Master Sermon List
"Jesus Seen of Angels"
By Augustus Toplady
"Herein is love not that we loved God, but that he loved us; and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" 1 John 4:10
"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." 1 Timothy 3:16
The compass of this single verse, St. Paul comprises several fundamental Articles of the Christian Faith. The whole passage, so far as it extends, may be considered as a little system of divinity; and literally deserves the name of the Apostle's Creed. And such compendiums as this, of which there are many in Holy Scripture, seem to have given the first hint, at least, to the primitive Churches, of declaring their attachment to Jesus and his gospel, in set formularies and confessions of faith.
Indeed, the apostle himself appears to intimate something of this kind, when, writing to the Romans, he told them, Ye have, from the heart, submitted to that mould, or model of doctrine, into which ye were delivered.
1. It matters very little, whether the apostolic formularies, delivered to different persons, were syllabically, and verbatim, one and the same, or not. Their being materially and substantially the same, as to their sense and meaning, was sufficient to secure the point aimed at, viz. unity of doctrine. The variety of titles, therefore, assigned to these fixed formularies (for such there seem to have been) is, in reality, no objection to the doctrinal unity of the formularies themselves, supposing them to have no necessity for admitting even a verbal diversity of apostolical standards; at least, of those drawn up by one and the same apostle.
Those, for instance, given by St. Paul, were, in all probability, not only materially, but verbally, alike. Whoever considers this apostle's masterly command of the copious language in which he wrote, will hardly, I should imagine, be surprised at the variety of titles given, in different parts of his epistles, to perhaps one and the same summary: especially, as those various titles are all coincident in sense, and, one as well as another, strictly compatible with a fixed apostolic regular. Thus, for example, the Twenty-Nine Articles of the Church of England may be termed (I mean by the few who believe them) and yet remain the same identical Articles, under all this variety of titles.
But the Confessionalist is inclined to believe, that in Romans 6:17, is, in particular, a phrase" absolutely unintelligible," If not referred to "the exemplification of the Christian doctrine, in the practice of pious believers." If, however, we read the apostle's words, through the medium of the metaphor to which he (I think, plainly) alludes; the absolute unintelligibility of which the learned writer seems apprehensive, vanishes at once: and a sense arises (not very favorable, indeed, to the main hypothesis of the Confessional, but) proper in itself, unforced in its deduction, and very intelligible by all.
A sense, too, which is, at least, extremely probable to have been that the eloquent apostle intended to convey; as his admirable compositions very frequently derive both ornament, strength and perspicuity, from the exhibition of imagery and allusion, in which he greatly dealt, and as greatly excelled. -I have the satisfaction to find my argument confirmed by the suffrage of a very respectable commentator, whose leaning no man, I believe, who has any learning himself, will venture to contest.
He observes, that "the word emmo which is the same with rivos here, is used, by the Jewish writers, for a form, copy, or exemplar, of any sort of writings" (Dr. Gill, on Rom. 6:17). I should extend this note beyond all reasonable bounds were I to pursue the argument further. I shall, therefore, only add, that the very particular notice which the author of the Confessional has condescended to take of me, for some pages together, in the last edition of his celebrated work; above all, the charge of flagrant inconsistency with myself, in my defense of subscription to fixed formularies; have brought me pretty deeply into this writer's debt; and if my many aviations will give me leave, I design to embrace the first opportunity orally and respectfully balancing accounts with this able combatant of creeds, whose talents I revere, at the same time that I deflate their misapplication.
So, likewise in his Second Epistle to Timothy, he thus directs that young divine; Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me (2 Tim. 1:3): where the copy, pattern, or outline of sound doctrines, mentioned by the apostle, strongly seems to refer to some elementary sketch, or summary of principles, previously given to Timothy, as a rule by which to proceed, in the doctrines he should publicly deliver as a preacher. So very far are, what have been since called, Creeds and Articles of Faith from being contrary, as such, either to the letter, or to the spirit of the gospel.
The expedience, propriety, and even necessity of these, appear, among other considerations, hence; that, without some given model, or determinate plan of doctrine, deduced from the sacred Scriptures, it will be impossible, either for ministers or people, to form just and connected ideas of divine things. Unless the pearls, which are scattered at large in the gospel-field, be marshaled into some kind of order, and reduced in a regular chain, we can never preach, as the apostle directs, according to the analogy of the faith (Rom. 12:6.): i.e., in exact agreement with that nice connection and mutual relation, which the several doctrines of faith have in common with each other; so as to make, of the whole, one consistent, uniform, unclashing system; like an instrument of music, in perfect tune, without one discordant string; or, like a consummate picture, wherein every stroke is correlative, and symmetry and just proportion reign throughout.
Such is the picture of Christianity, drawn by St. Paul, in the verse before us. A miniature piece, indeed, it is; but the design is happy, and the finishing masterly. The first sentence may stand as a motto to the whole: Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness. More literally, the mystery of religion is confessedly great. Where, by godliness, or religion, are evidently meant the distinguishing doctrines of Christianity; and, by mystery, the obscurity or incomprehensibility, with which those truths are more or less attended, during man's present benighted state below.
I explain the term mysterious, by incomprehensible because, properly speaking, the mysteriousness of divine objects does not so much arise from the nature of the objects themselves, as from our inability to comprehend them. The darkness is in us, not in them. It is the imperfection of human reason, both as to light, capacity, and strength, which gives birth to the mysteries. Thus many things, unfathomable by men, are self-evident to angels: and things still more obscure, in whose contemplation even angels would lose their depth, are, to God, clearer than meridian day.
In direct opposition both to Scripture and common sense, there are writers who make no scruple to assert roundly that Christianity is not mysterious: and that "whatever doctrines are involved in mystery ought, for that very reason, to be rejected as false." If we admit this, we must, to be consistently complaisant, renounce our senses, as well as our faith, and throw philosophy into the same grave with Christianity. For, are not the mysteries of nature, no less than those of grace, confessedly great? Did that philosopher ever live who knew the real texture, and could explain all the properties, even of a single atom that floats in the air, or a particle of sand upon the sea-shore? And yet, to deny the existence of these bodies, merely because we know not what they are, nor how they exist, were madness outright.
Every object that surrounds us, even those with which we are experimentally conversant, defeat our most labored researches, and laugh our penetration to scorn. If, then, there is more comprised in the most inferior and familiar instances of divine wisdom than, perhaps, philosophy will be able to elucidate while the world remains; why should we start, at being told from Scripture, that great is the mystery of godliness? Surely, reason itself will acknowledge, that so far from not being mysterious at all, things spiritual and heavenly must, from the transcendent superiority of their very nature, be abundantly more mysterious than the objects of sense.
The higher we go the stronger this observation binds. In the scale of beings, the farther our contemplation ascends, the more must our difficulty of comprehension increase. Matter, both in itself and in its various modifications, is inexplicably mysterious; the nature of spirit, whether human or angelic, is more mysterious still; and God, the infinite, uncreated Spirit, is most mysterious of all.
If the fashionable maxim be true, that "our faith should go no farther than the clearness of our ideas:" i.e., in other words, if all mysteries are to be cashiered and expunged without mercy; we have nothing to do but to commence infidels and madmen at once. We must, by parity of argument, deny the existence of every object whatever in the whole compass of nature; because there is not a single object which we perfectly understand. We must deny the being of a Deity, because our reason is at a loss to explain his essence and manner of operation. We must deny our own existence, because we are ignorant both of the particles whereof our bodies are composed, and of the nature of that soul by which the human body is actuated.
In short, resolve to believe no mysteries, and you virtually resolve to believe nothing at all: for every thing is mysterious in a greater or less degree, from the highest arch-angel down to the most imperceptible animalcule; and from the sun in the firmament down to the minutes, particle of matter. The very terms which philosophy is forced to make use of prove tile scantiness of that rational cordage which, unable to sound a drop of common water, would madly presume to fathom infinity. What, for instance, is attraction? What is repulsion? names for certain effects, of whose real causes we are in the main as utterly ignorant as the boy that holds the plough, or as the peasant that directs the team.
In the front of religious mysteries, St. Paul places the miraculous and supernatural incarnation of Jesus Christ. "God was manifested in the flesh:" God the Son, who in the covenant of redemption had taken upon him to deliver man, became man to accomplish that deliverance. The truth of his divinity is demonstrable from the whole current of Scripture; and the truth of his human nature, or the reality of his manifestation in the flesh, is evident from his having been liable in general to the sinless infirmities incident to men. He slept he shed tears; he experienced hunger, thirst, and weariness; he was acquainted with pain of body and distress of mind. In one respect indeed he seems to have been exempted from the common lot of other human beings; we no where find, to the best of my remembrance, that he ever so much as once, experienced any attack of sickness or disease.
The reason of this extraordinary circumstance was no doubt owing to the sinless formation of his humanity, by the immediate operation of the Holy Ghost. But the man Christ Jesus was formed and conceived totally without stain. Hence he was, like our first parents before the fall, naturally immortal; nor could he have died, had he not, by an act of gracious susception, taken the guilt of men upon himself, and become responsible to divine justice for the utmost payment of their penal debt. And even under those circumstances we read that his death, though violent, was voluntary.
His resignation of life is constantly represented in Scripture as his own act and deed. For, exclusively of his union with the second person in the godhead, his absolute freedom from sin would of itself have been a certain security from the possibility of dying. Hence the evangelists express themselves thus; he dismissed, or let go his spirit (Matthew 27:50). He resigned, delivered up, or made a surrender of his spirit (John 19:30). St. Mark's and St. Luke's, taken in connection with John 10:18. evidently carries the same import.
As Christ was manifested in the flesh, so was he justified in the spirit: not only justified as to the divinity of his person and mission, and proved to be the Son of God by the miracles which he wrought in conjunction (Luke 11:20) with the Holy Spirit; but likewise spiritually justified by God the Father from all those sins which, as the dying Surety of his people, he had taken upon himself to expiate. He was thus spiritually or mystically justified, and received his open discharge, as a sin-bearing and a sin-atoning Saviour, when he was raised from the dead, and released from the prison of the tomb: when the Sun of Righteousness emerged from his sad, but short, eclipse and rose to set no more.
He was moreover seen of angels; seen with joy and adoration, by the angels that never fell; seen with envy and dismay, and acknowledged with reluctance, by the apostate spirits who kept not their first estate. The apostle adds, that he was preached unto the Gentiles: preached under his two-fold character of God and Mediator; preached as the only sacrifice for sin, and as the everlasting righteousness of believing sinners: preached by all his faithful ministers, in every age, as well under the legal as under the gospel dispensation. And he will still be preached to the end of time, as long as there is one elect sinner uncoiled, and until all the vessels of mercy are brought to the saving knowledge and love of himself.
In consequence of being thus preached unto the Gentiles, he is, and will continue to be, believed on in the world. The Holy Spirit makes, and will persist to make, the preaching of Christ crucified the grand channel of his converting power. Pharisees, convinced of sin, shall be dislodged from reliance on their own works, and seek to Jesus for righteousness and strength.
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Hell-deserving offenders, who once saw no comeliness in Christ, but perhaps blasphemed his name, despised his cross, and trod all his commandments under their feet; pierced with the keen, but salutary arrow of penitential anguish, and melted down by effectual grace, shall look for salvation to Him whom they have pierced, and mourn in the bitterness of their souls, as one that mourneth for his first-born.
All his people throughout the world shall believe in him: some with an assured, some with a faltering, faith; but they shall all believe; just as, when the Israelites were wounded by the flying serpents in the wilderness, some looked to the brazen image steadfastly; others feebly some had a full, near and distinct view of the elevated remedy, others had a distant, imperfect, confused sight of it; and many perhaps could but just raise their eyes toward the object, and hardly caught a glimpse of it: yet they all looked after some rate or other; and all who did were healed.
So all the people of Christ reach forward towards his righteousness; some with a strong, some with a trembling, hand; but they shall all grasp at it, and all utter this prayer which was never, nor ever can be breathed from a graceless heart), O: be found in thee, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God by faith!-who thus believe are careful to adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour in all things.
The Holy Spirit gives faith; from faith s holiness; and the end of both is ever-lasting life. The entire mystic body of the whole election of grace, shall, like their triumphant lord, when their warfare is accomplished, be received up into glory.
But what I chiefly intend at present, is to consider particular clause of this verse asserts that Jesus was seen of angels.
By the angels, here mentioned, we are to understand the elect (1 Tim. 5:21) angels; being ordained to glory, were immutably confirmed in holiness, nor revolted from the dignity and blessedness in which they were created. These saw the Son of God long before Incarnation. They beheld him in the fullness of his infinite and essential glory, which he had with the Father and the Holy Ghost, before all worlds. -It is probable from Scripture, that angels were the first fruits of God's creating power, and called into existence before any thing else was made: and it is certain from Scripture that the second person of the Trinity, afterwards manifested in the flesh, was the creator of all the angelic hosts.
Hence it follows that he was seen of them immediately upon their creation they were no sooner summoned into being than they saw him and adored. As angels were his first workmanship, their bliss with the sight of him, and their first employ was praise. Thus they saw him, thus they loved, and thus they worshiped; until the fullness of time was come, when the Ancient of Days became an Infant of Days, and God the Son was found in fashion as a man. When that blessed person entered on his state of actual humiliation viewed and wondered: wondered to the object of their adoration made for a time lower than themselves (Heb. 2:7). They beheld him at Bethlehem, a babe wrapt in swatches, "When his birth place was a stable, And his softest bed was hay."
Though surrounding cattle were the chief on the Infant Messiah and his in-mother; though, in all outward appearance the new-born Saviour was, from the moment of his nativity, forsaken, despised and rejected of men; he was still seen and revered of angels. The Church of the redeemed bowed the knee, and unfallen spirits sung in that ignominious place, where horses fed, and oxen lowed. The presence of God Incarnate consecrated the stable into a temple of glory; and ennobled the manger where he slumbered into a throne of grace. Such did that humble residence appear, in the eyes of those exalted beings, who, like him that made them, see not as man seeth.
If we trace the adorable Mediator from infancy to a state of youth, we shall find him busied in following the occupation of Joseph his reputed father. It is recorded in the gospel (Mark 6:3), that the Jews said concerning him, is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?
Thus he who laid the foundations of the earth, and by his excellent wisdom made the heavens; he who shakes the system he hath made and the pillars thereof tremble; who speaketh to the sun and it shineth not, and sealeth up the stars, even he disdained not to fix a mark of honor upon honest industry by earning his own livelihood at Nazareth, as soon as his age would permit. There and then was he seen of angels. They saw him laboriously employed and literally experiencing the truth of the penal edict, denounced soon after the fall, that in the sweat of his brow man should eat bread.
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We do not indeed find that Christ wrought with his hands after he commenced a preacher. Which observable change of conduct was designed perhaps to teach us that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel; and, detaching themselves from every unnecessary avocation, devote their time and abilities, as far as possible, to the duties of their high calling.
Though the blessed Jesus was conceived and born without original sin; though he moreover lived perfectly exempt from the remotest shadow of actual transgression; still he vouchsafed to stamp the highest authority on the laver of typical regeneration by his own personal submission to the ordinance of baptism. He would not enter on the exercise of his public ministry until he had been solemnly and openly devoted to the visible service of God. -Might he not likewise, have another and still superior view, in his condescending susception of this sacred rite?
Washing seems necessarily to carry with it the idea of previous defilement. Whoever is brought to the baptismal font is brought thither as a sinner. And the whole ceremony is a solemn recognition of human guilt, as well as strikingly emblematical of the way and manner in which pardon and sanctification are attained; even by the effusion of the Messiah's blood, and the hallowing agency of his blessed spirit. Now if baptism be confessedly an acknowledgment of human sinfulness, how came he to divide the waves of Jordan, who was infinitely holy as God, and immaculately righteous as man? Probably because he was made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21).
