Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

by the only half-closed lid, from the moveless lips there comes what is more heart-touching than any words which ever sounded thence, when the life-blood was flowing there in healthy crimson. To the ear of sense, the churchyard is a very silent spot, in the country more so than in the city; no hum of busy wayfarers anywhere near, only the tinkling of the sheep-bell, or the warble of the wood-bird; perhaps, not that. But what thrilling admonitions and appeals come from beneath the hillocks and the stones; all the more thrilling for nature's silence and solitude. Yes, all the dead have voices. Some peculiar and emphatic. You hear their tones in traditions and books, in lives and histories, in old speeches, in ancient songs. Dead Englishmen are preaching sermons more impressive than any living Englishman can utter. Dead Israelites, sages and sufferers, thinkers and doers, martyrs and confessors, are speaking to us every Sunday, every day, -from the pulpit, from the closet. We hope our readers rarely let the four-and-twenty hours pass without sitting down to hear what these inspired men have to say. Abel speaks. The blood that his brother spilt cried to Heaven, and God heard it; and he did not leave off speaking when the purple stains on the grass were washed out by the showers of heaven. And what is so remarkable, Abel is better understood now than he was at first. The voice has grown clearer, now that it has spoken nearly six thousand years, than when it was listened to by his poor surviving parents, or by Moses who wrote down the few traditions of his life. Abel's sacrifice is the organ of his long lasting utterance. “By it he being dead yet speaketh.”


The responsibility of the past cannot be met without the sacrifice of another. Abel's past responsibility was connected with guilt. He was, no doubt, what we call a good man, but “there is no man who doeth good and sinneth not.” We can easily imagine that he was obedient to his parents; that (through teaching, human and Divine—through grace mysteriously operating on his soul) he lived a comparatively innocent, virtuous, and devout life. But, according to the general teaching of Scripture, he must have done, or said, or thought something wrong. We conceive of Abel as one of the best of men, yet not perfect, at the very best. All his obligations he had not fulfilled. Bonds of duty were burst—torn, ravelled out. “I have sinned," was a confession he had to make. Law,—whatever might be his imperfect conceptions of it,—there it stood, frowning upon him amidst the smiles of nature. . Trees, flowers, and stars, assured him of God's goodness; but in the moral world, then, as ever, there was a perfect, absolute, unalterable righteousness, lying at the root of things, pointed against all evil, not to be reconciled to it even in its highest ways of working. Guilt, however Abel might think about it, existed as a fact,

-4 stern, dark, angry fact, not to be annihilated by any power of his.

Every sin from his boyhood, had a great, black, ugly border of guilt all round it. His past responsibility was so shaded.

If, with the comparative innocence of Abel, there was a sense of guilt lying in his heart, how much more room is there for it in the heart of most of us! And then think, however much of the past evil of life there may be at this moment remembered, how much more there is we have forgotten! Law, sin, guilt, responsibility, they are all facts. The Apostle speaks of treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath. The great reservoir is filling up. How are the waters to be let off? When a man has sinned against the laws of his country he may try to run away; but if he be caught, and brought face to face with justice, it is no use to deny his responsibility-no use to drown his sense of it-no use to rock himself to sleep, to take opiates. There is the court and the bar, and the jury and the judge, and they are realities not to be trifled with. And so, it is of no use for us, sinners against God, to put aside the idea of our responsibility to Him, any more than to attempt to run away from His presence. It is only madness to drown religious thoughts in worldly ones, while the realities of the judgment-seat of the Almighty, the last day, and the nearness of death, remain in all their terribleness.

