Sermon XVI. It is Finished. [A Sermon for Good Friday.] St. John xix. 30. It is finished.
THE sufferings of the innocent victim have reached their utmost point of endurance. He is about to be released from the agony and the pain of the cross. Malice, hatred, and cruelty, ingenious as they are in torments, have arrived at that boundary which they cannot pass. The infuriate persecutors of Christ "have nothing more that they can do." Treason has now fulfilled its purpose. The loud profession of friendship has filled up what was wanting in the measure of ingratitude, by a thrice repeated and perjured renunciation. And he who kissed to betray, and he who followed to deny, and not less all they who conspired to destroy, their Lord, have now made good his predictions. He has tasted the [230/231] dregs of the cup of bitterness. "The things concerning him have an end." In his own emphatic declaration, "It is finished."
But, my brethren, not merely do these words relate to the sufferings of Christ. To unfold perfectly their import, to show fully the gracious design to which they refer, and to lay before you, in all their extent, the vast consequences which they disclose, is a task so far beyond the best human ability, that the most exalted efforts would in vain be exerted in the attempt.
In these words, the Son of man, lifted up upon the cross, a sacrifice for the sins of the world, authoritatively declares, in the view of heaven and of earth, in the view of the darkened heaven, and of the quaking earth, the consummation of that scheme of mercy which occupied the counsels of the Godhead before the foundation of the world; that scheme into which even now the angels desire to look, and which shall call forth the praises of ransomed and glorified men, through unending ages of ever increasing felicity. But though the scheme of redemption, in all the fulness and richness of its benefits, is one which includes results beyond our power to estimate or to express, and though to be able to comprehend what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ in fulfilling it, is a theme which passeth knowledge; yet of its actual certainty and truth, and of the reality of [231/232] its completion and accomplishment, we sinners, who possess in it so deep an interest, have not been left in ignorance or in doubt. Various were the modes in which it pleased God to communicate his purposes of mercy to our offending race; and frequent were the occasions which he employed, from the moment of the first transgression, to the appearance of John Baptist, the immediate precursor of his Son, to announce his advent, his sacrifice, and the benefits of his passion. In all of these he sought to fix the attention of men upon the pardon and peace to be realized through a Messiah, to keep up continually among them the expectation of a Redeemer, and at the last, to enable them to verify his coming, and the perfect fulfilment of the promised mercy, by the concurrence of many unquestionable proofs.
To whichsoever part of the ancient Scriptures we turn, my brethren, to find delineated the character of that Messiah who was to come, the circumstances under which he should appear, and the manner in which he was to accomplish the work of our redemption; we have only to look into the Gospel history, to read their fulfilment in Jesus Christ. Nor is it possible for any who believe in a revelation of God's will to man, and that which it is one of its most important objects to make known, a great salvation through a divine Redeemer; I say it would seem not possible for those who are willing to believe in such a [232/233] salvation as the Bible reveals, to compare what was predicted concerning the Messiah with what was actually accomplished in the person of the suffering Saviour, without confessing of that salvation, in the impressive words with which, as at this day, Jesus Christ closed his earthly course, "It is finished." And if to be a candid inquirer after truth, and diligently to examine into the facts of revelation; if to weigh fairly the overwhelming evidence in favour of our religion, and with the frankness of an holiest mind, an I the ingenuousness of an unperverted heart, to pronounce upon its claims to credibility; if this were at all compatible with the presumption and the affectation the ignorance and the perversion, which are the characteristic marks of infidelity; such an examination is all that is necessary in order to produce conviction in every mind, and to banish the name of unbeliever from the earth. Without having made that examination sincerely, as in the sight of God, let no man undertake to deny the truth of our religion. Least of all let such an one attempt to charge with credulity those who believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For, beyond all question, if the mind has properly addressed itself to this inquiry, it must be found that more credulity is necessary to deny and be a sceptic, than to believe and be a Christian. And if any who have never carefully attended to the subject, would know the reasonableness of [233/234] our faith, and the grounds on which we look for the promise of eternal life, let them confine their investigations, if they please, merely to this one point. Let them search the Scriptures, which testify of Christ. Let them see how perfectly all things which were written in the law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning him, were fulfilled. And then let them recollect that these predictions are in the hands of the enemies of Christ; of the very persons by whom they were fulfilled, and who claim for them a divine origin; of which there is abundant proof; and he must be obtuse or prejudiced to the last degree, who is not perfectly convinced of the certainty of our faith. It would be opening too wide a field, my brethren, to consider, on this occasion, the various types under which the Messiah was prefigured; nor will I speak of the shadows of the ceremonial law, of which he was the substance; nor of the reference of the whole Jewish dispensation with its sacrifices and rites, to his character, offices, and coming. Sufficient is it to remark, that the whole of that ancient polity which was fixed to continue until Shiloh come, was annulled at the appearance of Jesus Christ, and its consummation was one among the proofs of our redemption, which justified the words of the Saviour, "It is finished."