In a way of imputation the Lord laid on him the iniquity of all his people (Isa. 53:6). And Jesus was not ashamed publicly to avow the merciful office he had assumed. Hence, though absolutely sinless, he was baptized as a sinner. And this practical declaration of his atoning character was a part of that exterior righteousness, which, as the victim and substitute of his saints, it became him to fulfill (Matthew 3:15). -On this great occasion, we read that the heavens were opened. We are not indeed expressly told that he was seen of angels; though no doubt he was. The reason perhaps, why the mention of that circumstance was omitted by the evangelists, might be because personages of dignity infinitely superior to that of angels constituted and crowned the grandeur of the scene.
The everlasting Father and the uncreated Spirit gave sensible manifestations of their immediate presence; while the co-equal Son, under the likeness of sinful flesh, parted the mystic stream. Angels, who just before admired to see the blameless Immanuel baptized, suddenly exchanged their admiration for adoring awe, and wrapt their prostrate faces in their wings, when the Father Almighty deigned audibly to testify his complacency in the person and priesthood of his Incarnate Son; and the co-eternal Spirit bowed the heavens and came down, not in the form, but after the manner, of a dove: with a gentle, gradual, hovering descent. Well might angels be thrown as it were, into shades, by the silence of the sacred historians. For what are angels when compared with God! evened stars, eclipsed and lost, amidst the boundless overwhelming blaze of day.
Shortly after he was seen of angels, when assailed in the wilderness by the enemy of God and man. They stood by, not to give the Messiah their assistance, for he needed none; but simply as spectators of his conflict, and witnesses of his conquest. As they had formerly seen Paradise lost, by the yielding frailty of Adam; so they now, beheld Paradise regained, by the unrelaxing firmness of Jesus Christ the righteous. After he had fought the good fight, and had actually foiled the tempter, we read that angels ministered unto him: but not before.
"Temptation," says a useful writer(Mr. Boston in his Fourfold State of Human Nature), "is the fire that brings up the scum of the heart. The corrupt heart resembles an ant's nest, on which while the stone lieth none of them appear; but take off that, and stir them with only the point of a straw, what a swarm is there, and how lively they are! Just such a sight, O man, would thy heart afford thee did the Lord but withdraw the restraint he has laid upon it, and suffer Satan to stir it up by temptation." Such is the heart of man: but not such was the heart of Christ.
Though he was tempted in all points, tempted even to idolatry and self-murder, yet was he totally without sin (Matt. iv. 6. 9. Heb. iv. 15). He came forth brighter but not purer from the furnace; brighter, because his graces were rendered more conspicuous by the fiery trial; but not purer, because he had no moral dross to lose. When Satan tempted Christ, it was like striking fire upon ice, or upon a wave of the sea: there was nothing in his sinless nature for the sparks to lay hold on; but every thing that could resist and quench them.
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All the adversary's efforts on the Messiah's integrity were like arrows shot at the firmament: or as an excellent person (Burnal's Christian Armor, vol. i. p. 99) expresses it, resembled "The motions of a serpent on a rock; where they can make no impression, nor leave the least dent or trace behind them. -But on us they are as the trailings of a serpent on sand or dust: they make a print, and leave some stain on the imagination at least, if not on the heart." In every assault therefore which we are called to sustain, may we look for safety and lo, strength to the Captain of our salvation, who in his own person bruised the serpent's head, and is able to succor them that are tempted. And remember, O assaulted Christian, to thy unspeakable comfort, that thou shalt in the end be more than conqueror through him that hath loved thee.
As thy Saviour was seen of angels when he quenched the fiery darts of the wicked one; so art thou seen of thy Saviour under all thy conflicts and distresses: nor seen only, but supported and embraced; and because he overcame thou shall overcome also. A famous Dutch admiral (Van Trump), in the morning of that day on which he fell is reported to have said, "This day I shall be crowned either with laurels or with cypress:" intimating his determined resolution either to gain the victory or to lose his life. And his life he accordingly lost. A musket ball from the English fleet crowned with cypress one of the ablest sea-officers that ever fought.