With this responsibility for the past, then, what is to be done? We do not see at all, anything that we can do. The question is, “ What will God do?” What did God do after the first sin? What did He do for Adam after his transgression, and for Abel ? Let us here put together what we can gather as to revealed religion immediately after the Fall. In the days of Abel there was a special revelation added to the truths of reason and the dictates of conscience. Our first parents were informed, that the woman's seed should bruise the serpent's head, and that the serpent should bruise his heel. It is difficult to say, what was the exact idea which these words conveyed to their minds. Perhaps it might amount to this,

that the woman's offspring should in some way punish the malignant being in the serpent form, for the wrong

he had done her. That, though her enemy should inflict some injury on her offspring, it would be trivial, compared with the utter destruction which her offspring should bring on him; and then, by inference, that the injury done by the enemy's temptation and her own sin, would be repaired ; and the victory achieved over the serpent, the enemy, would be connected with the restoration of her posterity to the happiness she had forfeited. It is possible, that less than this might be conveyed; but it seems to us probable, that more was conveyed; certainly, it must be admitted, that this first orącle after the apostacy, indicated that a deliverer, and a mighty one, should come. this all. A special institution of worship followed. God established the rite of sacrifice. We have no hesitation in making this statement. We found the position on such arguments as these :-First, God provided men with clothing, immediately after the Fall, composed of the

Nor was

skins of beasts; the slaying of which beasts is therefore implied. Wherefore were they slain ? Surely, not for the sake of their skins merely; nor for purposes of food, for there is good reason to believe, that animal food was not permitted by God till after the Deluge. For what end, then, could they be slain, but for sacrifice ? Secondly, tbe universal practice of sacrifice can be accounted for on no other principle. It was not the dictate of reason; man's judgment would never have suggested to him that the immolation of an innocent victim on the altar would be an acceptable act of worship. It was not the demand of nature; no one will say that it gratified any instinct or appetite impressed on the constitution of man. It had not its origin in the principle of self-interest, for there appeared no advantage to be gained by it; and, therefore, one way of accounting for it, alone remains, namely, that it was instituted by Divine command. Thirdly, Abel's offering was accepted, and God, who will not allow of any human innovation in his worship, would never have so powerfully marked his approval of that sacrifice, if he had not appointed it himself. Now, put together the announcement of a deliverer, who should crush the serpent, and the institution of animal sacrifice, and we have light thrown on the antediluvian religion. Ideas, conveyed by these facts, would, in all probability, be blended in the human mind; and a notion -& vague notion, perhaps, would arise, of salvation by sacrifice. And such an ordinance as that of the putting an animal to death in a solemn form of religious service, connected—as it seems to have been from the beginning-with some confession of sin, would be pregnant with most important instructions; instructions such as these : That sin is a great offence : That death is the proper punishment of sin : That God is full of mercy : And that he allows the substitution of another vietim in the sinner's room. In sacrifice, then, was Abel's hope. By availing himself of God's provision of sacrifice, alone, could he get rid of the responsibility of guilt.

In this respect Abel's religion and ours must be the same. Christianity is a religion of sacrifice. It sets before us the one great sacrifice of which Abel's was typical. Christ's sacrifice is vicarious. “ Christ suffered for us." “He bare our sins in His own body on the tree.” Christ's sacrifice is propitiatory. Rom. ii. 25: “A propitiatory." The word requires something to be added—either “mercy seat" or " sacrifice." Whichever is supplied, the effect of the apostle's instruction is the same. It is something which propitiates. Whether we look at the blood on the ark, or the victim on the altar, the same thing is taught. Whether we see Christ sacrificing Himself on the cross, or presenting the memorials of His sacrifice in heaven, the same truth is conveyed to our minds, that through Him the sins of men are expiated, the guilt of transgression is cancelled, and the righteousness of God is njade manifest. Now, that sacrifice of Christ is the Divine provision


made for our guilt. Responsibility, as illustrated in the history of Adam, is insupportable by us, under a consciousness of guilt, till we come to contemplate this subject of sacrifice indicated in the history of Abel.

The institute of sacrifice, as appointed by God, Abel honoured; its merciful provision for expiating guilt he accepted; and we must walk in the steps of this righteous man. Christ, the one only all-sufficient sacrifice, must be embraced by us in the exercise of faithi there are many beneficial effects flowing from the sacrifice of Christ, of which men partake whether they believe or not. But the highest effect, that which consists in personal salvation, can only come (in the case of those who hear the gospel and are taught to understand it) through the instrumentality of faith in the only-begotten Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us. Our believing in Christ is what Abel's bringing of the firstlings of the flock was. Our not believing in Christ is like Cain's rejection of the better sacrifice. By the sacrifice of faith-the more excellent sacrifice--- Abel obtained testimony that he was righteous. His righteousness came not out of his works, but out of his faith. He was justified, not through merit, but through mercy. We must understand Abel's righteousness to have been like Abraham's imputed, not inherent; put to his account by virtue of a special economy of grace, not created by him under a stern dispensation of law; and we must further consider, that the righteousness which clothed and crowned him, and made him acceptable to God, came from the glorious Redeemer of men, whose sacrifice was prefigured by the slain lamb. In no other way can we be made righteous. In no other way can we get rid of the fearful responsibility of guilt. In no other way can we procure the effacing of the huge death-blot.

II, The responsibilities of the future cannot be discharged without the sacrifice of ourselves.-The words rendered “ more excellent sacrifice," mean literally, “more of sacrifice”_"a fuller one." It contained what Cain's did not contain. It recognised sin and guilt, and the need of mercy, and the possibility of expiation. While “ more” and “ fuller" than Cain's in this respect, could it be less than his in that other respect in which his had some excellence? To offer of the fruit of the earth was becoming; to do it devoutly was acceptable. Thus to express dependence and thankfulness for Divine bounties; thus to say, “Of thine own have I given thee.” Thus to consecrate the precious things of the field to him who made them spring and grow, and crowned the year with his goodness, was right, and good, and beautiful. Possibly he who brought the "more" and the “fuller" sacrifice might bring the less as well. He who slew of the firstlings might also offer of the firstfruits. But be this as it might, certainly Abel's sacrifice, wbile in one point of view it meant more than Cain's; in the other meant, and sincerely and truly meant, as much. It meant that the offerer felt himself a child of Providence-a recipient of costly favours; one who owed his all to God; who was in no proper moral sense his own; who looked on bis possessions and on himself as Divine property, as now and evermore the Lord's; and while he humbly expressed his hope of mercy, through the institute of sacrifice, he also devoutly and thankfully expressed by sacrifice the sentiment of entire personal consecration to God; the desire to give up all he had and was into his heavenly Parent's hand.

The past responsibility of guilt removed by an atoning sacrifice, there remained still other responsibilities. Abel did not cease to be responsible when he had killed his lamb. The great duties of life were before him ; the duties of morality and religion, and every day was to be one of service, each becoming purer, holier, brighter than the foregoing. And when we have got rid of the responsibility of past guilt, through faith in His blessed sacrifice, personal responsibility still cleaves to us. There are yearly, daily, hourly duties before us, till years, and days, and hours for us shall end. We do not much like the old-fashioned phraseology of duties towards "ourselves, and our neighbours, and God,” because all duties are owing to God; but what is meant is right and just enough, that is, that duty covers all relations, temporal and spiritual-covers everything, both relative and personal. We come to the cross, and we look on the crucified One, and we lose our burden, not that we may get free from all bonds, but that we may feel all holy bonds the more. rid of what is burdensome in religion without losing anything that is binding. The yoke remains, but it is now easy. The burden, but it is now light. Gospel freedom is not licentiousness—not liberty to do wrong. It is only emancipation from the devil's slavery, from lust's despotism, from fashion's restraints, from the world's charms; as for the rest it is power to do right, pleasure to do well.

How was Abel to meet the responsibilities of after life ? Only by another kind of sacrifice which his offering truly represented. We miss much of precious truth, if we merely look at Abel approaching God as a sinner, and saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord.” When we are told that “ he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts;” do we not see a further signification than that developed by ideas of substitution and atonement; see we not also the idea of self-sacrifice ? Did not that penitent and believing one, as he sought remission of sin through the shedding of blood, also desire to devote himself, as a living sacrifice, acceptable in God's sight? We think he did. With the sinner we see the saint. Most assuredly there is no other method than that of self-sacrifice by which we can meet the responsibilities of the future. Trace every Christian duty to its root, and you will find it here. It is the surrender of ourselves, of our pleasure, and our inclination to God, so that we may have our hearts back

We get

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »