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COLOSSIANS I. 12, 13, 14.
Giving thanks unto the Father, who hath made us meet to be partakers of the
inheritance of the saints in light; who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son; in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.
It is observable, in the ordinary course of God's providence, that a variety of ends are sometimes brought about by the same means; and it is not unnatural to expect something of the same contrivance in his extraordinary interpositions. Agreeable to this, the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ was probably subservient to many beneficial purposes to one part or other of the universe, and to more than we can understand. Therefore, I question whether those proceed upon any good authority, who propose one single end and use of the death of Christ, as exclusive of all others, or as the only end designed by it, all others being accidental consequences or figurative applications. The death of Christ is represented as a sacrifice of the same nature, but of superior efficacy, with the Jewish sacrifice of old. Again, it is represented as a price paid for our redemption from sin and death, like the ransom that is paid when captives are redeemed and set at liberty. Again, it is considered as a martyrdom calculated to testify the truth and sincerity of our Lord's profession. Again, it is an exalted instance of love and affection to mankind; for, although he foresaw all along that this would be the consequence of his undertaking, yet, because he loved us, he would not desist from his ministry, though it cost him his life. It may be again conceived, and is in scripture conceived, that the death of Christ is a pattern to us of patience and humility, of fortitude and resolution in our benevolent endeavours, and firm constancy against whatever man was able to inflict or threaten. Others, lastly, represent it as the method by which God testified his utter and irreconcilable hatred to sin, which nothing was allowed to expiate but the blood of his own Son, and his love also to his creatures, who gave his own Son to die for our sins. But why might not the death of Christ be all these? There are separate passages of scripture where each one of these is spoken of as the end and effect of Christ's death; and to suppose that but one of those is the strict and literal account, and that all the rest are to be taken in a figurative or some qualified sense, is bringing great and unnecessary difficulties into the interpretation of scripture. These ends are all consistent with one another; and it is surely no defect in a scheme, that it serves many purposes at the same time. On the contrary, it affords a striking proof of the wisdom of the contriver; and if he contrive some of them plainly and others figuratively to express what he wants, they may be all equally real ends and equally appropriate ; for it is very necessary, in explaining scripture, to observe, that when a reason, or motive, or end is assigned for a thing, it does not imply that this is the only reason, or motive, or end, though no other be mentioned, possibly, in that passage. Thus, in one place of the Old Testament it is said that God would deliver Jerusalem - for his servant David's sake.' No other reason is mentioned here ; but turn to the prophet Isaiah, and you there find that God would deliver Jerusalem • for mine own name sake and my servant David's sake. God's distinguished indulgence to the house of Israel is described to be sometimes for Jacob's sake, for his ancestor's sake, for God's own name sake, for his truth's sake, for his mercy's sake.
All I wish to be observed is, that these reasons are not applicable to one, but are regarded as so many concurring motives and reasons for the same measure. I mean that, in order to give an adequate sense and substance to many passages of scripture, it is necessary to regard the manner of the writers; and that this regard may be without unfairness extended to the death of Christ.
The various ends of Christ's death may be divided into two kinds, the spiritual and moral. The spiritual consists in the benefit it procured us in the attainability of final salvation. The full nature and extent of this benefit, or in what precise way the death of Christ operates to produce it, needs not perhaps be perfectly understood. Reflect how little we know of the laws of nature, as they are called, or the laws and regulations by which the world of spirits is governed ; still less of the lives which we shall experience in a world for which we are destined. According to that, the death of Christ may, both in an intelligible and a natural way, have an efficacy in promoting the salvation of human creatures. The moral ends of the death of Christ consist in the additional motives which it furnishes to a life of virtue and religion, as it is a pattern, and example, and
encouragement, and incitement to virtue. This last class 1 propose to make the subject of my present discourse.
It is necessary, in the first place, that nothing I say of this class be construed to exclude the other ; for the most probable opinion seems to me to be, that many and different ends were proposed in the death of Christ, all equally real, none of such single importance as to exclude the rest. Now the first great lesson which the death of Christ teaches us is humility. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men ; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.' How does this rebuke the pride, or inclination to little strifes and distinctions, of human life! Shall we be elated with or made great by any petty superiority, which, if real, is but the difference of an artificial make? Shall we take fire, if our dignity be neglected or affronted ? Is it so mighty a matter with us to condescend to place ourselves upon a level with our inferiors ? Cannot we deign to submit to be poorly thought of in the world? Will not we dispense with one particle of the respect and deference, which we challenge to our rank, or station, or abilities? Do these high and lofty airs become us, miserable dust and ashes, taken at first out of the earth, and ready to sink into it again, when he, who was in the form of God, the express image of his Father, by whom, and for whom, all things are and were made ? when he scorned not to divest himself of the glory which he had before the foundation of the world, and to become of no reputation, to humble himself even to the death of a malefactor, to bear the taunts and triumphs and insults of his enemies, in meek resignation to his Father's will bow down his sacred head upon the cross? This, indeed, reduces all human pride and power to nothing.