But it is the peculiar happiness of the Christian warrior to know assuredly, from God's inviolable promise, that no weapon formed against the heirs of salvation shall finally prosper or prevail. Whoever is by saving grace enlisted under the banner of the cross, may be certain before he fights that he shall be crowned not with cypress but with laurels. Prior to his striking a single blow he is insured both as to safety and conquest by that Omnipotent Being whose never failing providence as our Church admirably expresses it, orders all things both in heaven and earth.
When the Son of God commenced a minister of the gospel, and delivered to high and low, in season and out of season, the message of salvation, he was seen and heard of angels. On some occasions they saw the heavenly preacher weep over his unfeeling auditories; and on all occasions heard him declare the counsel of God as never man spake until then. Those mysteries of grace, at this very day angels desire to look deeper into, they learned from his blessed lips: and bending seraphs derived sublime instruction from those matchless discourses which obdurate men despised.
How beautiful upon the mountains were the feet, i.e., the zeal and the labors, of him who brought good tidings and published peace (Isa. 52:7) between God and sinners! Himself the peacemaker and the peace-revealer! how often did he who came to seek and to save that which was lost consecrate the mountains of Judea, by his own personal ministrations; and cause the hills of the earthly Canaan to echo with the sweetest notes of salvation by grace; while streams and rocks responsive reverberated the joyful sound! Elect angels hovering in mid air were his invisible disciples: and elect sinners converted by his efficacious call were the visible seals of his ministry.
O might the present preachers of his word catch a ray of his celestial ardor, adopt his indefatigable zeal, and imbibe spirit of his love! Happy they who enabled to imitate the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls! and oh, that more of were sent forth into the harvest! Yet why do I wish for more? The sovereign of the vineyard best knows what he has to do. God hath in every age raised up a number of evangelical ministers sufficient to answer his purposes of grace. Divine wisdom no doubt proportions the number of gospel-laborers to the extent of the spiritual harvest he means to gather in. God's elect people may be more or fewer in one generation than another: and hence, at different periods, Christian preachers multiply or decrease (Ps. 67:11): just as a skilful husbandman lessens or enlarges the number of reapers according to the quantity of corn he has to cut. If twenty are sufficient for the harvest, he will not employ fifty; if a hundred be requisite, a hundred will be sent forth.
In his secret approaches to God was Jesus seen of angels. They beheld, they more than beheld,-they felt, when with strong cries and tears he poured out his soul in private prayer. Unembodied spirits with admiring sympathy thronged his devout retirements: and though they ever burned with zeal for God, yet they caught additional fervor from the agonizing petitions of their Incarnate Creator. They lighted their taper at his hallowed fire. Listening angels grew more angelic; and seraphs flew back to heaven more seraphic than they came.
When every eye except his own was closed in sleep, oft would he withdraw to some desolate mountain or unfrequented field, and spend whole nights in communion with God. Like the solitary but melodious nightingale, he retreated from the scenes of hurry and observation, to send up the heavenly breathings of his inmost soul in undiverted supplications and unmolested praise. At these seasons it was that, as Dr. Watts finely sings, Cold mountains and the midnight air Witnessed the fervor of his pray'r.
But, though unseen of men, the praying Messiah was seen of angels, and seen of God. Not a sigh that heaved the Mediator's breast, nor a groan he uttered, nor a petition he advanced, but was noticed, accepted, and recorded in heaven: and shall have its full effect, in the glory of his Father and the salvation of all his people.
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Oh, how unlike the prayers of Christ are the frozen, careless, languid, wandering, unfelt devotions of those on earth who call themselves his disciples! May he pour down, upon us the spirit of grace and of supplications. Then shall we feel the importance of divine things as he felt them. We shall walk in some measure as Jesus walked; and pray as Jesus prayed.
On the mount of transfiguration, prior to his last sufferings, was he likewise seen of angels. At humble distance they heard him speak with the glorified soul of Moses, and the glorified person of Elijah, concerning his own decease, which he was shortly to accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). As in the sinless obedience of his life he had perfectly fulfilled the law, for the justification of his mystic body, the Church; so by his propitiatory death, he was to fulfill the prophecies of old, and make atonement for the sins of the people before the Lord. Moses therefore, by whom the law had been given; and Elijah, as representative of the prophets; left, for a while, their thrones in glory, to bear witness, once more, to the Messiahship of Jesus.
