where once they had got a footing. It is thus that God is glorified by the Godhead contending against sin in flesh, overcoming it, and proving it to be weaker than God in its own region; not capable of resisting God, not capable of holding those whom he would redeem.
Oh, but consider the humiliation of this act of the Son of God, “who was in the form of God, and thought it no robbery to be equal with God;” that he should “become sin for us who knew no sin;” that he should endure the vile contact and evil neighbourhood of every wickedness; that he should bear the suggestion of every heinous wickedness, as Satan suggested those three temptations of the wilderness; as wicked men suggested, yea, suspected him of every evil. Lot’s inhabitation of Sodom was a poor emblem of this; because Lot had not known the immaculate purity of God, nor did sustain in himself the glory of the holiness of God. And yet, if we will come at the idea of the great condescension and painfulness of the thrice-holy Son of God’s enduring in flesh the neighbourhood and assaults of all sin, it must be by means of such emblems as that of Lot abiding in Sodom; or David, the royal exile, changing his behaviour, and forced to feign madness, while he abode at the court of the king of Gath; or of Elijah, weary of life under the persecutions of Ahab and Jezebel, and the wickedness of the land; or of Moses coming down from the holy mount of God to the congregation of idolaters, at the sight of which the meekest of men was so transported with wrath and indignation that he dashed to the ground the tables of the law, which God’s own finger had written. All which emblems, with whatever others the Scriptures contain, are utterly worthless, though the best that can be found, for expressing the continual griefs and inconceivable troubles which the holy and righteous Jehovah must have undergone by taking up into himself human nature, and becoming, on the one hand, conversant with, tempted and continually assaulted by, every form of wickedness; while, on the other hand, he had in him the Divine hatred of sin, that strongest antipathy, that eternal opposition which there is in God to all unrighteousness. I say it was such a reconciliation of opposite and contradictory things, such a harmony and intermarriage of extremes was this union of the Divine and human natures, as never never entered into any finite conception to conceive, as no finite understanding shall ever be able to understand. And what patience, to bear it without a murmur! with just so much expression of anguish as to mark the abhorrence of it, but never a complaint, never a resistance, never a rebellious emotion! Moses was transported with wrath when he came out of the holy presence into the polluted camp; Elijah prayed hard to die, and be done with the trouble and weariness of his life; and Job cursed the day of his birth, and prayed hard for the day of his death; and David, to save his life, played a false part, and soon wearied of the unnatural form which he had taken upon him; and Jeremiah fainted and yielded, and went hard to upbraid God;—but the Son of Man carried himself most meekly: “when he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.” “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” He bore, he persevered to bear and to endure, the passive flesh open to temptation by every pore, and assailed with temptation by every avenue through which the angels of darkness are wont to persecute and assail all living men.
3. This leadeth me to observe, in the third place, the contradiction of sinners which he endured against himself, as another, though an inferior, region of that continual and incessant grief which the Son of Man bore during the days of his flesh, and from which he desired gladly to escape, when the work which his Father had given him to do was completed; to escape away from the humility, unto the glory with which God would straightway glorify him, who had with so much patient humiliation glorified God. These persecutions of men I reckon to be an inferior region of trial and suffering to that which is occupied by the spiritual wickednesses in high places; because the power of men to hurt is so narrow and limited, compared with that of the wicked spirits, who have usurped possession of the air and of the earth, whose various elements they can bring to bear upon the naked head of every one whom God permitteth them to work against. And never had they such law and luxury of mischief against any, as against the Son of Man, whom they made houseless and homeless upon the land; and whom upon the water they sought to overwhelm with fearful storms; whom they suffered not to be alone in the wilderness, but vexed and harassed continually, to the utmost bounds of their cunning and malignity. This, the region of persecutions of men, I reckon to be likewise an inferior region of trouble and temptation to the region of sin in the flesh; because from men we can escape, but from ourselves we can never escape. The law of the flesh, by which human nature is commanded on all sides, is ever present, ever felt, ever hateful, and ever oppressive to the spiritual life: for the two are contrary the one to the other, and can never be reconciled. The natural man is never converted: he is restrained, but never willingly yieldeth. Sin is his natural element, and death his natural consummation. Satan is his lord, and he is Satan’s servant. And though the human nature of Christ never sinned, there can be no doubt it lay as open to the assaults of the enemy as the human nature of any man, forasmuch as it was the field of controversy between the powers of darkness and the power of the Son of God. And it was an open field, in which they might muster all their powers against the Divine nature, in the Almightiness of which he baffled and beat them at every point. Whereby they were driven out of the region of flesh or humanity, and are rightful lords of it no longer: but Christ became from thenceforth its Lord, to bestow repentance and remission of sins, regeneration, and eternal life, upon every one who believeth. This openness to every temptation arising out of his manhood, I have placed as the second region of the sore experience of the Son of Man.
And now for the third, which consisteth in the contradictions of sinful men. Though it be inferior to either of the two preceding, it is by no means of small account. Which is not to be measured by the conspiracies and combinations that were framed against him; nor by the contempt and contumely with which they treated him; nor by the gins and snares which they laid for him on every side; nor by the cruel mockings and scourgings, the contempt of all forms of justice, the smiting, the spitting upon him, the crown of thorns, the living tortures of the cross, the article of death, and whatever else of outward cruelty the Man of Sorrows underwent. But in order to measure the painfullness of his being despised and rejected of men, you must enter into his love, the intense and immeasurable love, which he bore to men. “He came unto his own, but his own received him not.” “His delight had been of old with the children of men, even from everlasting.” For them he had been sacrificed from the foundation of the world; and for them he had now laid aside the mantle of his uncreated and incommunicable glory, and taken on the veils of flesh; clothed himself in the likeness of man; entered the charmed region, which the curse of God did over-canopy, and which Satan had tilled with his damned influences—all for love of man, all to redeem the sons of men, and introduce them into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Know ye the bitterness of a wound from those you love, from those whom you have much loved and painfully served? When the most generous and brave of those heathens who have been surnamed Great, was defending himself from the many daggers of those who had conspired against him, his friend, his most beloved friend, also stepped forward to deal him a wound amongst the rest; whereupon the conqueror of the Romans had no more courage left in him; the sorrow of wounded love being sorer far than many daggers’ points; but faintly said, “And thou too, Brutus!” and dropped his arm, and gathered up his mantle, and resigned himself to his enemies. But the Son of Man, who is also the Holy One of Israel; he who spake to Moses out of the bush, and by his outstretched arm delivered the people out of the house of bondage, and preserved them in a thousand perils; who had espoused them to him as a wife of youth, and loved them with an everlasting love; as it is written, “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings; so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him. He made him to ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock; butter of kine, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs; and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats; with the fat of kidneys of wheat: and thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape”—To be rejected by that people, over whom he had watched since the days of Abraham; warning them, rising up early and warning them by his Prophets; dwelling in the midst of them, and being unto them a God; bearing with them in all their back-slidings; restoring them in all their captivities and oppressions; and now at length passing all bounds and dimensions of love, in coming to them himself, to see whether by his own prophetic voice he might not be able to ward off the fierce wrath of God; and whether by his own sacrifice for the nation he might not be able to deliver the nation out of the wretched captivity of sin and of the world under which it groaned—oh! when coming on such an errand of love, to those whom he had so long, whom he had so tenderly loved; to be rejected, to be set at nought; to be denied as a stranger, and reputed of as an impostor; to be less esteemed than a thief and a murderer, whom they desired to be given to them, when they vehemently cried out against the Son of God, ” Crucify him, crucify him!” What an affliction, what an ocean of sorrow, is there here! I speak not of his being their Creator and Preserver, which he is to all men: I speak of his being their Father; I speak of his having given them that land of milk and honey, and builded them that proud city, and holy temple which his glory filled: they were indeed his own, his own by a thousand claims: and thus to be rejected of them! what a wound, what a sorrow! Surely no sorrow was like unto this sorrow. Our master poet hath well portrayed an old father’s sorrow on being rejected by his daughters, amongst whom he had shared his kingdom. Such a delineation as he hath given may somewhat help us to this conception, but to attain unto the conception nothing availeth. Perhaps the best way is to hear it in his own words:—As he drew nigh Jerusalem, he sat down on a hill, and looked upon it, and wept. When he was pronouncing the doom of the Pharisees, and Sadducees, and Scribes, who had made the people to wander, his words were like a two-edged sword; but when he cometh to speak of Jerusalem and her children, his words are like the words of a mother, melting over her wayward child, whom she would die to reclaim: “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the Prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how oft would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” And again, as he proceeded to Calvary to be offered up, groaning under the load of his cross, and was lamented of the women who followed after him, he said with tenderness, “Weep not for me, O ye daughters of Jerusalem; but weep for yourselves and for your children: for, behold, the days are coming in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the womb that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.”
