Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it; shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel. Isaiah xliv. 23.
DEEPLY interesting must have been the subject which occupied the view of the prophet, when, not satisfied with the strains of personal exultation, he bursts forth in the awakening call to universal nature to take up the song of rejoicing. It was not a private mercy extended to the prophet; it was not a temporal blessing bestowed on that chosen people to whom he had been so often the messenger of the counsels and commands of the Lord, mid whose destinies had been so often the subject of his predictions. His view glanced beyond the scenes around him, and fixed on those distant periods when the Lord would visit his people with mercy from on high, and bring spiritual redemption to his chosen. The deliverance of Israel from the hands of their enemies, the immediate subject that warmed the soul of the prophet, animating subject of gratitude as it was, he considers but as a type and a pledge of that redemption from sin and death which God would vouchsafe to the world. The glorious event was not to take place until after the lapse of ages: but to the excited and [321/322] enraptured imagination of the prophet, ages revolve in an instant--the long tract of time loses its distance--the event appears present--the redemption of man seems accomplished--Jehovah has blotted out, as a cloud, his transgressions, and as a thick cloud, his sins. Transport swells the soul of the prophet. Feeble is his tongue, feeble the tongues of his fellow-mortals to pour forth praises worthy of the celestial theme. He gives a tongue to universal nature--he awakens heaven and earth in the song of exultation that the world, the spiritual Israel, is redeemed--"Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel."
My brethren, we surely require no exhortations to excite in our bosoms the emotions of gratitude, to engage our tongues m the songs of praise. We have not, like the prophet, to stretch forward our imaginations to distant ages, to future events: we can indeed say, without the ardent stretch of anticipation, The Lord has redeemed Jacob, the Lord has glorified himself in Israel. Through the course of her services the church has presented to us, from the records of divine truth, the history of that redemption which, commencing in the eternal counsels of the Godhead, was effected in the incarnation, the obedience, the sufferings, and the death of the Son of God. She now sets before us the completion of these great events, in the annunciation that Christ, who was dead, is risen again, and liveth for ever: the sacrifice of his cross has been accepted; the domains of death tie has passed in triumph; the strong holds of the [322/323] adversary he has subdued; the grave he has despoiled of its victory; the keys of death and hell he holds for ever; and he opens the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
"Sing then, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel."
The display of the divine glory in our redemption, is the theme which the prophet calls on universal nature to celebrate.
It was planned in the eternal counsels of the Godhead;
It commenced in the incarnation of the Son of God;
It was prosecuted in his spotless life and perfect obedience;
It was effected by his sufferings and death; and,
It is assured to us by the event of this day--his resurrection from the dead.
Let us contemplate this wonderful series of events, that our gratitude may be excited, and that we may join, with all our powers and affections, in the exulting triumph with which the prophet celebrates this great redemption.
1. This redemption was planned in the eternal counsels of the Godhead.
When the world was to be framed, and when man was to be created to possess and to enjoy it, we behold the persons of the adorable Godhead counselling together concerning the mighty work; "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." And when this world, created in order, in [323/324] beauty, and in glory, was defaced and ruined by the disobedience of man; and when man himself, the lord of creation, became subject to sin, to sorrow, and to death,--his restoration to holiness and bliss, no less than his first creation, occupied the divine counsels. Prophetic vision unfolds the mysterious scene, and leads us, as it were, into the presence of the persons of the Godhead. "Who will find a ransom?" is the language in which inspiration represents the Almighty Father as preparing the merciful work of man's redemption. Who among the glorious hosts that surround the throne of the Eternal, will undertake to vindicate the honour of his violated government, and to satisfy the demands of the holiness and justice of the Sovereign of the universe? Who among the most exalted seraphs will come forward to sustain those penalties which are due to the sins of the whole human race, and thus find their ransom from the everlasting bondage of sin and death? Alas! the immense load of human guilt vva3 not to be sustained by any created being: the virtues of the brightest seraph would be found wanting, if scrutinized by the holiness of his Maker; and before tin justice of the Eternal, in its inflexible rigour, not even the cherubim could stand. The eternal Sun, "he saw that there was no man--he wondered that there was no intercessor." The vindication of the violated laws of the Almighty Father, the redemption of a world doomed to destruction, appeared objects not unworthy of the divine perfections of the Son of God. "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God," is the language which, in the counsels of the Godhead, inspiration ascribes to the Son. The work of redemption is thus planned; [324/325] and anticipating its accomplishment, the glad tidings burst forth from the celestial host--The world is redeemed! At the display of the divine power and glory that created the word, "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." Surely not less universal, not less ardent the exultation, in those pun and perfect spirits that continually surround tie divine Majesty, at the view of the infinite wisdom, love, and power which planned the redemption of a fallen world--which thus devised the mole by which pardon could be extended to the sinner without sanctioning his sin, and favour to the offending rebel against the divine government, without weakening its authority, impeaching its holiness, or subverting its justice. In the nature of tie divine Persons thus counselling for man's redemption, it is not for him, blind, and erring, and impotent--it is not for angels, it is not for cherubim or seraphim, for a moment to look--the inner glory of the divine nature burns with a blaze, if I may so with reverence-speak, too intense, too radiant for finite vision. But in its manifestations, in its outer, its more distant rays, shining on the plan of man's redemption, all is mildness, and softness, and peace: holiness, and justice, and mercy are seen blending their sacred influences, and conveying light and joy in that truth which the counsels of the Godhead alone could render possible--God can be just, and yet justify the sinner.