On this occasion angels saw his human nature brighten into glory superior to theirs. An earnest and a foretaste of the majesty with which he should be invested, when his sufferings (then just at hand) should be accomplished: and of the glory which the bodies of his saints shall wear, when the trump of God shall sound, and the resurrection of the just take place.
Let not believers like the mistaken disciples who accompanied their Lord at the time of his transfiguration, think to set up tabernacles of abode on the mount of divine communion. Jesus himself came down from the mount; and was soon after seen of angels in the valley of Gethsemane.
On that sad, that solemn night, when he was sold and delivered into the hands of sinful men, he retired, for the last time before he suffered, into the garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives. That garden, to which he had oft times resorted, both alone and with his disciples, for the purpose of secret prayer and religious conversation. That garden, in which he had enjoyed so many delightful seasons of fellowship with God. That garden, every spot perhaps of whose distinguished ground had been consecrated by the footsteps of a mediating, and the knees of an adoring, Saviour. Yet here, alas, were his dying sorrows to begin.
Angels, who had just before seen him institute and celebrate the mystic supper, attended him in his last retreat to this once delightful but now tremendous place. Well might a good man say, "All places are happy, or miserable, in proportion as God vouchsafes or denies his gracious presence therein." In Gethsemane, were Jesus had so often experienced the ravishing consolations of his heavenly Father's countenance in this very Gethsemane must the same blessed Jesus experience the first out-pourings of his Almighty Father's wrath. Here it was that his righteous soul became exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.
Here it was that the spotless victim began to feel the dreadful weight of imputed guilt, and the terrors of avenging justice. -When his inward agony forced his very blood from its veins, which even made its way through his three-fold vesture, and fell clotted to the ground; when himself lay prostrate on the earth with his garments literally rolled in blood; when, as the Surety of the covenant, and as the Substitute of his people, he bore the sins and carried the sorrows of the whole believing world; when, with the names of his mystic Israel upon his heart, our Great High Priest, Jesus, the Son and the Lamb of God, sustained intensively that punishment for sin which must otherwise have been levied extensively on sinners to all eternity: when he cried, in the bitterness of his soul, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; -he was seen, he was heard, he was deplored, of angels. They joined with the agonizing petitioner. They united their supplications with his: and the prayers of angels went up, for once, through the hands of a Mediator.
But it was not possible for the cup to pass from him. The decree must be accomplished. The covenant of grace must be fulfilled. God's people must be saved. The Saviour, therefore, must die. Himself was sensible of this. Hence, though as man his anguish induced him to wish that, if possible, he might drink no deeper of the penal cup; yet, as party to the covenant of redemption, he, in the same breath, consents to drink the dregs and wring them out: adding, Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done; if sinners can he saved, and thy Son not die, let thy Son be spared; but if otherwise, if my people must perish, or thy Son be slain, O save my people and slay thy Son.
Alternate grief and wonder heaved the celestial bosoms of attending angels: grief, at the sufferings he endured; wonder, at his magnanimity of love to man; love, which the many waters of divine indignation could not quench, nor all the floods of horror and anguish drown.
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Angels saw him receive the insidious kiss, by which he was betrayed. They saw him arraigned at the bar of the very men who were indebted for their creation to the word of his power; and who owed the stations they bore to the disposals of his providence. Angels heard and shuddered at the sentence by which he was condemned to die. They saw him mocked, and struck, and clothed with insulting scarlet. He was seen of angels when he deigned to wear a crown of thorns. They beheld, and if angels can weep, they wept, when he was tied to the ignominious pillar, and scourged with rods of knotted wire; when according to the prediction of the royal prophet, The ploughers ploughed upon his back, and made long furrows.