Another virtue, equally conspicuous in this great transaction, and equally useful and wanting for ourselves, is that of patience under disappointed affection. Do men refuse or pervert our intentions ; do they repay with ingratitude or ill usage all attempts to do them good by every turn, and disparage us in the opinion of the world, or try to mortify, and vex, and put us to inconvenience in our affairs, whilst we have given them no provocation, or none that we know of ; are others lying in wait to overreach and impose upon and make a property of our ignorance, to prey upon our easiness of temper, to thrust us by in all the competition of life, to encroach because they perceive our weakness; how is all this to be borne ? The scriptures tell us how. The epistle to the Hebrews has the following passage ; •Consider him who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again ; when he suffered, he threatened not, but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously.'
A third just application of the sacrifice and death of Christ is to induce us to crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts; for shall our salvation be in the sight of God himself of such infinite importance and price, that'he spared not his own Son' in carrying on the great business of our redemption, and shall we refuse, for the same end, to resign pleasures of a few hours' continuance, or keep within bounds those destructive passions, the gratification of which we know will be our bane and perdition, which coinmonly begin their torment here, and are certain of it hereafter? Are we less to consider our redemption, whose final happiness or misery must all depend upon it, than he who undertook it, and who quitted the clouds of happiness to carry it on ? Would you know what is meant by the flesh with the affections and lusts, which they that are Christ's have crucified ? St Paul refers distinctly and circumstantially to all uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulation, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings; but neither is this all. There are pleasures and pursuits which are criminal only in the excess, such as diversions, riches, honors, power; these are called the world; the immoderate love of them is called in scripture the love of the world. This love in the heart of a Christian is moderated by contemplating on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto us, and we unto the world;' that is, so much more affecting considerations present themselves to our thoughts this way, and on this subject, that diversions, riches, and honors lose their charms; their gaudy lustre fades away before such contemplations, and our attention is drawn to the littleness of this generation.
But the great inference which the scriptures continually press upon us from the sufferings of Christ is, that if Christ so loved us, we ought also to love one another ;' and surely with reason; for is it to be endured, that while the shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep, the flock should be killing and devouring one another that while we live under the obligation of this stupendous love, while we are indebted to it for the eternal salvation of our souls, we should cast off all kindness and affection towards one another, or towards any ? Christ died that he might gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad; that he might unite his followers into one body, firmly connected by the same spirit to the same obedience, to the same regulations, by the same love and mutual affection to one another; that they all might be one, even as we are one. How is this gracious design defeated by our treachery and ill intentions towards one another! How little do we judge one another members of the same household, children of the same Parent, washed in the same blood, and saved by the death of one redeemer, when there is any passion to be gratified by oppressing and vexing each other! But are we sensible, you will say, of our obligation to a saviour of the world? We acknowledge the infinite debt we owe him ; we allow all gratitude and all love to be most fully due ; how are we to show it? how shall we love Christ, whom we have not seen? •Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?' There is but one way in which we are capable of making any return, the way which he himself has been pleased to point out and declare he will accept; · Forasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.' We cannot lay down our lives for him, as he did for us; we cannot pour out our soul a sacrifice for sin, heal human creatures by our stripes, or bear their iniquities; but we can promote peace and good will, and comfort, and quietness in his family and amongst our brethren. Our influence, it is true, may be small; it may be little we can do even towards these ends, but we can advance them in our neighbourhood, amongst our acquaintance and our families; and the circle of each man's opportunity, be it great or small, is to him the whole world.
But there is also a second consideration on this matter, that it exalts into dignity and respect, it lifts above insult and contempt the meanest of our fellow Christians. Be their outward appearance ever so despicable and forbidding, be their quality what it may, be their age or health ever so infirm, still they are those for whom Christ died. • Destroy not him,' says St Paul, by meats' only for whom Christ died ;' much more, despise not, insult not, overbear not, trample not on, the lowest of our breihren in Christ. However vile they may seem in our eyes, he scrupled not to lay down his life for such.
Finally; as high and low, rich and poor, wise and ignorant, have all one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, let us all pass the short time of