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VOL. XVI.-JUNE, 1865.-No. 6.
EASTER THOUGHTS FOR EASTER COMMUNION.
BY REV. SAMUEL H. GIESY.
Christianity bases itself mainly upon four great facts--the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension of its Founder—Jesus Christ. Like the central and principal personage in every painting or engraving of the crucifixion, the two intermediate facts are in the Scriptures made the most prominent, and dwelt on the most largely. But this we are not to take or regard as any disparagement of, or detraction from the importance of the first and the last. But for the Incarnation, the sufferings and death of the man Jesus would have been without any mediatorial and redemptive merit; no more, in fact, than the sufferings and death of an ordinary being. But for the Incarnation, the Resurrection and the crowning act of the Ascension would have been utterly impossible; our Good Friday dirge would never have given place to our Easter joy and song; the weeping Mary Magdalene would never have been gladdened by the sight of her risen Master.
These four facts, then, inseparable and indispensable, are like the foundation, superstructure and glorious finish of a temple reared and consecrated to God. A building canot rest on airy nothingness. It must have a solid and substantial resting place; else, the more that is piled up, the more certain becomes the downfall and ruin of the whole. the coronation of our Mediator, Surety, Substitute, and Saviour, which we celebrate in our Easter festivities, in anticipation of, and as finally culminating in, the act and fact of His Ascension, grows out of, and rests upon the reality of the Incarnation.
Or, to use another figure: These four great facts are the four links in the bright chain of human redemption. In our Lord's descent and His
assumption of our nature, we see the chain fastened to its celestial, eternal staple, let down to earth; in the passion and death of our Lord we have the chain passing through earth, encircling and infolding fallen humanity in its deepest wants and woes; in the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, His triumphant return in His glorified manhood to His own native skies, we see this chain of divine redemption carried up to heaven, and its other end fastened securely in that immovable staple--the throne of the great Jehovah. O, has this chain of grace inclosed us in the links of its redeeming power?
From the earliest ages, the Church has made great account of these four central truths. Hence its four prominent festivals—the joy of Christmas; the humiliation and sorrow of Passion Week; the gladness and gratitude of Easter, and the adoring work and wonder of the Ascension. By special and appropriate services the Church has ever sought to keep thus in lively remembrance, the marvellous beginning, the sanguinary work, and the triumphant finish of human salvation, as inseparably linked to the Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
National events made last Sunday a day for us of thanksgiving and joy. The joy of this morning—even amid our sudden national grief and gloomis infinitely greater. The stone rolled away from the door of our Lord's sepulchre gives us the assurance of the grandest triumph ever achieved over malignant and envenomed opposition. The Mightiest Conqueror stands, though crowned with thorns, in our midst. Stands here to assure us, that all the fierce powers of darkness have been beaten and destroyed in their own dominions. Stands here to assure us that captivity has been led captive, and that now unfettered souls may sing this ancient Easter anthem: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory ?"
"Lo, the gates of death are broken,
And the strong man armed is spoiled
By the stronger Arm despoiled.
For him the Creator dies;
Life again for us doth rise."
These words of St. Paul: “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again,” do for us precisely what our Easter communion does-join together the death and resurrection of our blessed Saviour and Conqueror. In juxtaposition, we have to-day, the cross and the empty tomb of our risen Lord; the altar of sacrifice, and the offered Isaac received again even from the dead; the communion-table, on which are placed the significant emblems of our Lord's death, by His own solemn act, on the night of His betrayal, consecrated to this high, and holy, and sacred use, and the sepulchre with its seal broken, and its rocky doorway torn away. These two dissimilar facts, the one sorrowful, the other joyful, we commemorate to-day.
“Who is he that condemneth?” What is it that consigns man to death.
and perdition? Sin does it. The great penalty of sin is death. We learn this from the Divine threatening
annexed to the first prohibition. "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” And subsequently it was said: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Thus, clearly, death is the penalty of sin. It has brought our entire race under this condemnation. By this same apostle, it is very distinctly asserted, that: “As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”
This penalty of death involved this two-fold curse-death in its common acceptation and bitterness, and death in its spiritual sense and extenteternal banishment from the presence and glory of God.
The bitterest fact in all our earthly life, is, that we and our loved ones must die; that every charming link binding our loving hearts to home must be broken; that the mother with the child must be buried out of sight, that the widow's only support—the staff whereon she leaned, will, even as in the case of the widow of Nain, be broken.
There is no shutting out from the mind this dark prospectthis certain issue of human life. At the end of every man's career, honorable or otherwise, is the grave. However widely different the paths of men, they all meet at last in the grave. This is the great convergent centre of all
However endowed and honored, or humble and unknown, all finally come together in the grave, where all distinction is lost in the same low burial. The crowned head finds no exemption, nor do the beggar's rags move to pity the king of terrors. Nor station, nor age, nor sex, nor piety, nor villany is spared. In this regard all are dealt with The same mean and contemptible inheritance awaits all.
“Side by side,
“It is appointed unto all men once to die.” Death reigns here a universal conqueror. Because all men have sinned, therefore death has passed upon all men. Every step in life we take, in any direction, we come upon some object or some fact, which, by its relation to death and the grave, is adapted to remind us of our own circumstances and prospects in this respect. As we go to some loved one's grave to weep there, so others will come to our grave to weep there tears of solitude and sorrow.
A common fate awaits Dives and Lazarus; the monarch and the peasant. Death finds man no less on Alpine heights than in the loveliest valleys; no less in earth's loftiest than humblest stations in life; no less in the country's capital than the remotest village along the frontier.
Our nation mourns to-day. How suddenly and sadly have our rejoicings been changed into deep lamentations. We throw our banners today to the breeze, but bound with crape. Well
may we drape our houses with funeral badges. Well may we sit even in God's house with heads bowed down, and hearts too full for utterance. A great calamity is upon
The noble head of the government has been suddenly smitten-smitten by an assassin's hand—and the nation is seated in ashes, and bitterly weeps- mourns his melancholy end-mourns his untimely loss, just when the interests of the country most needed his invaluable services, his counsel, his firmness and his ability. The people of this land may well mourn
that a prince in Israel has fallen—one on whom our country's welfare may have been said to have hung more than upon any other man-one who has ever shown himself so capable for the critical period in our country's history in which he was called to assume the reins of government-moved by events and not making events.
The fearful tragedy over which we mourn has clouded and saddened our Easter rejoicings. But a “sparrow falleth not to the ground without our Father's will,” and much less the beloved ruler of a great nation.
Such, now, is our common destiny. Common, because of a community of life with the sinful and fallen head of our race. Because Adam sinned, he died. We sinned in him, and, therefore, we die. Sin has involved us in this bitter curse. This is the first form of the curse, and the one with which specially we are concerned at this time, in view of the great fact we are commemorating.
While the fact of our death is melancholy enough, it would be more harrowing still to feel and fear, that the grave was the end of our beingthe ultimate boundary of all these mighty powers of thought and self-determination. This it would have been, but for that Mighty Conqueror who put Himself under the power of death in order to break its power. But for His victory over death, which is the glad fact and feature of this day—the key-note of our Easter song and joy,—the dying race of Adam would have remained forever under the power and bondage of deaththere would have been no resurrection of the dead; death and hell would never have restored its fallen, victims.
The fact here and elsewhere asserted—the death of Christ-was inti. mately and indispensably connected with the delivery of our race from this form of the consequence of sin. The undoing of sin's terrible work of destruction, required, on our Saviour's part—the second Adam, as St. Paul so emphatically calls Him--a personal submission to sin's penalty, His own death in order to, in His own resurrection, our recovery from that land of darkness and decay. Christ came to bring life to our dead
But how does He bring it? In this way, by putting Himself in the incarnation under the inevitable necessity of death. He assumed our nature for the very purpose of coming under the power of this law of our sinful life; but coming under it, not to be holden by it, but to conquer it and triumph over it, and, in His victory swallowing up death, making room surely and ultimately for our triumphing over it. Hence, it is said: “When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.”. Death is the law of our fallen being, the inevitable, inexorable law. Christ became incarnate that He might be in a condition to come under and triumph over this law of death; be able through His own death and resurrection to spring "new laws of life through the realms of death,” which, we have found, pervades the whole sphere of humanity.
Thus, because we are under the yoke, He becomes incarnate, so that He may, nay, must by virtue of the realness of His humanity, come under the same yoke. But He puts Himself under the yoke to break it. to conquer.
He bows His sacred head on the cross in death to show Himself, on the world's first Easter morning, the Prince of Life. He passes down into the cold prison of the grave, for we must pass into its gloomy cell, that rising again, and thus, " Destroying him who had the power of
death, He might deliver us who through fear of death were all our lifetime subject to bondage."
The necessity, thus, of Christ's death, lay in the very form of the curse resting upon our fallen race. His dying was not an incidental matter. It was the very form through which, and by means of which, our deliverance must come. It was the only way by which the terrific consequences of sin could be met, and met by One, who, by virtue of His supernatural character, could triumph over death. Expressive of this very necessity, is this strong interrogative, proposed by the risen Jesus to the two disciples on their serious and thoughtful walk to Emmaus: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?” And at the first evening meeting of the disciples, the risen Saviour thus said to them: “Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day.”
From this, now, it is clear that it will not do to say that Christ suffered . death in order to the fulfilment of the Scriptures. The necessity of Christ's death lay back of the Scriptures. His death, indeed, as man's Surety, and Substitute under the curse, is there demanded in hundreds of passages, in ceremonial types and figures, and in the most direct Messianic predictions. But it comes nearer the truth and fact in the case to say, that the Scriptures were themselves formed and shaped after this precedent necessity. The plan of salvation as actually carried forward and completed in the death of Christ, agrees with that plan of salvation as foreshadowed in prophecies and types; but those very prophetical and typical foreshadowings of a suffering and dying Saviour sprung from this antecedent necessity that death in man, as the result of man's sin, requires the Saviour's victory over death, but only through His own death and resurrection. Our Lord comes down to death, not because the death of the great Atoner was foretold, but because the only possible method of our salvation lay through His death, and for this reason, you find it foreshadowed in prophecies, types, and bloody sacrifices, and at last actualized, when, of the incarnate Jesus, nailed to the cross, it is said: “He bowed His head and gave up the Ghost,”-in His representative and mediatorial character tasting death for every man. And this is the great thought which the apostle labors in so many passages to bring to the clear consciousness of our death-stricken race. Hence to the question, “Who is he that condemneth ?” he triumphantly responds, Not Christ, for Christ has died.
But now, were that all; if the matter had rested at this point, would this physical penalty of sin have been met? Would the power of death have been broken? Dying, had Christ remained in the grave, it would only have demonstrated the defectiveness of His atonement. Evidently His work of blood would have come short of this first purpose; it would not have reclaimed our bodies from the grave.
But the Redeemer had not only “power to lay down his life, He had power to take it again.” St. Peter tells us, that it was not possible that He should be holden of death.” And so here, St. Paul does not rest in the fact of Christ's death; but hurries on to His triumph over death, “ Yea, rather, that is risen again.” It is in the Lord's resurrection that he descries the culminating glory of His death. A dead Redeemer will avail our dead and dying race nothing. We want a living Saviour, a victorious Saviour, a risen Saviour-One who “ has destroyed death and him who had the power of death,”-One who