But the greatest insight into the humiliation and sufferings of the Son of man, is to be got from the Book of Psalms. In the 22nd Psalm he sets himself into contrast with all God’s former messengers, and thus bewaileth his case, most calamitous of all:—”Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered; they trusted in thee, and were not confounded. But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted in the Lord, that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him….There is none to help. Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion….Dogs have compassed me about; the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.” These passages shew how like one that is good and tender-hearted he keenly felt the reproaches of his brethren: having none of that stoical indifference to human approbation which cometh of pride; nor of that malicious spirit, which retorteth abusive treatment with sovereign contempt. Ah! these stoical and vengeful tones of the mind hold not of affection and love, but of spite and hatred. Jesus loved men too much not to be grieved with the indifference or hatred of the meanest man. Now, to shew how much it afflicted him, let me further quote from the 38th Psalm: “My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore; and my kinsmen stand afar off. They also that seek after my life lay snares for me: and they that seek my hurt speak mischievous things, and imagine deceits all the day long. But I, as a deaf man, heard not; and I was as a dumb man, that openeth not his mouth. Thus I was as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs.” Again, “Thou hast known my reproach, and my shame, and my dishonour: mine adversaries are all before thee. Reproach hath broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, and for comforters, but found none.” What a craving after love and fellowship! what a longing after consolation! what a yearning after kindness! Oh, my brethren, our iniquity, our hard-hearted iniquity, our pride, our selfishness, hinder us from entering into the fellow-feeling of our Lord’s trials and afflictions from false brethren. This tenderness of affection he beautifully expresseth in the 35th Psalm: “False witnesses did rise up: they laid to my charge things that I knew not. They rewarded me evil for good, to the spoiling of my soul. But as for me, when they were sick my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer returned into mine own bosom. I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother. I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother.”
It is with great struggles and strainings of spirit that I can get down into the depth of the Lord’s suffering and humiliation, and I feel how utterly inadequate is any thing which I have said to express the thousandth part of it. And I must again refer you to the Psalms, of which a great number, I might almost say a fifth part, respect this subject. There is, however, another method by which I have sought to come at the conception of this matter, which I must just glance at before closing this head of my discourse. It is, by studying the history of the Jewish people after he had condescended to be present with them in a manifest manner. From this we shall obtain an idea how he abhorreth the neighbourhood of sin, and punisheth its presence in the midst of those with whom he is dwelling. When he entered into covenant with the people at the ruck, of Sinai, they had to sanctify themselves for three days, and wash their outmost garments, in order to appear before the Lord in all outward as well as inward purity. When they had defiled themselves with the abomination of the golden calf, the Lord entreated Moses to be permitted to consume them at one blow; and was not appeased until the sons of Levi had appeased his wrath by girding every man his sword upon his thigh, and executing the vengeance of the Lord, sparing neither companion, nor brother, nor father, nor mother, until there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. Again, when the people murmured and rebelled against the Lord, because he fed them only with manna, angels’ food, and desired flesh to eat, such as they had eaten in the house of their bondage; the Lord gave them their heart’s desire: but while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great slaughter. And when Miriam stood up against the authority of Moses, she became a leper white as snow, and was banished from the camp for seven days. Now Moses was but a servant over Christ’s house, who himself is son and heir. And when Core, Dathan, and Abiram, with their company, stood up against that same servant of the Son of Man, the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them quick; and the two hundred and fifty men, who did offer incense in defiance of the Lord’s ordinance, were consumed with fire that came out from the Lord: and so enraged was the Lord with this spirit of insubordination, that there died that day, in the plague, fourteen thousand seven hundred men: and the Lord was scarcely restrained from consuming them wholly. And why need I speak of the fiery flying serpents, or of the abomination of the daughters of Moab, or of the sin of Achan, and of the thousands and the tens of thousands which the Lord cut off in each of these acts of disobedience? Or why need I speak of the evil report of the spies, and the rebellion against the Lord which ensued on that day of provocation, and for which a whole generation was eaten up by forty years’ slow and wearisome consumption? All these things are written in order to teach us what a fearful and fiery indignation the Lord hath against sin; what holiness he requireth of those in the midst of whom he dwelleth; with what carelessness of human life he asserteth his own holiness; and how, when he is angry, thousands and tens of thousands are not sufficient for a peace-offering. Yet behold this very Son of God, who dwelt between the cherubim, and from whose fiery presence these executive ministers of flaming destruction proceeded forth; behold Him, who was so jealous of his holiness that he spared no life, nor withheld himself from any judgment, so that he might preserve his holiness un-offended; Him, I say, behold as the Son of man, dwelling among the sin-fullest people, the most hypocritical people, a generation of vipers, an adulterous race, whose very priests, for conscious guilt, could not take up a stone to cast at the adulterous woman—in the midst, I say, of such a generation, behold the same Holy One of Sinai and of the cherubim dwelling in flesh, and submitting to the presence, and knowledge, and temptation of all possible iniquity! Him, the same who could never, who did never, no, nor never can look upon sin but with detestation and abhorrence, behold numbered with transgressors, and dwelling with publicans and sinners, living with hypocritical Pharisees, and bearing the taunts of infidel Sadducees. Set these two things into contrast,—the holiness of his indignation against sin while he abode only in a visible glory, and the patience of sin while he was the Son of man; the destruction of sinners from the midst of his church before he became incarnate, and the pains-taking patience with sinners while he was incarnate,—and you may have some idea both of the greatness of his love, and of the restraining of his Divine wrath, and of the painfullness of the contradiction which he continued to bear while he tabernacled in the flesh. For once mercy and truth did meet together, for once righteousness and peace did kiss each other.