The positive and personal predictions relative to Christ form another branch of this inquiry; [234/235] and the Messenger who was to precede him, and prepare his way; his conception of a virgin, that he might be, as was foretold, the seed of the woman; the nation, the tribe, and the family, from which he was to descend; the country and town where he should be born; the precise time of his appearing, (at the end of the seventy weeks of Daniel, and while the second temple was yet standing;) the miracles of beneficence he was to work, (causing the eyes of the blind to be opened, the ears of the deaf to be unstopped, the lame man to leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb to sing;) the instructions which, with authority, he was to give; and the predictions which, as a prophet like unto Moses, he was to proclaim; the rejection he was to experience from his own people, and the rage of the heathen against him; his betrayal by his familiar friend, in whom he trusted; and the miserable end of his betrayer; the price, and the very appropriation, of the thirty pieces of silver, to the purchase of the potters field; these, and so many other circumstances respecting him, were so distinctly foretold, and so minutely fulfilled, that while the history of the world exhibits nothing with which this whole transaction, extending as it does through so many ages, can be compared; it is impossible to resist the conviction of a divine and supernatural agency in its accomplishment. But, my brethren, if we regard the circumstances of Christ's passion alone, [235/236] which are more particularly presented lo our consideration by the Church in her daily Scriptures for the present week; if we compare with the predictions of the prophets the narrative of the evangelists; if we see Jesus Christ, as it was written of him, despised and rejected of men; if we see him oppressed and afflicted, taken from prison and from judgment, brought as a lamb to the slaughter, yet opening not his mouth; if we see him giving his back to the smiters, hiding not his face from shame and spitting,; or if, limiting our view to the scene of his last suffering, we follow him, on this day, to the hill of Calvary, and there, with the Centurion, take our station at the foot of the cross; if as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so we see the Son of man lifted up; if as David and as Zechariah predicted, we see them piercing his hands and his feet; if we see him, as Isaiah foretold, numbered with the transgressors, being crucified between two thieves; if, in the very words of the Psalmist, they give him gall to eat, and when he b thirsty, they give him vinegar to drink, all they that se him laugh him to scorn, shoot out their lips, and shake their heads, saying, He trusted in God, that he would deliver him, let him deliver him if he will have him; if we see the abjects at his feet, insensible to his sufferings, parting his garments among them, and casting lots upon his vesture; and if, while all this scene of injustice and oppression is passing before [236/237] us, we hear him, as was foretold by Isaiah, make intercession for the transgressors, saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do;" if, in the blood and the water flowing from his pierced side, we see the fountain which, in the figurative language of Zechariah, should be opened for sin and for uncleanness; if, lastly, amid the gathering darkness of the noonday sun, and the more fearful hidings of his Father's countenance, we hear the cry of anguish, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!" if thus we behold him pouring out his soul unto death, cut off out of the land of the living; we need not the added proof of the rending of the vail of the temple, of the quaking of the earth, the opening of the graves, and the rising of the saints; but with the Centurion shall be compelled to say, "Truly this was the Son of God!"
And when, reviewing again the predictions concerning him, we can discover no indignity which was not submitted to; when we perceive that there was no act of cruelty, or of scorn, or of ignomy, omitted; that all that was foretold of him, who was to do, and suffer, and die, in our behalf, was, in all its minutest circumstances, performed and suffered for our redemption; must we not perceive the force and the fitness of that last declaration of the Saviour, "It is finished." Yes, my brethren, complete now is the work of your redemption. Christ, our passover, is sacrificed [237/238] for us. In him the types are fulfilled. The prophecies in him have received their accomplishment. He hath finished the transgression, and made an end of sins. He hath made reconciliation for iniquity, and brought in everlasting righteousness. He hath sealed up the vision and prophecy. But, my brethren, we should consider Jesus Christ not only as having fulfilled the will of God, by finishing, as on this day, the work of the atonement, in his most precious death; but also as setting before us a perfect model of our duty in his most holy life. In the language of our Church, he is unto us both a sacrifice for sin, and also an ensample of godly life." There cannot be any circumstances, my brethren, in which his conduct may not direct and guide us in our duty; for he was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin, whether he was surrounded by those who shouted hosannah, and who sought to make him a king, he reproved their worldly dispositions, and called them to follow him in the paths of self-denial and of obedience; or whether he was beset by those who thirsted for his blood, crying, "Crucify him, crucify him;" he still maintained his steady and unwavering course of virtue and of patience. "I came not," was his language, "to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." And in the lessons of humility which he taught; in his patience under reviling and suffering; in his [238/239] disinterested benevolence, going about doing good; not less than in that pattern of the love and affection which he would have us to cherish, which he enjoined, and which he instanced by laying down his life for his brethren; has he left us an ensample that we should follow his steps.
Thus perfectly, my brethren, has Jesus Christ both made known and exemplified whatever was necessary for our consolation and instruction in this present world, and opened to our view the glorious prospect of life and immortality in the world to come. Thus has he glorified the name of his heavenly Father on the earth, and finished the work which he gave him to do.
My brethren, having these advantages in the knowledge of our duty, and in the promise of a high reward, let me ask, Are we securing our interest in that salvation which Christ has, as at this day, accomplished? The answer is to be found in the devotion of our hearts, and in the obedience of our lives. "He that is of the truth," says Christ, heareth my words," and if we heir them not, then are we not of the truth. Nor is it a mere acquiescence in the disclosures of revelation which is here referred to. To prevent all possibility of error, he has said, He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me, and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father." This is a plain and a ready test, and if we would enjoy the approbation [239/240] of God here, and reap hereafter the benefit of that redemption which Christ has purchased, we must employ the grace which he continually imparts to every one of us, to do his will.
We shall only deceive ourselves, my brethren, if we suppose that because Christ has finished that glorious work, there remains, therefore, nothing for us to do. He is, indeed, the author of eternal salvation; but it is effectual only unto them that obey him. We may believe and hope, as condemned spirits believe and tremble; but if our faith do not influence our life, if it be so weak and powerless, that it does not work by love, nor purify the heart; in a Word, if it does not raise us above the world in our affections and desires, and give a Christian character to all our pursuits; it is worse than nominal; it is deceptive and ruinous; for the Scripture has declared, of such a belief, that faith, if it have not works, is dead.
With sincere intentions of obedience, and earnest prayers for help, let us then heartily devote ourselves to him who is the way, and the truth, and the life; and who now, having suffered the sharpness of death, has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Assured that there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ; that he alone has the words of eternal life; let us shrink from the madness and the crime of denying him, by unbelief on the one hand, or [240/241] by irreligion on the other. Let us take up our cross daily and follow him. And let us abstain from every sin by which we should incur the guilt of crucifying a fresh the Son of God, and putting him to an open shame.
May God grant us all the grace so to order our hearts and lives, that at the coming of our Lord we may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless; that so being commended of him as good and faithful servants, we may enter into that joy which he has prepared; and in the courts of heaven, with all the glorified and the redeemed, sing praises unto him that hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.