The redemption of man, thus planned in the counsels of the Godhead, was,
2. Commenced in the incarnation of the eternal Son.
 The nature of man was to he assumed; for man was subject to the law, and man must obey it: man had transgressed the law, and in the same nature must its penalties be sustained; in the nature which had sinned was the atonement to be made. "A body therefore was prepared" for the Son of God, that in it he might render that obedience which would satisfy the claims of the violated law, and be a perfect model for our imitation. "A body was prepared" for the Son of God, that thus sustaining our infirmities, we might be assured that he is touched with a feeling for them, and is a compassionate High Priest, not only able, but willing to succour us. And "a body was prepared" for the Son of God, that by his mighty power the fallen nature of man might, in his person, pass through the grave and gate of death to a joyful resurrection. What unsearchable wisdom, what infinite love does the mystery of the incarnation exhibit! At this display of the divine mercy, when the Son of God took upon him our nature, and was born the Saviour Christ the Lord, well might the angels leave their seats of bliss to chant forth to the world the songs of triumph--"Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will to men."
3. The redemption of man was prosecuted m the spotless life, and perfect obedience, and holy instructions of the incarnate Son of God.
It was an obedience which left no duty unperformed, no sacrifice unpaid: it was an obedience which, not content with an external compliance with the law, entered into its pure and rigorous spirit--not satisfied with the discharge of the highest duties, it descended to the most minute-not [326/327] founding its claims on one particular virtue, it exhibited an illustrious pattern of them all: it was an obedience which, so far from lowering the standard of duty, exalted its power, its obligation, and its sanctions: the obedience of the Son of God, it could sustain the scrutiny if that holiness which discerns imperfection in the most exalted of human beings.
In entire conformity with the spotless life and perfect obedience of the Saviour, were the instructions which flowed from his lips: while they exalted the rules of duty, they made such clear arid terrible appeals to the understanding and the heart, that even the rage of his enemies was disarmed, and the accusations of malice were changed into the loud homage of praise--"Never man spake like this man." Spotless in all his actions; gentle, unoffending, unassuming, yet firm, bold, and undaunted when duty urged, even his enemies poured forth their tribute to his virtues--"He hath done all things well." Yes; would we behold truth and virtue displayed in celestial splendour, and the divine perfections shining forth in transcendent brightness, we must contemplate him who appeared, in all his precepts and in all his actions, "the brightness of the Father's glory, full of grace and truth." He thus rendered that perfect obedience to the law which man was unable to render, and released man from subjection to its rigorous demands, and rendered him capable of its rewards.
4. Our redemption, thus prosecuted in the spotless life and perfect obedience of the Son of God, was effected by his sufferings and death.
Sufferings and death were the penalties of the [327/328] violated law of God--find sufferings and death the Son of God, in man's nature, the representative of his guilt, endured, that he might discharge man from punishment. It was thus that he "bore our sins and carried our sorrows."
You have listened, during the past week, in the services of the church, to the simple but affecting history of the passion of your Saviour. You beheld the cup of sorrow presented to him. "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." He drank of that cup of trembling, into which were poured the phials of divine wrath. Fear, dismay, agony unutterable filled his soul. For, brethren, let us not forget, that, though the Son of God, he was also man--man capable of pain and agony, like ourselves. And what must have been that agony, which started, through every pore of his body, drops of blood? What must have been that darkness under which the Son of the Father cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
These agonies display the infinite demerit of the sin which produced them. Let us contemplate them with abhorrence of our iniquities, lest our unrepented sins expose us to this awful indignation. And let us contemplate the sufferings and death of the Son of God with holy hope; for they are the price of our redemption. By his stripes we are healed.
Yes, my brethren; he whom we lately beheld extended on the cross, and whom we lately followed with mourning hearts to the sepulchre, is now exalted to be a Prince and Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins. Of this God has given triumphant assurance, in that he hath raised his Son [328/329] Jesus Christ from the dead. He has shaken off the garments of corruption, and shines forth in the brightness of the Father's glory. He has loosed the bands of the grave, and broken the sceptre of the prince of darkness, and stands forth the King of the kings of the earth, the Conqueror of death and hell. "O death, he hath been thy plagues; O grave, he has been thy destruction." How illustrious the glory which encircled the Saviour when he forsook the dark mansions of the tomb! How awful that majesty before which the hosts of darkness fled dismayed, and that power which bound in everlasting chains death and the grave! How worthy of triumphant adoration that love which opens the kingdom of heaven to all believers, and prepares for them the seats of everlasting glory! "Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel."