But there is yet another scene of humiliation, beyond the portals of life, and therefore beyond the sight of mortals, and somewhat beyond their conception; yet not beyond the revelation and delineation of Holy Writ, and therefore not beyond the faith and feeling of the believer—I mean, that of the intermediate state, into which the Son of Man passed with these memorable words on his lips, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!”—This is the second head of method.
Besides, and beyond, those three views of the Son of Man’s humiliation which I have already opened, there is another and a more mysterious one, beginning with the hidings of his Father’s countenance, and consummated within the veil of death, into which I would now reverently inquire, in order that you may see the depth, the profound depth, of that abasement into which he descended for the great ends of his Father’s glory; and so perceive the full meaning of the ejaculation with which his wonderful discourse to his disciples commenceth: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him: if God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.”
“The awful and woeful words which he uttered with a loud and piercing voice immediately before he yielded up the ghost, after he had hung upon the cross for three hours, while there was darkness over the whole land, emblematical of the inward darkness, the hour and power of spiritual darkness, which overspread the Redeemer of the world— these words, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” recorded both by Matthew and Mark, are at once the evidence of the fact that he was forsaken of his Father, and furnish us with a clue for prosecuting our inquiry into the cause of so very mysterious a dispensation. That these words contain an exact delineation of his spirit’s exhaustion of all comfort, and desertion of all Divine strength and countenance; and were not merely, as I have heard it alleged, an appropriation to himself of the twenty-second Psalm, whereof they are the commencement, in order to remove dismay and doubt, or disbelief, from the minds of his disciples who might then be present, by shewing them that this fearful accumulation of ills had been all foreseen and foretold of Messiah by the Holy Spirit; is manifest from every consideration: first, for that it is said he uttered them, or cried them out, with a loud voice, as if extorted from him by the greatness of this agony beyond all endurance, and the mystery of this abandonment beyond all anticipation. How great his desolation was, and in what utter desertion and entire helplessness he was left, is to my sympathy even more clearly shewn by the word? which after a short interval he added, and which he cried also with a loud voice, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: ” which, coming from the mouth of the only begotten Son of God, who united the Divine nature to the human, do shew me not only the Divinity eclipsed of all its power and glory, but brought, if I might so speak, to the last ebb of human weakness; when faith is barely able to bear up, yet doth bear up; when the soul, swept away by the main stream from all its rests and anchors, and beholding the yawning gulf beyond, is able to contend no longer, but hath yet the passive courage of faith to say, “Into thy hands, O Father, I commit my spirit.” If the Lord, as they suppose, had spoken these words merely for the ear of his disciples who were then present, and not out of the anguish of his desolate soul, he needed not to have uttered them with a loud voice; for we are told that his mother and the beloved disciple, to whom he spake some words of consolation, stood, along with certain other disciples, beside the cross. Neither is it said, in that, or in the other dialogue which he held with the thief, or in the request which he made for something to allay his thirst, that he spake with a loud voice: only in these two last recorded acts of his incarnate life—”My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!” “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”—is it said that he cried aloud, as it were not for the hearing of men, but for the distant, the far distant, the far withdrawn ear of God. Besides, granting that these words were spoken for the ear of his disciples, and towards their consolation, it doth not the less, but as seemeth to me somewhat the more, establish the truth, that this was the true case and condition of his soul. For it gave them, and it giveth us, to understand that the whole of the twenty-second Psalm is to be interpreted as descriptive of the scene of misery and horror upon which they were looking: now that Psalm, when it is examined, doth delineate such an utter desolation of soul, such a horror of great darkness, as is no where written in the holy Scriptures; being the best commentary upon these words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” with which it openeth its burden; and having been used as such by all who have sought to search into the sufferings of the Lord. In deed and in truth I believe that our Lord spoke the first words of that Psalm, because he had just finished with enduring all the anguish and sorrows of hell, which are there and elsewhere written by the Holy Spirit concerning him. They had parted his garments among them, and cast lots upon his vesture: they had pierced his hands and his feet: in his thirst they had given him vinegar to drink. It was finished: all the things which had been written of his sufferings were accomplished. And, that it might be manifest unto all men from whence proceeded their power to do so, and of what spiritual wickednesses in high places they were but the tools; that it might be known unto the church and unto the world, that, these were but the outward signs of another and more terrible distress, which in spirit he was undergoing, while he bore the outward without any murmur or complaint, he crieth out with inward anguish, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!” And that it might be known that it was a spiritual desertion he complained of, he addeth, in the same extreme agony of utterance, as speaking unto one that had removed himself afar off, ” Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
A few hours before, even after the agony of the Garden, he had said, ” Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” but now he is utterly forsaken of his Father: he hath passed into a deeper agony and abysm of grief than that of the Garden. No angel to strengthen him appeareth; no word to comfort him. The light of heaven hidden from his eyes; the sympathy of men denied unto his soul; and the countenance of his Father withdrawn from his spirit. All this done in the green tree; in one who had never sinned nor offended; who had been glorified with the Father before the world was, and was about to be glorified again with that same glory—thus deserted in his extremity; thus laden, almost beyond Divine endurance—what shall we say of this, but that it is passing wonderful! the mystery of mysteries! most devoutly and most reverently to be inquired into, as the deepest and most comprehensive of all God’s works and doings upon the earth.
From every other trial and temptation of the powers of darkness the Lord came off triumphant; and from this also he arose triumphant; but after how different a conflict! In the Wilderness the tempter had power to put him under the three extremest trials of humanity,—to exhaust the fountain of his natural life with extenuating hunger; to fill his eye with the universal glory of this world’s kingdom, and press it in upon his soul with all cunning craftiness and diabolical seduction; and to spread before his eyes the delusion and sophistry of an angel of light;—but out of all these he came unblemished and unhurt. Again, in his public ministry Satan tracked his steps like the blood-hound, and way-laid him on every side, and armed against him the hands of murderous men; but was ever baffled and overthrown, because God was with him: the Divinity still shone in him, like the sun in the firmament, repelling and scattering the darkness as it arose. Also, before the scene of the Supper, when his soul was sorely oppressed with the neighbourhood of this hour, the Father upheld him with a voice from heaven. And in the Garden, when he endured a huge affliction and mighty overwhelming of soul, an angel came and comforted him: and though the greatness of that agony did enforce the stream of life out of its course, and press it through the pores of his skin upon the earth thirsting for that baptism of redeeming blood; yet out of all these trials he came unharmed and victorious. But now Satan hath combined such a power against him on the cross, that he prevaileth to the extinction of life; to the separation of body and spirit; to the burial of his body in the earth, and its retention for three days in the prison of the tomb; to the drawing down of his soul into hell, or the abode of separate spirits, and its retention there for the same mysterious season—in which, no doubt, the Scripture was fulfilled, and death and hell defeated, and he that had the power of them destroyed; yet, nevertheless, in which was manifested the surpassing horror of this last conflict over every other in which the Prince of Life and prince of darkness were engaged. For, brethren, there was no more necessity that the body of the Son of God should descend into the grave, and his soul into hell, than that he should condescend to take a body and tabernacle in clay: the one was as much a wilful and willing act as the other: he owed death as little as he owed the flesh; he owed the grave as little as he owed the world: both were acts voluntary, yet needful to be undergone, in order to destroy the activity and power of evil, and the prince of darkness: and both of them are measures of that power which the Evil Prince was able to bring against the Son of God when he had become the surety for fallen man; and such I offer them to your ear: not as if we could thereby form an actual estimate of the greatness of the spiritual condescension, but a comparative estimate of the various parts thereof. And I say, that by how much more terrible were the consequences of the controversy upon the Cross, than the consequences of the controversy in the Wilderness, or in the Garden, and in all the weary life between; by so much more mighty was the power of opposition which then was brought against him, and the strength of trial with which he was tried, the desolateness in which he was left, and the horror of great darkness which came over him. My Lord’s body in the tomb—my Lord’s spirit in hell—are to me at once the explanation of the meaning, and the assurance of the truth, of these words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!”
Brethren, did you ever meditate that expression of Peter’s, which he spake by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost; “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains (the travail-pangs) of death, because it was not possible that he should be holden of it?” To me they open a great deep, in the coasting of which I find little help or guidance from our clear-headed Protestant divines, but not a little from many of the Fathers of the primitive and some of the mystics of the Roman Catholic church. When I turn to the 116th Psalm, from which the expression, “the travail pangs of death,” is taken, I find it thus written, “the sorrows”‘—(in the Septuagint, which the Lord and the Apostles for the most part used, it is “the travail-pangs of death,” the same form of words which Peter useth)—”the travail-pangs of death compassed me, the pangs of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow: then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee deliver my soul;” and soon, throughout the whole of that Psalm, which casts much light upon the state of the Lord’s soul between death and the resurrection. And yet methinks it helpeth me a little more to apprehend the deep mystery of these travail-pangs of death and straits of hell, from which he was loosed by the resurrection, to witness the joy expressed in the 16th Psalm, that he should not be left under their dominion: “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand I shall not be moved: therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope; for thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” The prospect of the resurrection maketh his heart glad, and every hope of glory to awake and rejoice within him; first of all, because the low, and loathsome, and narrow straits of death and hell he should speedily be delivered from, on account of his piety and blamelessness: then follows his restoration to life— that is, the resurrection, and ascension unto glory—as the second ground which he had of gladness: “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy: at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” From this Psalm I certainly conclude, that there was a far greater humiliation and horror in the condition to which the Lord passed by death, than in the condition into which he came by birth; that the travail-pangs of his mother prognosticated nothing like so painful a being to the holy child Jesus, as the travail-pangs of the cross did to the man Christ Jesus, who by that passage descended into death and hell.
In addition to the light which is cast upon this great mystery from these two Psalms, and others of the like strain, I find a great door of meditation opened by these words of Paul in the fifth chapter of the Hebrews; indeed, so strong and so steady a light as wholly to clear it from all ambiguity and doubt: “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong cryings and tears, unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” Here the holy Apostle declareth that the great anxiety and burden of Christ’s soul, during the days of his flesh, was his death; and that the great burden of his prayers and his supplications was to be delivered from it; and that he was heard because he feared, or, as it is in the Psalm quoted above, because he set the Lord continually before his face.
To this, do well agree various passages of his life. When Moses and Elias appeared with him on Mount Tabor, the subject on which they discoursed was the “death which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.” Oft he broke the subject to his disciples, as that which lay nearest to his heart; but their dulness of hearing, their hardness of faith, and utter rejection of the thought, barred their souls to all such communications: at which our Lord was so grievously offended upon one occasion, that with unusual warmth he said unto Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan, for thou savourest the things of the earth, and not the things which be of God.” But as the time drew nigh, nothing could hinder the bigness of his grief from heaving and swelling forth certain ejaculations; as upon the occasion recorded in the preceding chapter, when he said, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour;” and at the Supper, when “he was troubled in spirit, and said, One of you shall betray me;” and in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he three times prayed that the cup might pass from him; and upon the occasion of his dialogue with the mother of Zebedee’s children, when he said, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Being, however, debarred by the unbelief of men from any human sympathy in this the great burden of his soul, he did retire into secret places, and into the wilderness, to pass whole nights in prayer: and I have no doubt, that, if the solitudes of Galilee and of Mount Olivet could lift up a voice, they would bear witness to those prayers, and supplications, and tears, and strong cryings, with which Christ so earnestly besought to be delivered from death. And so much doth the Apostle Paul see the humiliation of Christ to be concentrated in this one act of dying, that in a certain place he giveth no other end of the Incarnation but this one only, saying, “Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death.”
Of these tears and supplications we have, indeed, little record in the Evangelists, but the Psalms are full of them; for example: “I am weary of my crying; my throat is dried, mine eyes fail, while I wait for my God.” Again, “I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping: by reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin.” Again, “My tears have been my meat day and night.” Again, “When I wept and chastened my soul, that also was to my reproach.” And so forth, throughout every Psalm where the Holy Ghost doth manifest beforehand the sufferings of Christ. Of all these prayers, supplications, tears, and strong cryings, Paul declareth to us the burden was, that he might not be given up to death. And so we find it to be declared in the same pathetic Psalms; as in the 102nd: “He weakened my strength in the way; he shortened my days. I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days.” And again, in the 6th Psalm “Return, O Lord; deliver my soul; O save me, for thy mercy’s sake. For in death there is no remembrance of thee; in the grave who shall give thee thanks? I am weary with my groaning; all the night do I make my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears. Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.” Again: “Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: Lord, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee. Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee?” These expressions of grief, the strongest which language ever expressed, are almost always found in connexion with deliverance from death: and before the end of the Psalm the deliverance is commonly vouchsafed, and the universal triumph of it gloriously set forth. Not that I suppose Pauls testimony needeth confirmation, but that I would shew how common is the consent of all Scripture, that the great agony of the Lord’s soul was, how he might be delivered from the hand of death and hell: in which there could be no meaning, unless the scene into which death did pass him on, were a scene of far greater trial, than the scene from which it carried him away. No doubt this, which Paul declareth, was the common doctrine of the Apostles; and therefore it is, they lay such a prodigious stress upon his resurrection, that pillar of their system, that mere incumbrance of ours, who neither will nor can be persuaded to look farther than the cross. But the Apostle Paul saw deeper into this mystery, when, in the passage from which I quoted, he adds, that “Christ, though a Son, learned obedience by the things which he suffered;” and thereby was made perfect for the office of the priesthood; to which, he had argued, it was indispensable that every one called thereto should have a fellow-feeling with those for whom he offered, and compassion upon them which are out of the way, as being himself compassed about with infirmity. This Christ not having in himself, being a Son, and no alien, or enemy, had, as it were, to learn by passing through the afflictions of life, and the sorrows of death, and the pains of hell or the separate state; until, having proved the uttermost trials of those whom he would redeem, and being risen from them all, perfected for the Priesthood, he did become “the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him, called of God a High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek.”
