For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians iv. 6.
The glorious renovation of man by the spirit and power of Jesus Christ, is compared by the apostle to the magnificent work of creation, when, at the almighty fiat of God, the beautiful and stupendous fabric of the universe arose from the dark and gloomy void. Not less profound and dreary the chaos into which sin had plunged the moral world. Not less splendid and efficacious that fiat which illuminated the nations that sat in darkness and the shadow of death, with the renovating beams of divine and celestial knowledge. The splendid event which, revealing the new-born Saviour to the wise men of the East, was a sign and pledge of his future manifestation to the whole world, both as a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of his people Israel, the church commemorates at this season. The external illumination of the world by that glorious Sun of Righteousness which arose upon it, dispensing healing in his beams, would be a subject not less appropriate to the season than fruitful of sublime and useful instruction. But to little purpose will the illuminat[14/15]ing beams of the Sun of Righteousness be shed around, unless our hearts experience their vivifying power. To our utter condemnation it will tend that light has come into the world, if we choose darkness rather than light. The mind of man, clouded by error and wrapped in sin, resembles that dreary chaos from which God elicited the world. And God, who at the first commanded the light to shine out of darkness, must shine into our hearts, or we shall be ignorant of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Christ Jesus. That Saviour, in whose person, character, and offices, the glory of God shines with the most resplendent lustre, must not only receive our external homage, our nominal acknowledgment and belief--our understandings must discern his excellence and glory, our hearts must experience his illuminating and renovating power, there must be a spiritual manifestation of him to the soul. Then, transformed out of darkness into his marvellous light, redeemed from the bondage of error and dominion of sin into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, we shall discern with clearness, and with the ineffable emotions of transport, the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus. To this spiritual manifestation of the Saviour to the soul let me then direct your attention, as a subject on which depends your right knowledge of the Saviour and your cordial reception of him, and of consequence your restoration to the image and favour of God, and your everlasting salvation.
And do thou, divine fountain of illuminating grace! let not thy ministering servant speak in vain. In vain indeed will be his most powerful efforts to manifest thy glory, divine Saviour, unless [14/15] accompanied by thy quickening spirit. Arise now, then, in the resistless majesty of thy strength; dispel the mists of error, burst the vail of sin which shrouds our hearts, and pour thyself upon them in the benignant effulgence of thy glory, an all-sufficient and almighty Redeemer.
The Saviour must be spiritually manifested to the soul.
I. I shall establish this truth.
II. I shall explain in what this manifestation consists.
1. There must be a spiritual manifestation of the Saviour to the soul.
To establish this truth, it might be necessary for me only to mention that a Saviour, who comes to restore us from error, to redeem us from sin, to effect our redemption, must necessarily exert his power on our souls. There we must discern him, there we must acknowledge him, there we must feel the power of his grace. Our souls are the seat of the vices that are to be subdued; in them are the sources that must be purified before the streams of virtue will flow; in them are the springs of those desires and affections which are to be satisfied with the fulness of divine consolation and love. They must, therefore, be the scene where the Saviour is to display his conquests, to erect the trophies of victory, to exert the sceptre of his grace. Before his enlightening beams the shades of error which envelop our minds must flee away, and the effulgence of divine truth be shed upon them; the upbraidings of conscience, the agonizing pangs of guilt, must be pacified by the merits [15/16] of his blood, diffusing peace and reconciliation; the swelling emotions of sensual desire, the angry tempests of guilty passion, must be quelled by the energy of his spirit, restoring the soul to rectitude and virtue. Our souls, in fine, are to be redeemed from error, from guilt, and sin, by the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. Going forth conquering and to conquer, his office it is to "cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." In effecting these glorious purposes, he must be manifested to our souls both in the rich fulness of his mercy and the almighty energies of his grace.