When the whole world is represented as interested in that glorious plan of redemption which restores man from the ruins of the fall, and places him in that new world wherein dwelleth righteousness--when the heavens and the earth are summoned to bear their part in the chorus of thanksgiving to the world's Redeemer, to the Son of God rising in triumph from the tomb--let not those who are the immediate objects of these transcendent blessings, let not "Jacob, whom lie hath redeemed, and Israel, whom he hath glorified," remain indifferent and insensible: let not these glorious and sublime truths, because they transcend our feeble comprehension, be slighted or rejected. We find in them [329/330] the means and pledges of virtue, and peace, and felicity, which nature and reason cannot supply; and it is therefore our highest wisdom to embrace them on account of their practical benefits, inscrutable as may be their speculative character. Many are the feelings within us which long for immortality; many are the feelings within us which turn back with horror from the dark thought of the annihilation of being; many are the suggestions with which reason aims to fortify those hopes of an endless existence with which nature would fain light up the darkness of that tomb. But on a subject so tremendous, so interesting as the grave and what is beyond it, the anxious soul seeks relief from all her doubts and all her fears in some fixed assurance of the Being who made, and who is to judge her. Amidst those apprehensions which the sense of guilt inspires, she looks with trembling solicitude for some mode devised by infinite wisdom and power, and accepted by infinite holiness and justice, by which she may escape the displeasure of her eternal Judge, which conscience tells her she deserves, and secure that immortal felicity of which she feels her purest services can never render her worthy. This mode of deliverance and acceptance, this assurance of life and immortality, are proclaimed by Jesus Christ the Son of God, and fey him only. Satisfying divine justice, vindicating the divine holiness, sustaining the penalties of the violated law, he hath removed every obstacle which the just and holy character and government of the Ruler of the universe could oppose to the pardon of his rebellious creatures; and having himself burst the bands of the grave, he proclaims with power--"I am the resurrection and the life: he [330/331] that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die."
Every feeling of nature would wish to cherish as true, the assurance that life and immortality are brought to light by the resurrection of Christ from the dead; it claims our belief by an evidence which wilful prejudice and obstinate incredulity can alone withstand. The disciples of a man crucified as a malefactor, they who forsook their dying Master, suddenly became bold, courageous, undismayed in danger, in persecution, in death; illiterate, feeble, contemned, they established a pure, and holy, and self-denying religion on the ruins of those superstitions and corrupt systems which held so firm a hold on the prejudices, the power, the pride, and the passions of mankind. This must have been the Lord's doing: this moral conquest, this conversion of a corrupt and opposing world to a pure faith and a holy practice, could have been effected only by divine power, that divine power by which the Master whom they beheld crucified was raised from the dead. This was the truth forced on their own tardy belief, and which they attested by signs, and wonders, and mighty works, and to the belief of which they converted an unwilling and incredulous world.
Brethren, let us then seriously consider, if Christ be indeed raised from the dead, and is seated in power and majesty, the King of kings and Lord of lords, great will be the peril of rejecting or neglecting his otters of mercy, great the peril of remaining in rebellion against his righteous sway: and in rebellion against his righteous sway are all who have not, by the power of his grace, become [331/332] dead to sin, and new creatures in holiness. "God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds." "Great is the mystery of godliness: God manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." "Put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the Spirit," he is declared to be "the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead." Let us not then neglect this wonderful counsel of God for our salvation; let us not be unaffected by this most stupendous display of divine power, and love, and mercy; let us not reject the offers of peace and salvation from the God whom we have offended, and the Sovereign who is finally to judge us. But, on the contrary, let us gratefully adore the majesty, the mercy, and the grace of the Godhead in the plan of redemption, effected in the incarnation, the obedience, the sufferings, the death, and the triumphant resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Let it be our great object to be conformed to the likeness of his death, in mortifying all our corrupt affections, and to experience the power of his resurrection in living a new and holy life, that we may enjoy the new and lively hopes of everlasting glory which his resurrection assures to all true believers. And to testify our belief in our once crucified but now highly exalted Saviour--to show forth our confidence, our gratitude, our love to him who died for us, and for us rose again--let us humbly and joyfully advance [332/333] to that holy supper which he instituted, and receive the pledges of his mercy, his grace, and his everlasting favour: there let us keep the feast, in memory of Christ, that very Paschal Lamb who was offered for us, and hath taken away the sin of the world--who by his death hath destroyed death, and by his rising to life again, hath restored to us everlasting life: there let us proclaim, with holy triumph, that Christ hath risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept; and there let us receive the pledges of that hope, at once our triumph and our joy--our triumph over the doubts and the errors of this mortal life--our joy amidst the changes, the sorrows, and the trials of this uncertain world--that when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, we also shall appear with him in glory, and be made like unto him in his eternal and glorious kingdom.