Of these words, therefore, the last which he uttered on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!” “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit;” I think the true key to be this,—That when the swimmings and swoonings of real death were ready to come upon him; and he felt that his body, upon the resurrection of which depended the resurrection of all saints and the restoration of the material world, was about to descend into the strong-holds of death and corruption; and that his spirit was about to descend naked into the place of separate spirits, and to wrestle with the spiritual powers thereof, which were ready with all their might to oppose the going forth thence of his soul, and the souls of all saints; he was moved, yea, and overwhelmed with the power which death and the grave were mustering against him; with the gathering gloom of the hour and power of darkness, which thickened more and more. And all the strong cryings, and tears, and prayers, and supplications, which he had made during his life to be delivered from death, were gathered and concentrated into one biggest utterance of desolation and abandonment; which was expressed in these words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!” while, on the other hand, all the faith which at various times he had exercised under his many trials, and which had so triumphantly carried him through them all, being summoned up to his help, was so distressed and put about by the multitude of his present enemies, that it had but power to breathe out a prayer, such as the most outcast sinner and public criminal will adopt, and doth commonly adopt, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
To understand the cause of this extremity, and of the condition into which the Lord passed after death, it is necessary to go back, and reflect a little upon that original curse, from the power of which he had come forth to redeem men: “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” The sentence was death, and death is the execution of the sentence. What then is life! Life we hold of the purchase of Christ’s sacrifice made from the foundation of the world. Whether you regard the life of any individual, or the life of the race of men, or the life of animals, or the vegetable life of the world, it is all a fruit, a common fruit of redemption, a benefit of the death of Christ, from all eternity purposed, and far as God is concerned accomplished also. Nevertheless, like all the benefits of Christ’s death which are common to all, it is not of the nature of a covenant, but of a grant at will; not of a certainty, but of a possibility; and, therefore cannot be calculated upon for a day or for an hour. And though there be light diffused around, and every necessary of life, and the materials of much much enjoyment; still it is all in uncertainty a chaos, out of which something fixed and stable seemeth to be forming itself, but not the very thing; a life in death, and a death in life: a hope, a promise, a possibility, but no more: the enemy being held at bay, but growling in the distance, and ever snatching his prey upon the right hand and the left, yet restrained: as it were, a respite, but not a reprieve; an arena for certain trials and preparations previous to the sealing of the fixed and ultimate mandate. Such is life. But death is not such: it is no promise or threatening, but the very reality; not a hopeful possibility, but a stern necessity: within the verge of which lies no repentance nor remission, nor change for better or for worse; but fate, irrevocable fate. Death is indeed like the fulfilment of a word of God, it is so steadfast and immoveable. It is not like sickness, which is fluctuating; nor like disease, which is curable; nor like sorrow, which is mitigable: nor is it the conflict of good and ill, of hope and fear; but the consummation and perpetuity either of the one or of the other. Death is the execution of the mandate; it is the curse effected; the expulsion from the very hope and dream of Eden.—Such is the difference between life and death; so great and comprehensive, that they are in human language used as the most direct of all opposites, and the most violent of all contraries. And yet even death hath received from Christ’s sacrifice a certain benefit, which retardeth the evil day of the curse’s consummation, which taketh not effect until after the judgment, in the second death. Meanwhile there is to the body a rest in the grave; and to the separate soul there is a looking for and a waiting for of judgment: which conditions of rest and fearful expectation, even in the wickedest, are nothing to be compared to the awful reality of woe and misery which cometh on in the second death; and which would doubtless have been the instantaneous effect of the curse, had it not been beaten off and postponed by the powerful mediation and intercession of Christ, slain for us from the foundation of the world. I say, that, but for Christ and his righteousness, this earth had instantly, on the Fall of man, passed into the condition of the lake that burneth, and man into the condition of the second death; or, like the angels which kept not their first estate, he had been imprisoned in chains of darkness until the judgment of the great day. Such is the common, such is the universal remedy of that offering, that it is by virtue of the redemption of Christ the sun shineth upon the evil and the good; by the redemption of Christ the rain descendeth upon the just and the unjust; by reason of the redemption of Christ the body resteth in the grave; and by reason of the redemption of Christ the separate spirits are in prison, and not in the lake that burneth, which is the second death. So that the curse doth not completely take effect until the day of judgment; at which it will be found that this earth hath been redeemed gloriously, and the bodies of innumerable saints have arisen gloriously from the dead, and the souls of innumerable saints have come forth gloriously from the paradise of the separate spirits to enjoy the heaven which Christ hath sanctified and blessed, and for the inhabitation of which he hath sanctified and blessed them.
Now, brethren, after meditating these common, and I may say universal, blessings of redemption, which flow from our Lord’s humiliation, let us consider more particularly what he hath accomplished within this space and condition, which he had won from instant perdition, for the sake of those who have made with him a covenant by sacrifice. This present season of life, and that future delay of the second death, I regard but as so much room made for displaying certain gracious objects, and bringing to pass certain glorious purposes, by which the glory of God may be advanced over and above the glory of Satan, the triumphs of faith and love over falsehood and malice: and this room, which the virtue of his sacrifice had gained out of the grasp of the curse, Christ hath occupied upon the earth with a church, and in the realms beneath with a paradise. For as there is upon the earth a church and an outward world; so is there beneath, or, as the Scriptures say, under the earth, a paradise and a prison, a place of comparative blessedness and comparative misery; though not to be likened, as I judge, to that blessedness and misery which shall be realised after the judgment. Which church upon the earth, being compared with the world, is, as it were, a paradise wherein are found the grace of God and his forgiveness, and peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and truth and righteousness, and the communion of saints, and the hope of salvation, and whatever other blessings pertain to God’s own inheritance. Whereas the world is under sin and condemnation; and. Satan is its prince, and destruction its certain doom: it is deceived, and is in bondage, and discord, and discontent; in one word, it is but the court of the prison into which they pass at death; and that prison of darkness is but the sale and doleful lodging in which they are kept until the day of judgment, upon which ensueth the eternity of the second death. Now as this church hath been in the living world, on this side of death, since the Fall; so also from the beginning hath that paradise been in the spiritual world, on the other side of death. And as of that church Abraham is commonly represented as the father, being called the Father of the faithful; so that paradise is called the Bosom of Abraham, where the righteous, who have been followers of his faith, are quiet sharers in the blessed and beatific repose of his spirit. These two blessed certainties, therefore—the certainty of the church on earth, and the certainty of the paradise of blessedness into which they are gathered—are the two great and glorious works which Christ hath wrought within the coasts of time, and beyond the bourne of the grave. And besides these, it is well said in our Catechism, that ” the bodies of the saints, being united to Christ, do rest in their graves until the resurrection.”