If, from the consideration that the salvation of Christ is a spiritual salvation, and that his office is to enlighten, pardon, and redeem us, it necessarily results that there must be a spiritual manifestation of him to the soul, this truth will be rendered still more apparent, by considering the nature of those affections and duties which we are to discharge towards the Redeemer. The claims of this divine and glorious personage to our profound adoration, to our fervent love, to our lively gratitude, to our unbounded confidence, to our sincere and zealous obedience, will not be contested. How then can we exercise towards him these exalted affections till our understandings discern his excellence and glory, till our souls are forcibly impressed with the exalted and endearing relations which he sustains towards us? Will we bow before him in profound adoration, until we discern and acknowledge the divine glories of his nature, as the only-begotten of the Father, the King of kings and Lord of lords? Will the lively fervours of gratitude and [16/17] love be excited but by the manifestation to our souls of the divine and endearing virtues which shed around the Redeemer the mild lustre of celestial glory, and present him to us as the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely, the Lamb of God, who was wounded for our sins and bruised for our iniquities? Will we cast upon him the heavy load of our sins, and repose on him the burden of our sorrows, until we discern the all-sufficiency of his mercy, the fulness of his grace--until he is manifested to our souls as a Saviour possessed of resistless power, and animated with infinite desire to succour and restore us! Will we yield him the tribute of zealous and holy obedience, while we are insensible to the excellence and glory of his person, to the rich displays of his mercy and love towards us? Ah! superficial and feeble will be that homage, that love, that confidence, that obedience, which are not founded on a just appreciation of the excellence and glory of the Saviour, on a clear view of the important and endearing offices which he sustains towards us, on a lively impression of the riches of that mercy and grace which he freely and fully dispenses. Until we discern the excellence and worth of the object, in vain shall we seek to rouse affection; until the eyes of our understandings are enlightened to discern the Saviour, indistinct and uncertain will be our conceptions of him; until we know him in whom we are to believe, feeble and comfortless will be our faith; until God shines into our hearts to give us the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ, the vail of blindness will cover them. An unknown Saviour cannot exert his power, cannot dispense his blessings, cannot awaken affection [17/18] inspire confidence and hope, or command obedience. Blessed Jesus! it is only when manifested to our souls in the riches of thy mercies, in the exhaustless treasures of thy grace, in the glorious effulgence of thy divine nature, that thou dost appear infinitely worthy our ardent love, our unbounded confidence, our eternal obedience and duty.
2. The Saviour then must be manifested to our souls. Under what characters must this manifestation take place? This is the second object of inquiry.
Christ manifests himself to the soul, as a Saviour atoning for sin by the merits of his blood, redeeming from sin by the efficacy of his grace, restoring the soul by his almighty power to the favour of God, to immortal blessedness and glory. As a Saviour pardoning sin, as a, Saviour subduing sin, as a Saviour conferring everlasting redemption, does the true believer discern the Saviour, and exercise upon him the triumphs of holy faith.
When the Spirit of God, lighting up the accusations of conscience, presses upon the trembling soul of the sinner the conviction of his guilt; when, enlightened to discern the inflexible claims of God's justice, the unspotted rigour of divine holiness, he trembles under the sentence of condemnation which his sins have merited, which divine justice and holiness exact; when, turning his view on his own character and condition, he finds himself condemned at the bar of eternal justice, possessed of no plea to avert the vengeance that impends over him, no power to render that unspotted obedience which divine holiness exacts; [18/19] when, the--soul, of the sinner is thus abased and humbled, Christ manifests himself as a Saviour expiating sins by the merit of his blood. I have trodden the wine-press of divine wrath; I have nailed to my cross the sentence of condemnation; my blood has flowed a ransom for the guilty; sprinkled on the mercy-seat, it propitiates divine justice. "Come unto me all ye who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." [Matthew xi. 28.] Soothing and enlivening these heavenly accents of his compassionate Redeemer descend into the soul of the penitent sinner. He beholds the arms of mercy extended towards him--he beholds the bosom of the Saviour open to receive him to rest and peace--infinite mercy and infinite power shedding around the Son of God their glorious effulgence--every doubt is dispelled--hushed every apprehension--vigorous and triumphant confidence animates his spirit. Wretched and guilty, he flees to the Friend of the wretched, to the Saviour of sinners. His weary and heavy laden soul sinks to soothing rest in the bosom of his Lord. Sheltered there, the tempest of divine justice passes by unheard; the light of the reconciled countenance of his God alone shines upon him; his Saviour intercedes for him as the purchase of his blood; to his Saviour he clings as his Lord and his God, his tender and unfailing friend and protector. O my Saviour! feeble is language to display the power of thy manifestation to the soul of the penitent; feeble is language to convey the joy and transport which exhilarate the bosom where thy mercy dispenses its healing balm.
