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of skill and power—the dome of St. Peter's is a mole hill in their eyes ; for they know the vast frame-work and mighty grandeur of the heavens. But they visit the house of Mary; they shout their joy through the sky when Jesus is born in Bethlehem of Judea ; they minister to him in the mysterious sorrows of Gethsemane; they watch and wait about his tomb; they attend him as he rises from Olivet, and returns to the glory which he had with the Father' before the world was. The Son, solving the problem of human redemption, the sufferings of Christ, foretold by the prophets, and the glory that shall follow, this is the peculiarity, the miracle, the strange, stupendous elevation of deity in our world, and the angels bend forward, absorbed in the study of it.
We may not expect now, perhaps, to enjoy their breadth of grasp, nor their depth of insight; but, considering our relations and indebtedness to Christ in this matter involving every interest and affection of the human soul, ought not our desire to look into these things to be, at least, as profound and as unquenchable as theirs ?
Our object now is to see, as far as possible, how the atonement meets the demand for this : that is, the necessities of the divine government; of the human conscience; and of the nature of God.
And first, how does the atonement, or the sacrificial death of Christ, meet the necessities of the divine government? What is the divine government? It is, after its author, the most beautiful, beneficent, perfect and glorious thing in the universe. The morning is beautiful as it breaks in light over the eastern hills, the dew drops are perfect as they hang from fragrant leaf and flower, and glow in the rising sun; how exquisitely formed in lines and angles is every little snow-flake, how perfectly graceful is the structure and position of each plant and shrub, and tree; how beautiful in our admiration is the ministry of every one who goes forth to reclaim the wretched children of calamity, vice and crime; to nurse the sick and wounded : and yet every ray of the morning, and every rounding of the dew drop, and every angle of the snow-flake, and the crystal, and the diamond, and the ministry of the benevolent and self-denying, and all that wakes our interest in nature, and all that excites our admiration in character, is beautiful and beneficent and admirable, not because it is erratic and accidental, but because it is conformed to the government and rule of law. And if, from these reflections and shadows, we rise to contemplate the divine moral government in all its perfect relations and benevolent designs, it is above and beyond all that these illustrations suggest as the sun is above the light of a candle, or the character of Jesus above that of John, his disciple. But this is only saying of the government of God over moral beings, " how perfect it is; how good.” The question is : "What is it?" It is not a government of force, not a blind omnipotence, it is not the driving of moral beings along an iron groove, it is not the forming of character in a cast iron mould. What is it then? It is the appeal of God to the reason, and conscience, and hopes, and fears of his creatures ; it is the influence of the Creator upon moral beings, an influence exerted by means of laws and penalties. This is the moral government of God, the exercise not of force but of authority; the influence and appeal addressed to us in the precepts and penalties, laws and motives of his word. So far as our present purpose is concerned, the government of God over his moral creatures is a government of motives.
What then is necessary in order that it may be sustained ? What are the necessities of this government? Simply these, that its motives should be kept unimpaired. To weaken the motives is to weaken the government. To destroy the influence of penalty by refusing to execute it, is to destroy the influence of the law. And to destroy the law is to destroy the very element and essence of beauty and beneficence and glory in the moral world, even as the violation of physical law would be the destruction of the physical world.
These necessities are met in the atonement of Christ. The law is not weakened in men’s esteem, but honored. For Christ submitted to all its requirements, he endured its penalty. Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil, and this he did by answering its demands, and not by doing something else. Thus he testifies, most emphatically, to its sacred character, to its goodness and its necessity. Thus he does not weaken, but enhances immensely, in our esteem, the
motives to keep the law. Thus he magnified the law, that is, greatened the impression of its immutable worth and necessity in the minds of all. If the law of God cannot be relaxed when his own Son is bearing its penalty, it can never be relaxed. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but this holy, beneficent law shall not pass away.