Now, though these two most blessed estates, the church and the paradise, on this side of death and on the other side of death, have been in being since the Fall, purchased by the infinite value of Christ’s eternal sacrifice, and produced by the mighty operation of the Holy Ghost, who bringeth into substantial being that which the Word hath obtained and verified; yet, notwithstanding, when Christ was manifested, he had in the body to pay the ransom and undergo the humiliation; to come under the curse, and overcome the enemies of his church. He suffered for Abraham and for Moses, and the former church, as well as for Peter and Paul, and the latter church. In his life he fought the battle for the life of his church, and prevailed; and by that victory, which he gained over sin in “the flesh, we are assured of victory over sin in the flesh; and by that defeat which he gave to our spiritual enemies, we are assured of defeating them; and by his victory over the world, we triumph over it: and so on, through all the temptations and vicissitudes on this side the grave. Our High Priest having been tried with the same, and having prevailed, we are sure of prevailing when we are tried.—But, brethren, what say you of the state beyond death? Of the body, we say that it will rise, because Christ’s also rose: his resurrection is the comfort of my body in death: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and therefore in my flesh I shall see him.” True; a most blessed truth, dearly to be cherished by this frail and painful body. But of thy separate spirit, my brother, what assurance hast thou? what becometh of it? Why, my Lord’s spirit descended into the place.of separate spirits and, in spite of all the powers thereof, he returned back again to the realms of light, even to the earth, and reclaimed his body from the tomb: and therefore I am assured that my spirit also shall come forth thence, when the fulness of time is come; shall come forth unto the earth, and reclaim my body from the tomb. But if Christ descended not thither, what assurance hast thou? for I have none. The secrets of that place if my Redeemer hath not penetrated into, if he hath not rifled them, then indeed it is a gloomy mansion, whose strength I know not, or rather whose weakness I know not. Besides, if Christ descended not thither, how was that paradise won from the waste? We see how by his life, by the humiliation and victory of his life, the church was won from the waste world; but how in life could that which is not within the realms of life be won? The Lord certainly, therefore, in descending into hell (not the place of torment, but the place of separate spirits), went thither to build the gates of paradise upon the rock of his Divinity, as he had builded in his life the gates of his church thereon; to drive back the powerful demons; to found the impassable gulf, and make it sure; and to establish the spirits of his saints in blessedness. In order to accomplish the former, he went through the humiliation and suffering of life; and in order to accomplish the latter, he went through the humiliation and suffering beyond life: in entering into which, he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me;” yet by faith prevailed, to add, “Father, into thine hands I commit my spirit.” It is into this, the last and lowest act of the Lord’s humiliation, that we are inquiring, by the light and guidance of the holy Scriptures.
And now, for the further illustration of this, the fourth act in the Lord’s humiliation—which I have opened with the more latitude, because it not only is not regarded in our present shallowness of doctrine and enlightened abhorrence of all mystery; but is wholly rejected, under the influence of a loose, popular, confused notion, that our Lord’s soul did instantly upon his death pass into the glorious presence of God; which I have no hesitation in denouncing as a fundamental error in doctrine, and one of a very evil consequence— I say, in further illustration of the sore pains of death, and restrictions of the separate state (or, as the Creed hath it, of “hell”) into which the Lord descended, I have these two types or emblems, contained in the Old Testament, to offer unto you, —the entombing of Jonah in the belly of the whale, and the lengthening out of Hezekiah’s life: the former upon our Lord’s own authority; the latter upon good grounds, which, if time permit, I shall explain.
In the 12th chapter of Matthew, at the 39th verse, our Lord, in answer to the Pharisees who sought of him a sign, thus delivered himself: “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of the Prophet Jonas: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” In various parts of the Old Testament, especially of the Prophet Isaiah, as in chapters 11, 18, and 31, Messiah is said to set up an ensign for his people, unto which the Gentiles should seek in fear and terror. And the Jews, little acquainted, and caring not to acquaint themselves, with the prophecies of Messiah’s humiliation and suffering, wanted that ensign, or sign (for these words are one in the Septuagint and the Gospels), to which the Prophets did attach such glorious effects, and which they expected in tenfold more power and glory than that which accompanied Moses and the congregation in the pillar of the cloud. The fulfilment of this promise, Christ admonisheth that generation not to expect, because it was an evil and adulterous generation, not worthy to enter into glory, but into deep humiliation and suffering: and therefore the sign which they should receive from the Son of Man would be that of the Prophet Jonah; who, for his rebellion against God, was cast into the deep, and swallowed up of the whale, in whose dark and loathsome belly he abode three days and three nights. This sign, he further declareth, should be given in the person of the Son of Man, who in like manner should be three days and three nights—that is (according to the Eastern custom of speaking unto this day), for a period which should be portioned out of three days and three nights —in the heart of the earth. Now, brethren, a sign must answer, and be conformable to, the thing signified, otherwise it is no sign of that thing, but the sign of something else. Thus, baptism is a sign of regeneration, because, if you take it by sprinkling, it signifieth our being purged from an evil conscience by the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus, which the Holy Ghost taketh and applieth unto our souls; or, if you take it by dipping, which the church hindereth not, though she judgeth it not indispensable, then it signifieth the being buried with Christ as to our old man, and risen with him as to our new man, to live unto God. Likewise the Lord’s Supper is a sign of the new man’s feeding upon the body and blood of Christ. The doctrine that the two sacraments are no more than bare and naked signs, we utterly abhor and detest; but that they are most apt and beautiful signs of that consummated life, whereof they are also the actual and sealed commencement and continuance in them who believe, and in those who believe not the seals of their apostasy, there can be no doubt. And in somewhat the same manner we should expect the abiding of the Son of Man in the heart of the earth to be a sign unto that evil and adulterous generation. But, if the season of three days and three nights, during which he there abode, was a season of rest, or a season of joy and glory, how, I ask, could it be a sign unto that evil and adulterous generation, which was about to be cast into the furnace of the wrath of God, into the desolation, and dissolution, and death, in which they have abidden unto this day? Or how could it be paralleled with the state of Jonah in the whale’s belly, the saddest, gloomiest, most desperate, and most loathsome into which man was ever brought? of