Angels saw, and astonishment was in heaven, when he hid not his face from shame and spitting. They saw when, through the extremity of grief and torture, his beauty consumed away, like as it were a moth fretting a garment, when he could say, Thy rebuke hath broken my heart; I am full of heaviness; I looked for some to take pity on me, but there was none; neither found I any to comfort me. The man Christ Jesus, being formed without sin, and by the immediate agency of the Holy Ghost, was doubtless transcendently fair and augustly beautiful.
Hence his human nature was compared to the temple: a structure eminently holy, and peculiarly elegant. Prior to his sufferings, he was, literally, fairer than the children of men. It was not till his blessed person had been disfigured with wounds and emaciated with grief; until Isis face was foul with weeping, and on his eyelids sat the shadow of death; that he is said to have had neither form nor comeliness; but that his face was marred more than any man's, and his countenance than the sons of men.
Angels thronged around the majestic sufferer when he was led forth to crucifixion, as a lamb to the slaughter. They saw him nailed to the instrument of death, after he had fainted beneath its weight. And, had I an angel's tongue, I should find it impossible to tell what angels felt, when they beard him groan from the deepest recesses of his agonizing heart, that exclamation of overwhelming woe; -My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me? -Forsaken, cried the deserted Saviour. Angels caught the dismal accents. Forsaken, forsaken, the sad and astonished choir replied.
Surely, all heaven was at that dreadful moment emptied of its inhabitants. Surely, not angels only, but the spirits likewise of just men made perfect (who had been saved on the credit of that great sacrifice which was now offering up), started from their thrones, and dropt their crowns; quitted, for a while, the abodes of bliss, and, with pensive admiration and drooping wings, hovered round the cross of their departing Lord.
If ever sorrow was in heaven; if ever the harps of the blessed were suspended, silent, and unstrung on the willows of dismay; if ever angels ceased to praise, and glorified souls forgot to sing; if ever the harmony of the sky was, not merely interrupted, but, if it be possible, exchanged for lamentation and mourning and woe: -it must have been during the six tremendous hours (such hours as nature never saw before, nor will ever see again), that the dying Jesus hung upon the tree.
Having, amidst all his personal agonies, detained himself on earth until he had looked a dying blasphemer into repentance and until he had made provision for the maintenance of his widowed mother (who stood, weeping and adoring, at the foot of his cross) by committing hen to the care and guardianship of his best-beloved disciple; he cried, with a loud triumphant voice, "It is finished: I have suffered enough. The types and the prophecies are accomplished. My covenant engagements are fulfilled. The debts of my people are paid. I have finished transgression; I have made an end of sin; I have wrought out and brought in an everlasting righteousness.
The law is magnified. Justice is satisfied. My warfare is over. My conflicts are past." His spiritual desertions were now superseded. The light of God's countenance gave the expiring Mediator the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. The Sun of Righteousness goes down without a cloud. He departs in peace, with those comfortable words of filial confidence on his lips, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.
Words that pierced the earth to her center, and shook her in her orbit; cleft the ponderous rocks; rented the vail of the temple, and exposed its sacred, but now superseded, arcana, to common view; unlocked the abodes of death; and threw open the graves of many departed saint, who probably (as did their triumphant Lord shortly after) rose to die no more, but ascended, in their respective bodies, with him, when he went up from the Mount of Olives. I have already observed, that Christ continued alive on the cross for the space of six hours. During the last three, there was darkness over all the earth. The sun hid his beams. The dreadful transaction on Mount Calvary "Drove back his chariot. Midnight veil'd the world: A midnight, nature shudder'd to beheld."
Why was the earth darkened? not only to demonstrate the dignity of Him that bled, but, perhaps, to shadow forth that still more deep and dismal darkness, which the soul of the Messiah was then experiencing, under the awful with-drawings of his Father's countenance. When his Father's sensible presence returned, and Jesus, with his dying breath, declared his sufferings fulfilled, light revisited the earth, and the sufferer was received into glory. Joy was again in heaven (never to be absent more), when the human soul of Christ ascended from the cross. With what éclat's of admiring transport was he seen of angels, when he rode on cherubs and did fly, and went up to his throne as on the wings of the wind!