So in regard to the evil of sin, it never seems such a dreadful thing, it never seems so shocking, vile and odious as when we contemplate the sufferings which it cost the Lord Jesus Christ to atone for it,
We may go even further than this, and say that the divine government is stronger because of the sufferings and death of Christ in place of the sinner. By his suffering in the sinner's stead, an impression, an abiding, overwhelming impression is made on all moral creatures throughout the universe, that the Law-giver is inflexibly just; that sin is an unspeakable evil; that the law can not be set aside ; that its penalty can not be relaxed, This impression is all the more deeply made, because it is seen that the atonement involves, and expresses not only the justice, but the love of God. Here
mercy and truth are met together.” The divine government is strengthened rather than weakened by this penal suffering and death of Christ. You remember the king who made a law 'the penalty of which was the loss of both his eyes to the transgressor. His own son was the first to offend. He ordered the son to be deprived of one eye, and was himself deprived of one. Here was the sovereign and the father in the same transaction, and though the literal penalty of the law was not paid, which would have been the two eyes of the offending son, yet doubtless a deeper impression was made as to the justice of the father, and the value of the law, and the certainty of its execution, than if the paternal heart had not thus appeared. Certainly the infliction of the penalty upon his son, even though he shared it with him, must have made a far deeper impression upon the whole kingdom, than the punishment of any number of unknown culprits could have done.
So in the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ. A far more striking impression is made as to the immeasurable value and sacredness of the law, and the certainty of its execution, than
would be made by the punishment of any number of the lost. At the first glance there is something very arresting in the fact that Jesus Christ is an innocent person. The guilty suffer
man takes any notice of it. That is natural. The guilty are expected to suffer. But Christ is immaculate, perfect. And yet his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men, that many are astonished at the sight.
Moreover, he is the Son of God, not the inferior and so one of many, but the equal, or as Zechariah says, the mfan that is fellow with the Almighty, and the Shepherd against whom the sword is commanded to awake, and so one alone. That lone, solitary, forsaken sufferer, stretched, bleeding, dying on Calvary, is incarnate Deity! And the hosts of heaven look down and rivet their intensest gaze on the unfolding mystery. The old law-giver, the psalmist, and prophets find him, like a sun that never sets, always visible in their horizon. "The desire of all nations," the nations have shown a blind consciousness of his approach; yea, the stars and the sun, and the earth seemed to acknowledge his majesty, his advent, and his departure. He bears our sins : He suffers; yea, even He suffers in the sinner's place. And what is the witness of the lost to the truth of God, and to the sacredness of his law, compared with that of these sufferings of Messiah, God's coequal Son?
The sufferings of a culprit in any one of our penitentiaries make little impression on the community. True, it is something to know that these stone walls and iron bars exist, and there is a feeling of safety in the thought that the guilty are confined there. But the history and name of the criminal are soon forgotten. His arrest, in a family high or low, gave him a sudden notoriety; his trial, if protracted by means of able counsel, made him conspicuous for the hour; but he is proved guilty, his punishment is deserved, and, withdrawn from the great living community, lost sight of, he lingers out his miserable life forgotten and unknown.
Just so with sinners on whom the sentence of condemnation and banishment is to be executed in the world to come. They will be of little consequence, awakening no more interest in
their sufferings, than the guilty occupant of a cell awakens in our minds to-day. Justly condemned, as all will agree, speedily forgotten, unknown to the great mass of the universe, they must wear out a wretched imprisonment, exciting little comment, making little impression. Hence, the testimony which the bearing of their punishment affords to the righteousness of God, and the importance of maintaining his law, must be comparatively limited and feeble.
Not so, when the innocent one, the Messiah of the prophets, the Son of God, takes upon himself our liabilities and bears the penalty in the sinner's stead. That is a sight which arrests the attention of the universe, it is a scene to be woven into the thought and feeling and memory of all intelligent creatures, just as the prediction, and the story of his life and death are woven into, yea, constitute the woof and warp, the shadow and substance, of the whole Bible. He bore our sins in his own body on the tree, and heaven and earth and hell, God, angels, men and devils, witnessed his sufferings. He died, enduring for the sinner the curse of the broken law; and therefore, because of the innocence of his nature, the majesty of his person, and the eternal conspicuousness of his sonship, bore a testimony to the immutability of the divine government, the righteousness of God, the goodness of the law, the certainty of its execution, and the appalling evil of sin. We say, the Son of God, attracting to himself the eyes of all worlds while suffering in the sinner's stead, bore a testimony, and made an impression on the universe, that sinners, suffering their own penalty, never could have borne or made.
Thus the necessity of sustaining the divine government is not lowered in men's esteem, though the guilty are freed; the motives to obedience are not taken away, but immensely strengthened. No man can ever entertain the thought now, that the law will be relaxed, or its penalties changed for something else. The suffering of one so illustrious must be known throughout the whole extent of the divine kingdom, and must make an impression and a record never to be effaced. Thus Christ, by his atonement, meets the necessities of the divine goyernment, honors the law, and magnifies the motives to keep it.