which we may say, that as God’s almighty power could alone have effected it, so his omniscient mind could alone have imagined it: but how fit an emblem of that low and miserable estate into which the Jews have been brought; whose overwhelming degradation and abysmal suffering hath as much surpassed the judgments of all other nations, as Jonah’s degradation and captivity surpassed the conception and the experience of every other man’s captivity! For the Jews have been swallowed up alive, and alive preserved, in the great behemoth of power which rageth in the sea of this unredeemed world. What, then, must the Son of Man’s condition during three days and nights’ abode in the heart of the earth have been! how abject, how dishonourable, how sorrowful! in order to stand between Jonah’s misery and the misery of the Jewish people, the antitype of the former, and the prototype of the latter. It must indeed have been such as passeth all comprehension and belief: into the gulf whereof when he was passing downward, like Jonah into the open throat of that loathsome living sepulchre which widely opened its armed jaws upon the Prophet, he cried aloud, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me! Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
How absurd, how exceedingly absurd, then, to set forth the experience of the Lord’s soul between death and the resurrection, as an experience of rest and joyfulness, merely because be said unto the thief upon the cross, “To-day shall thou be with me in paradise!”—But, dear brethren, God forbid that I should for a moment doubt the blessed estate of that thief, and all the saints who sleep in Jesus, while I maintain that Christ endured a most fearful conflict during his abode in the separate state. I no more doubt the blessedness of the saints there, than I doubt their blessedness here. But by what means, in this life, do the saints come by the peace that passeth all understanding, and the joy of the Holy Ghost? Was it not procured to us by the sufferings of Christ in the flesh? Because we have joy in the days of our flesh, had he therefore joy also? Yes, he had joy; but did he not work it out by strong contentious and bloody sweat? In like manner, while I doubt not the blessedness of the separate state, but most surely believe that the bodies of his people do rest united unto Christ, ready to come with him at his coming, I as surely believe that they enjoy this estate of rest and blessedness only in virtue of that conquest over death and over hell which he achieved by descending into death and hell. And by how much the empire of Satan in death is stronger than the empire of Satan in life; by how much the corruption of the body by the worm is a more complete work of sin, than any sickness or sorrow in life; by how much Satan’s power over a disembodied spirit, shut out from the hopeful and somewhat cheerful world, is more mighty by far than his power over an embodied soul, with all the comforts of the earth and possibilities of the regeneration around it; by how much hopelessness is more miserable than hope, and necessity more obdurate than possibility; by how much, in short, the powers of death and hell, and the outer darkness of their dominion, is more terrible than any abode of settled and confined misery upon the earth: even by so much more fearful was the struggle, by so much more hideous was the front of battle, by so much more terrible the labours of the conflict, by so much more glorious the achievement of the victory, which the Son of Man fought, endured, and achieved over death, and hell, than was that which he fought, and endured, and achieved, over the powers of the world and the flesh. For Satan was the cause of both conflicts; Satan and his host were the rulers of the fleshly and of the spiritual conflict which our Lord endured. Who, when he had overcome Satan in the world, and condemned sin in the flesh, did lay aside his fleshly mantle, and in spiritual nakedness descend into a spiritual battle with spiritual wickednesses, with the thrones and dominions and powers of darkness. And when he had overpowered them in their own strongest region, he returned, and took his body out of the hands of the hungry grave, from the ravenous powers of corruption; and, being once more clothed, he tarried with his church until the day of his ascension into glory. And in token of his victory, he brought from the state of separate spirits as many of the saints as it seemed to him good; who also took their bodies from the grave, and went with him into glory. But the best trophy which he left behind him in that separate state, is the blessedness in which the souls of his people abide, and the hopefulness in which their bodies rest; being assured of, and earnestly looking forward to, the day of their manifestation; when from their present secret and unseen abodes they shall come forth, arrayed in the glory with which the Son of Man shall then be adorned—it. after their resurrection, they be not appointed for a season to set the church in order, and establish it triumphant over all the earth; and thereafter to be brought by the Lord into the glorious presence of the Father.
So much light upon this mystery do I derive from the sign of Jonas, which was given to that evil and adulterous generation in the burial of the body of the Son of Man, and the abode of his soul for part of three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. There is much more to be derived from that sign, both as respecteth the time and the place of his abode; which I reserve until I shall come, in the course of our regular lectures, to take up that passage of the Gospel. With respect to the instance of the prolongation of Mezekiah’s life; time doth not permit me at present to enter into it. But I pray you to observe carefully, and at your leisure to meditate diligently, the two prayers, or prophetic songs, which Jonas and Hezekiah uttered on those two most memorable occasions; and you will see how the Holy Spirit carrieth them beyond their experience, and indeed all human experience, and doth indite a canticle which may serve to bear the faith of the church onward to some deeper humiliation, and greater prolongation of life, than those instances which to them had occurred. And you may lay it down as a rule universal, that in all the acts of the Lord’s providence which are typical—as the swallowing up of Pharaoh in the Red Sea, the gift of Samuel unto his mother Hannah, the swallowing up of Jonas, and the prolongation of Hezekiah’s life, and, above all, the numerous incidents of David’s life, which were almost all prophetical—in all such prophetical events, I say, you will find an accompanying song, psalm, or canticle, which the Holy Spirit did add, as the interpretation of the same: and of that song, psalm, or canticle, you will always find the language too large for the event, the terms too magnificent, the consequences too vast and enduring; in short, you will find it to include and enclose the particulars of that special event in a glorious canopy of large and eternal blessing as the heavens do surround and encompass the earth; whereof the blue vault doth take its spherical appearance from the form of the earth, and in all its motions doth represent the earth, with its restful poles and circular revolutions; but is high above the earth, and vast beyond the earth; as the ways of God and the thoughts of God are high and vast beyond the ways and thoughts of man. After perusing these two prophetic prayers of Jonas and Hezekiah, I pray you to study the 88th Psalm and the 142nd, also the 40th, the 139th, and parts of many more; and you will perceive how very large a portion of God’s anticipative providence, and anticipative word, hath distinct and separate reference to this second scene of humiliation concerning which we have been discoursing.
And now, dearly beloved brethren, these two great divisions of our Lord’s humiliation, which he endured at the hands of wickedness in this world, and of the spirits of darkness in their proper abode of darkness, should bear a twofold aspect upon us, who are the servants and followers of Christ: first, as respecteth this world, with the wicked men of which this subject calleth us to contend earnestly, in the assurance of victory; and, secondly, as respecteth the mansions of death, and the separate estate; into which it enableth us to descend without any fear or dread, to work the work which may there be assigned us.—First, as respecteth the wicked men of this world: you are to separate yourselves from their wickedness, while, as the Lord did, you are to mingle with their companies and engage in their conversations; testifying every where for truth and righteousness, and patiently bearing the reproach of them that reproach God and Christ. “What profit is it, if, when ye are reproached for your faults, you bear it patiently. but if ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye, for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: and if, when ye do well, ye suffer for it patiently, this is acceptable unto God; for even hereunto were ye called: for Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps.” Shun not this conflict with the men of the world, neither flee away from their evil and reproachful treatment of you; but wait the time of the Lord’s deliverance, and meanwhile commit yourself unto Him that judgeth righteously. And remember, brethren, that it is not the base and unbaptised world, but the church which hath apostatised to the world, with which you have to contend: and this bringeth you more closely to the fellowship of the Lord’s sufferings. Every one of those who are of the world have gone out from us, and preferred the present evil world: they have rejected Christ, and they must, reject every one who beareth the image of Christ. They choose the darkness, though the light shineth around them: they elect the path of evil, though they were, at their baptism, introduced, and have ever since been entreated back, into the path of uprightness. What, therefore, can you look for at the hands of such, -but the enduring vindictiveness of apostates, the persecuting rage and violence of apostates? Who are of two classes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees; the former adhering to their forms of ritual service, and their outward works of piety and charity; the latter adhering to their intellectual self-sufficiency and enlightened scepticism. And I tell you, brethren, that the Pharisaical sect of apostates will vex and trouble you, because you do not exalt and uphold the visible beauty of the doctrine or the discipline—that is, the beautiful stones of their temple, or the divine and indefeasible right of their Mount Gerizim. And if, over and above their social and sectarian devices for bringing about the Lord’s glory and the earth’s blessedness, you will exalt Christ’s second coming as the great desire of the church and expectation of the ends of the earth; though you should not neglect their tithe of mint and cumin, if you will insist for the mightier matters of the Gospel hope, as the destruction of Antichrist, and the judgment of an apostate faithless church, and the glorious coming of the Lord, and the bringing in of the Jewish church with demonstration of mighty power, and the quick judgment and utter downfall of the apostate Gentiles; you must expect contempt, persecution, and perhaps, in the end, excommunication and death. While from the enlightened and philosophical (falsely so called) Sadducees—that is, our liberal and benevolent disbelievers in all the mysteries of our holy religion—you must expect the uttermost scorn and derision, as men of disordered minds and dangerous opinions And what then? “Be patient unto the coming of the Lord.” Consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself: whose enemies were those of his own household; whose lovers and friends were put far away from him; who looked for comforters, but found none; “who was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Behold, the Judge is at the door. Hold up your heads, because your redemption draweth nigh. Then shall we be glorifled when God hath been glorified in us. But we must first drink of his cup, and be baptized with his baptism, in order to enter into his kingdom.
Secondly, my dear friends, and beloved brethren in the Lord, look forward to the grave and the abode of the separate spirits (if the Lord should delay his coming, and not change us in the flesh; look forward to the unseen chambers of the grave, and the paradise of God, as to a resting with Christ, and a rejoicing in Christ, against the day of our espousals with him whom our soul loveth. For Christ carried these powers also captive at his chariot wheels: according to that word of St. Paul; “Now that he ascended, is it not also that he first descended into the lower parts of the earth?” This day’s discourse is the assurance to the believer of the continuance there of the same triumph over the prince of darkness, which he hath had in the present life. Yea, and of a place of rest in Abraham’s bosom;—but not of un-anticipating satisfaction; nay, but of longing, of earnest longing, and of active praying, until the day of the re-union of the soul with the body, and her marriage with the Lamb. Aye, and more: I believe a state of activity, of active driving back and discomfiting of Satan’s evil power in those regions: of wounding, and bruising, and vexing, and plaguing him,, and conquering and triumphing over him, and perpetuating the work which in those mansions the Lord did set foot. Into which things I enter not at large; but am content to ensure you at the same presence of Christ which sustained you here made you more than conquerers in flesh over sin, and over Satan in the world enthroned, will sustain you there, and make you more than conquerers over Satan in his Spiritual power; there being no more doubt, no more uncertainty, but glory, joy, and assurance, expectation, desire, and earnest longing for the day of our manifestation as the sons of God, for the day of our adoption by the redemption of the body.
Oh, brethren, what a scene of deep meditation I have carried you over! opening to you the humiliation of the Son Man for the end of God’s glory and our salvation;—his contention ‘with all the spirits of evil in earthly places, and in the deep places of their unhindered strength;— his temptations in flesh with every form of sin, and his extreme and utter desertion in death;—a threefold region, deeper and deeper still, of trial and of suffering; the first, commencing from the temptation in the Wilderness, and extending over his life; the second, commencing from the Garden of Gethsemane, and extending to his death; the last, commencing from those excruciating words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!” and extending over the period of his disembodied being. All this travail of the Son of Man, my brethren, was undergone for the glory of God in the redemption of our souls! What think you then of the unmeasurable love with which God hath loved you in his Son? what think you of the inexpressible value of your souls, which were bought with such a price? what think you of the inconceivable glory for which such deep humiliation prepared the way? Will you then contemn this love; will you set at nought this sacrifice; will you barter away this birthright of glory, because you have to be followers of this humility? Count ye it not rather honourable to walk where the Son of God walked, and to suffer wherein he suffered? For its own sake, would you not rather suffer with the Son of God, than enjoy the pleasures of sin, or rejoice with the servants of sin? Or would you shuffle off the form of his humiliation, strike a truce with the world, and give way to the devil, and indulge the flesh; and perish utterly?—Perish utterly from the way, all who are ashamed of Christ’s Cross! Perish utterly from the way, all who go about to please themselves, and not Him whose disciples and servants we are! O Lord, grant us grace never to be ashamed of thy Son! O God, grant us grace never to be ashamed of the Son of Man! Endow us with strength to follow him through good and through bad report; and to give our life for him, who gave his life a ransom for us; yea, and to give our life for the brethren for whom he died.
For the encouragement of such devoted fellow suffering, for the ashaming of such shrinking and apostate fears, take this discourse as my offering unto you, dear brethren; wherein I have, according to my gift, laid out in order the fourfold act of humiliation and suffering which the Son of Man underwent in order to bring glory unto God, to be to us both for instruction and for assurance: for instruction, to guide us in the way; and for assurance, to encourage us in the way. If we would bring glory to God, and be glorified with the glory of the Son of Man, we must walk in his footsteps, and contend with the devil, the world, and the flesh, as he did; and, having fought the good fight, and finished our course, enter, as he did, into the joy of our Lord. And to success in this, nothing will avail but earnestly and constantly to look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now set down at the right hand of God. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” He died only to bear fruit in us; by death to destroy him that had the power of death, and deliver them who through the fear of death were all their life-time subject to bondage: he died to bruise Satan under our feet: he died to condemn sin in the flesh, and to deliver us from the curse of the Law into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. We are the fruit which have grown from that seed that fell into the ground and died. We have the first-fruits of that glory into which he entered, even the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our glory: and it is in no single strength, it is in no human or private strength, that we go out to this warfare against the devil, the world, and the flesh; but it is in the strength of him who conquered: for we are but a continuation of his strength; his very body, possessed with his very Spirit: in us God worketh mightily to will and to do of his good pleasure: “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Therefore, beloved brethren, this discourse, descriptive of Christ’s sufferings, is a discourse exhortative and instructive to you to undertake the fellowship of the same: this discourse, descriptive of Christ’s triumph over all his and your enemies, is a discourse full of assurance to every one who believeth in Christ. It is by spreading our soul in wide contemplation of the mighty work of God in the humiliation and exaltation of the Son of Man; it is by collecting our souls in intenser meditation upon the personal experiences of the Son of Man; that we shall grow into his image; and be led of the Holy Spirit into these the deep things of God, into which I have sought a little to introduce you this day. Therefore I do entreat you to “consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest you also be weary and faint in your minds.” He hath set us an example, that we should follow his steps.—”Now, the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that Great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work, to do his will; working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”