 Nor confined is this manifestation of Christ to the single office of a Saviour expiating by his blood the guilt of sin. Ineffectual even would be the consolation conveyed to the soul of the penitent by the dispensation of forgiveness, if sin, left to uncontrolled dominion, were still permitted to blast his peace, to load his conscience with new transgressions, to arm with redoubled vengeance the shafts of divine justice. The awakened penitent is deeply impressed with the enormity, the baseness, and guilt of sin. Whether he regards it as destructive to the purity and peace of his soul, as awakening against him the wrath of heaven, or as tinged with the heavy guilt of ingratitude and rebellion against his Maker and God, his liveliest indignation is aroused against it, his most zealous and strenuous resolutions engaged in a contest with it. But alas! when he considers how pure, how strict, how undeviating the obedience which a holy and just God exacts, when he considers what exalted fervours of love and acts of duty are due to that God who has blotted out his iniquities, to that Saviour who bought him with his own most precious blood; and when he considers what errors and prejudices cloud his understanding, what sensual appetites and passions control and enslave his will, and corrupt and debase his virtuous affections, what a host of temptations assail him, either assuming an alluring garb, imperceptibly to obtain the victory over him, or by sudden and violent force overpowering his holy resolutions; when he thus considers his impotence and depravity, the law of his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity, he sinks under the conviction of his weakness and unworthiness; his agonized soul bursts [20/21] forth into the exclamation of despair--"Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" [Rom. vii. 24.] This is the moment for the Saviour to pear upon the soul the glorious manifestation of his power and grace. "I am he who giveth you the victory; the Spirit of the Lord is upon me; for he anointed me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the Opening of the prison to them that are bound." [Isa. xli. 1.] "Strengthen then the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees; my grace shall be sufficient for you, my strength shall be made perfect in your Weakness. I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness." [Isa. xli. 10.] With these invigorating assurances, does the Saviour manifest himself to the soul as its almighty Sanctifier. The fulness of the Godhead dwelling in him, he sheds on the mind divine light and knowledge, he invests the soul with the spotless robes of righteousness, he rules every rebellious passion by the sceptre of his grace. The penitent believer no longer bows down in despair under the enslaving chains of sin. At the almighty voice of the Son of God they fell from him, leaving him in the glorious liberty of the sons of God. With profound homage he adores the Saviour who is manifested to his soul in the fulness of grace and salvation. "My Lord and my God," expresses at once profound adoration; the fervours of confidence, the resolutions of grateful and submissive love. With triumphant and undeviating faith he clings to that Saviour who is made unto him wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. Glorious and triumphant, [21/22] blessed Saviour, is thy manifestation to the soul, when thou dost redeem her from corrupt passions, and shed upon her holy and celestial graces!
Faith has now opened to the true believer those manifestations of the mercy and grace of Christ which afford him the joyful assurance of rescue from the guilt and from the dominion of sin. But, to complete his redemption, and to render perfect the character and office of the Saviour, another glorious work must be effected. The believer looks forward with awful apprehension to the contest in which he must engage with death, the inexorable enemy of man. Who shall assuage the agonies of the conflict? Who shall endue his trembling spirit with strength to sustain it? On whose kind rod shall he rest when, harassed and sinking, he passes through the dark valley of the shadow of death? Who will conduct him to the everlasting hills, to the celestial city of the living God? Who will resuscitate his body from the sleep of the grave, and rescuing it from the bands of corruption, invest it with immortal garments? Who will advance his soul to those seats of blessedness, to those immortal felicities, to that eternal fruition of the presence of God, which no strength of nature can attain, which infinitely exceed the merit of the most splendid virtue? Ah! these are suggestions which, when the believer regards only the weakness, the infirmity, and imperfection of his own nature, overwhelm with despondency and despair. But the splendid glory of the Saviour disperses this gloom. In majestic power he rises on the soul of the believer, as the almighty conqueror over death and the grave. "O death, I have been thy plague; O grave, I have been thy destruction. Fear not, [22/23] for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will redeem you from death, I will ransom you from the power of the grave." "In my Father's house are many mansions; I have gone before to prepare a place for you, that where I am there ye may be also." Glorious manifestation of the Redeemer, which causes the soul of the believer to triumph, and arms him with strength to encounter and overcome the king of terrors. The Saviour is seated, Lord of all things, on the throne of glory; and where he is, there his faithful people shall be also.