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their children's calamities might, perhaps, have sunk urider the sense of present evil, and the dread of future vengeance; but in the moment when the clouds of horror seemed to thicken around them, when Heaven was aroused to indignation, and the earth cursed for their transgression; a ray of consolation beamed on them from above, and the lamp of hope was illumed to point the way to pardon and to peace.
At the moment of the Fall of Man, and the subsequent Revelation of God, the date of Christianity commences. We are told, indeed, that the Lamb of God was slain before the foundation of the world; and this is undoubtedly true, though in a sense to us mysterious. The Omniscience of God well knew, that the servant whom he was about to create, would transgress the laws he should impose, and, to meet the consequences of that transgression, the great Sacrifice of Expiation was predetermined; but to man this gracious counsel was unknown; after the Fall only was the revelation made, then its benefits were needed, and thence its obligations commenced. The substance of that revelation is contained in the words of my text, namely, that Christ, the Son of God, the second Person in the blessed Trinity, “should be made sin for us, that we might be made the Righteousness of God in him.” This is the high and awful truth on which the doctrine of the Atonement is founded; this is the hinge on which the whole of Christianity centers: the collateral circumstances which preceded or accompanied this great dispensation, are, indeed, of high import, both from the matchless grandeur of the event which they introduce, and because, (independently considered,) they have, in various ways, furnished in the hands of Providence, the means of trial to our obedience, and of evidence to confirm our faith; but, when compared with the perfect obedience, the sufferings, and the resurrection of the Son of God, they are lost, as the dawning of the twilight fades before the sun in the blaze of his meridian splendour. As, however, all these circumstances are necessary to be known and believed, I shall present you with a summary of those steps which it pleased the Almighty to pursue in the accomplishment of the great work of redemption.
The promise, indeed, was made, but its accomplishment was postponed; postponed, (let it be remembered,) only in the performance of the event foretold, not in its operation; for of all the Sons of Adam, none hath ever yet been born, to whom the merits of a crucified Redeemer must not have reached, to render even his best actions acceptable. Why the actual advent of our Saviour in the flesh was thus long postponed, it is perhaps presumptuous to inquire; God may surely be allowed to direct that mystery, of the benefits of which we are unmerited partakers; which He only could have invented, and which He only can comprehend; yet sufficient reasons are not wanting, even on this dark subject, by which unauthorised curiosity may be silenced. Had the event promised been immediately fulfilled, and the life and death of our Saviour been coeval with the sin of Adam, the whole world, humanly speaking, must at the present hour have been plunged in the darkest gloom of Heathen idolatry. The direct and proper evidences of Christianity are, Prophecies and Miracles; but the first of these must have been lost for want of an object; the second for want of attestation. This is sufficient to shew the difficulties attendant on the advent of the Messiah at that period; and thus much being granted, it is but presumptuous folly to ask why the period assigned should rather be 4000 years after the creation, than any other era? Why was Cæsar born? or, Why was Babylon erected? We are forward enough to inquire wherefore it pleased God to accomplish the work of redemption at such times and in such a manner. Let not curiosity be limited; let us penetrate rather to the depths of speculation, and inquire first, wherefore it pleased God to redeem us at all? When this first question shall have been satisfactorily resolved, it will then be time to proceed in our investigation of the second.
But the accomplishment of the promised event, though delayed, was not therefore forgotten; from the moment of the Fall to the birth of our Saviour, the Holy Scriptures present us with a chain of historical facts, in which we behold the hand of Omnipotence still directing the same system; and by continual interference, by laws, by types, by prophecies, by punishments, preparing the field, on which the great scene of Redemption was ultimately to be acted. By the institution of sacrifice immediately after the fall, a holy memorial was appointed, typical of the great Offering one day to be made, and operating by reference to that, for the atonement of Sin. The Patriarchs no doubt preserved through their generations the memory of that promise which had been made to their progenitor, and indeed the life of man was at that period of so long duration, that though it might be neglected, it could scarcely have been forgotten. Practically forgotten however it was, amid the lusts and violence of that impious race, whose impieties God was pleased to suffer for a while, till the days of their probation were consummated, and the Flood came and swept them all away. Such was the issue of their crimes, such may be the punishment of ours. The same God who at the fall of Adam had given his only Son to die for the sins of many, sent forth also the ministers of his vengeance to destroy a guilty world; holding forth a fearful example to their posterity, that "the seed of evil doers shall never be renowned:” for justice is the habitation of our God for ever.
But “though the grass wither, and the flower fade, the word of the Lord endureth.” From the ruins of Creation a remnant was yet preserved, in whose seed the oath of Jehovah should be fulfilled. The world was repeopled, and its Author was again forgotten: neither the remembrance of his past indignation, nor the hope of his promised mercy were sufficient to retain Man in subjection to his moral laws, or even under a just sense of his Religion; The divine interference was therefore again rendered necessary, and Abraham was called from the land of Chaldea to become the Father of a faithful people, among whom God should be made manifest in the flesh.
From this period the history of the Jews commences, and is carried on through many centuries in the books of the Old Testament until a short time after their return from Babylon. The whole of that history appears, even in its minuter incidents, to have a relation to the coming of the Messiah, for the accomplishment of which end, and the preservation of the true Religion, they had been selected by God from among the nations. The offering up of Isaac, the captivity in Egypt, the passage through the Red Sea, the whole of the ritual law delivered by Jehovah from mount Sinai, were but shadows of the good things to come, and typical of the advent, administration, and suf
ferings of the Emmanuel that should be born. To him bare all the Prophets witness. The trials, the triumphs, the misfortunes of the Jewish nation were but so many varied dispensations in which the finger of God was still visible, combining and directing the whole. A train of miraculous communications, increasing in clearness and precision as the hour of their accomplishment approached, was continued from the days of Samuel to Malachi, including a period of 750 years; at which time, being four centuries before the birth of our Saviour, the voice of Prophecy was silent, and an awful calm preceded the illustrious era, when the sound of the Lord should go out into all lands, and his word unto the ends of the world.
In the mean time, the other Nations of the Earth, after wandering long in ignorance and barbarism, had emerged into knowledge and civilization. They had awaked indeed from their dream of darkness, but they awaked only to wonder at themselves, to gaze with admiration at the surrounding objects, and inquire with hopeless curiosity, whence they were, and wherefore they were created ? A few faint rays of primeval truth yet shot a gleam into the bosom of solid night; and, guided by their aid, the most thoughtful could discern, that there was something beyond the gloom which surrounded them, something which they were unable to penetrate, but which they ventured to hope might be good; yet ignorant of the great truths on which the Redemption of man is grounded, they were lost in the mysteries of natural and moral Evil; they lived in vigorous inquiry, but they died in doubtful apprehension. Ages still flowed on, and knowledge more widely diffused itself: a large portion of the globe was now united in one empire, whose remotest provinces had been civilized by conquest and reposed in universal peace: