Chapter 19: The Cross the Admiration of the Universe
The cross of Christ furnishes a subject of interesting contemplation, most certainly, to men. But there are other intelligent beings in the universe beside the inhabitants of this lower world. While the lights of science furnish strong presumptive evidence of the existence of other systems in addition to those mentioned in the Scriptures, yet are we warranted in saying that their existence is a mere theory, and one which, however probable, may not be numbered among well-ascertained realities. As believers in a supernatural revelation, we are specially concerned to know only those worlds which have been, and are still, and for ever will be, more or less affected by that great remedial economy, redemption by the cross. These are composed of this earth, which is the residence of men; of the heaven where Jesus Christ dwells, which is the residence of unfallen angels, and of the spirits of just men made perfect; and of hell, the everlasting abode of the angels who are fallen, and of that portion of the human race who live and die without God and without hope.
How the cross affects the character and condition of the inhabitants of this earth we have already seen. Its influence upon the Divine government over the inhabitants of the world of darkness is, in one respect, lenient, and in another severely just. Its lenity is felt in the mitigated punishment of the devils and the damned, until the judgment of the great day; and its just severity, in their augmented punishment after that last day of time. The devil and his angels now roam over this earth in unseen forms, "seeking whom they may devour;" and in this liberty, they have some respite from the sufferings which they will endure hereafter, only through the influence of the cross. Nor will wicked men, who are now, and who will hereafter become, inhabitants of the world of darkness, endure the full measure of suffering that awaits them until after the resurrection, when both soul and body "go away into everlasting punishment." These features of the Divine government toward the inhabitants of the world of perdition, are no doubt modified by the cross, and are the necessary accompaniments of the Divine procedure in carrying into effect his designs of mercy toward his church. Nor will they assume the form of perfect and unmitigated justice, until the mediatorial kingdom of the Son is brought to an end, and all his enemies are subdued under his feet. Whether the region of the reprobate is affected in any other way by the cross, we do not know, and have no wish to inquire. It is a dreadful world now, and it will be still more dreadful after that despised Savior shall have come in his glory, with all the holy angels with him, and, in obedience to his resistless mandate, legions of devils and multitudes of our fallen race shall enter their gloomy prison, and he "that shuts and no man opens," shall shut its doors, and they "shall go no more out!"
There is another class of beings who contemplate the cross with deep emotion. I mean those pure and celestial spirits whom the Scriptures call angels; those creatures of God who still retain their primeval integrity. The number of these exalted intelligences is not known to us; though, from several hints in the word of God, we have reason to believe it is very great. With their character we are better acquainted. Created in the image of God, that image remains in all its loveliness, untarnished by sin, and resplendent in all the beauties of holiness. The faculties and powers of their minds act in due and uniform subordination to each other; nor has this order ever been confounded, or this harmony disturbed. Their understandings are clear, and they never grope in darkness, because they have never been alienated from the life of God, himself the eternal source of light and truth. Their conscience has never gone astray, because their sense of right and wrong has never been violated. Their affections are pure, and unmingled by any base alloy. As they look back, they have nothing to regret; and, as they look forward they have nothing to fear. They are called "holy angels," and "elect angels," because, when those of their number who kept not their just estate, involved themselves in ruin by willful rebellion, they stood fast and firm, and were confirmed in holiness and happiness forever. They are styled "spirits," because, though probably not pure and uncompounded spirits like the Deity, they are strangers to all that is gross and earthly, and subsist in an element where spiritual bodies alone subsist. They are exalted above men in the rank of intelligent existences, for we are told that man was made lower than they. They are distinguished for wonderful powers, wonderful activity, and unexampled obedience; for the Scriptures inform us that "they excel in strength," that he "makes his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire;" and that they are swift to do his will, "hearkening unto the voice of his word." As they possess the highest and most glorious created nature, so they occupy the highest station occupied by creatures, and have their habitation in that world where God dwells in glory, and where the God-man ascended when he went upon high. Their employment is the most exalted employment. They "stand in the presence of God;" they minister to him in the high services of his holy temple; and when they execute his commissions toward this world, the sons of men are filled with consternation and horror, or the earth is lightened at their glory, as they come on errands of judgment, or errands of mercy.
We must not wander into the regions of conjecture, when illustrating the truth of God—it is for the most part forbidden us; and, like the tree of knowledge rudely invaded by our first parents, the fruit we pluck from it gives us more experience of evil than of good. It would, however, be but following out the analogy of the Divine government, to adopt the supposition that the entire angelic race, like the race of men, were originally placed in a state of probation for a limited time, and in view of some well-known test of obedience. Like all moral beings, they must necessarily have held their existence under law. Their exalted rank and character did not free them from the bonds of moral obligation; the will of God was the rule of their duty. It is revealed to us, that there was one lofty and proud spirit that revolted from the Divine government, and whom some test of obedience showed to be a rebel. Nor was he alone in this rebellion, but drew after him a multitude of spirits who sympathized in his revolt. Others there were who preserved their allegiance. And from that day to this, the fallen have been the uniform enemies of Jesus Christ, and wanting in no subtlety, no malignity, and no effort to frustrate the great design of his cross; while the latter have paid him their highest homage, and withhold no vigilance, no tenderness, no cooperation, in advancing this glorious purpose.
It may not be uninteresting to turn our thoughts to some of the incidents in the history of this redemption, and mark the allegiance and fidelity of these pure and happy spirits toward the incarnate Deity. The apostle Paul mentions it as one of the mysteries of godliness, that he was "seen of angels;" and there is higher import in this phraseology than lies upon the face of it. Not only was his whole progress, from Bethlehem to Calvary, observed by them, but the whole design, from its first development in the garden of Eden down to its final issues, when he shall come again a second time to judge the world in righteousness, so observed as to warrant the declaration of another apostle, when he says, "which things the angels desire to look into." We read in the Old Testament of the frequent appearance to the patriarchs of a distinguished personage, called, by way of eminence, "the angel of the Lord," or more properly speaking, the angel Jehovah, or the second person in the Trinity. Not infrequently did he anticipate thus his incarnation; and when he did so, he was frequently attended by some of the angelic hosts. They watched the unfolding of his designs of mercy, and marked with interest all that he did to advance that wonderful work. Preparatory, merely, as that age was to his advent, and moreover a dark age, and the age of judgment, angels were the executioners of his displeasure. They were not careless spectators of those great and disastrous events by which the promises to Abraham were fulfilled, and by which his posterity were delivered from bondage, and received the law through their own ministration. Nor were they uninterested observers of those successive revolutions by which the kingdoms of this world were overthrown, that the predicted Messiah might come and rule upon the throne of David. In later periods, it was one of their own number who, as the time of his incarnation drew near, was sent to the father of his more immediate forerunner to inform him that the day was drawing near when the Sun of righteousness should arise, with healing in his beams. The same angel was commissioned from heaven to announce to the virgin mother of our Lord, that she should bring forth a son, and call his name Jesus. When the fullness of time was come, and he was born at Bethlehem, an angel was directed to announce his birth to the shepherds; and no sooner had he delivered his joyful message, than suddenly there was with him "a multitude of the heavenly host," all eager to repeat the tidings, saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!" They knew who it was that slept in the manger; and when the shepherds returned from Bethlehem, "glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen," they responded to angelic praises, because he had come who was "a Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of his people Israel." It is not wonderful that the world did not recognize him in that humble guise, while angels beheld in him the Sovereign to whom they had vowed allegiance, even during that dark period when he should lay aside his robes of royalty, to be clothed with flesh and blood. Still less wonderful is it, that when the fiends of darkness instigated the jealous Herod to form the malignant plot against the life of the infant Redeemer, that, circumvented as he was by this malignant design, an angel should appear to Joseph in a dream, and conduct this holy family down to Egypt, there to remain until the storm had passed away, and by his own watchful care preserve the young child. Nor was there any intermission of this angelic guardianship; for, when Herod was dead, the angel, according to his promise, appeared again to Joseph, to inform him that the danger was past, and that the child and his mother might return to the land of Israel.
Thus angels watched and guarded him through all his infancy, and childhood, and youth, up to the day of his baptism. And never had they such a charge, and never will they have again! It was the holy child Jesus; one among the descendants of Adam, yet pure and sinless; the Son of God—the hope of the world! Soon after his baptism, the fallen and dark spirits of hell again assailed him, and he was led into the wilderness, to roam in solitude amid its darkness and its beasts of prey, and to be tempted of the devil. But there were not wanting pure and celestial spirits keeping their watch in the desert. And after the struggle was over, and the arch adversary, confounded and abashed, had left the field, "behold, angels came and ministered unto him." He who "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister," here received the service of these messengers of mercy. They congratulated him on his victory, cheered him in his solitude, and with modest and humble sympathy comforted him with the thought that, though abandoned of earth, and contending with fiends, he was not forgotten of God. The scene in Gethsemane, where, in his deep agony, "there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him," will not be easily forgotten. And when he stood before the tribunal that condemned him, angels were not far from that mournful scene; for he intimated to his enemies, that they only waited his Father’s permission and bidding to fly to his rescue. They watched the whole of that shameful process, and the catastrophe of that memorable tragedy, when he gave up the spirit and was laid in the tomb of Joseph. They guarded the sepulcher; and, as soon as the morning of the third day dawned, as proof that his sacrifice was accepted, an angel was commissioned to roll away the large fragment of rock that was laid at the mouth of it, and at the sight of him the Roman soldiers trembled and became as dead men. After he had risen from the dead, also, two angels still remained about his tomb "in shining garments," so that those who came early in the morning with spices to embalm him, "were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth:" nor were their fears relieved until they had the testimony and assurance of these witnesses from heaven that he had risen, as he had predicted. When, too, at the expiration of forty days, he ascended up into heaven, two angels stood by his wondering and disconsolate disciples, in white apparel, pointing to the heaven where he had gone, and whence he would come again in like manner as they had seen him go. And now that he is gone, while they adore and worship him in heaven, and offer him the incense of their praise, they are not less mindful than they once were of the great work of his redemption on the earth. They watch over his church, and he still sends them on messages of love to men, as "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation!" There is little doubt but guardian angels hover around the people of God for their defense and comfort; and when they die, their spirits, like that of the beggar in the parable, are "carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom." "Take heed," says the Savior, "that you despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven, their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." The offices of love they are willing to perform, and to them they are bound by allegiance to their Lord. Though not human, they are members of Christ’s family, and take delight in serving its younger branches in this distant world. Such is the interest they take in the successes of this redemption, that they watch the influence of every sabbath, hover over every assembly of worshipers, and express their joy when even "one sinner repents." In the great conflict which is going on in our world, these angels of light are contending with the powers of darkness, and, by all their vigilance and mighty energy, forestalling the machinations and the influence of him who, "as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour."
Angels and powers are thus made subject to Jesus Christ. Still they are ministering spirits, and their ministration will continue until the close of time. At the opening of the sixth seal of the Apocalypse, John saw "four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds;" and he saw "another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God—and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels—saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." At the opening of the seventh seal, he saw "seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which was before the throne." These seven angels successively sounded their trumpets, and woe after woe fell upon the earth, and accomplished their work of destruction upon the incorrigible nations who had taken "counsel together against the Lord and against his Anointed." After this, "there was war in heaven—Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not." And then was heard a loud voice, saying in heaven, "Now is come salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ." After this, he "saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth;" then followed another saying, "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen;" then another came out of the temple, to "reap the harvest of the earth;" and then "another came down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years."
I have said that this angelic ministration will continue to the close of time. Of this, we have the most explicit information. When the end shall come, the Son of man "shall send forth his angels to gather out of his kingdom all things that do offend," and he himself will come in the clouds of heaven, "in the glory of his Father, and with his angels," to judge the world. The mystery of God will then be completed, and the issue of this redemption shall form the theme of that angelic song of "much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, unto the Lord our God!"
Such is the interest which other worlds take in the cross of Christ. It is, perhaps, desirable to direct our thoughts to some of the reasons of this angelic sympathy, and take a brief view of the considerations by which it is so long sustained. These will appear, in part at least, from the following observations.
The facts themselves, connected with the cross of Christ, are sufficient to excite and sustain the attention of this exalted race of intelligences. It has been the object of the preceding chapters to show what these facts are. They are its great sufferer, and his stupendous designs of wisdom and mercy. They are his truth and grace, his humiliation, exaltation, and kingdom set up in the hearts of millions, and established, in defiance of his malignant and powerful foe, and recognized throughout the universe of God. They are the history of this great universe, identified as it is with the history of the cross, and giving to the government of God over his moral creation, that absorbing interest, and importance, and emphasis, which are its due. The more we ourselves, with our limited capacities and knowledge, take a view of these great facts, and enter into their solemn and affecting import, the more do they produce strong emotions within our own bosoms. What overwhelming interest, then, is attached to them, when contemplated by an angel’s mind! These exalted beings are not indifferent to any of the works of God; they sang together, as so many morning stars, at the birth of this exterior creation. But what an atom is this lower world, with all its glory, in their estimation, compared with the cross! The impression made upon their minds by all its revolutions, all the wealth and splendor of its princes, all its conflicts and victories, is faint compared with that which is derived from his cross who is the Creator of them all, and their own Creator and Lord! They take an interest in the dispensations of Divine Providence, and observe and mark them as they are progressively evolved; but they take a greater interest in the cross, because it is the center of them all, and the ultimate point to which every other purpose of God is directed. A stumbling-block and foolishness as it is to multitudes of this low world, to them it is the great mystery of godliness; their study and admiration; "the masterpiece of the manifold wisdom of God; the wonder of the universe." All lesser lights are eclipsed by the superior splendor of this Sun of righteousness. The Eternal Father said, when he introduced his First-begotten into the world, "Let all the angels of God worship him!"
There are also blessings secured by the cross, in which these exalted intelligences take a deep and hallowed interest. Angels are of a perfectly benevolent character. They delight in holiness, and in the happiness which holiness secures. Their exaltation above this world, and above the sinful race which occupies it, does not prevent their taking a deep interest in its welfare. The salvation of a single soul is to them a matter of deep and attractive interest; while the spiritual renovation and consequent joy of the untold multitudes that are brought into the Divine kingdom through the influence of the cross, fill them with triumph and exultation such as those minds alone are capable of enjoying that are affected by no taint of sin. There is a magnitude and importance, a reality and weight, in the blessings secured by the cross, which none but angelic minds can discern. They are numberless as the evils from which the soul of man is delivered, and as the moments of that happy eternity to which it is advanced; and in their dimensions such as cannot be measured even by the ken of angels. Yet these benevolent beings have a far more just and adequate conception of them, than though they were men like ourselves, and dwelt, as we dwell, at such a distance from that ineffable glory to which the cross ultimately introduces the myriads of its redeemed. The eternity which is hidden from our view, is open to theirs; the heights of purity to which our minds never soar, are but the common level of their own; while the fullness of joy, of which we have but the foretaste, springs up in their bosoms as rivers of pleasure, and overflowing fountains of salvation. The thought that sinners of our race will one day be made like unto themselves, and be brought as near to the Father of lights as they; be as holy as they now are, and, as redeemed sinners, possess some traits of holy character more amiable and lovely than theirs; while, with them, they will explore the exhaustless sources of blessedness attendant on their common immortality; cannot but communicate unutterable delight to minds as holy and benevolent as theirs.
Besides this, the realities of the cross bear a relation to their interests. Though not redeemed, they have a personal interest in the glorious consequences of redemption. On the apostasy of those of their own angelic family who were cast down to hell, they remained the only race that were true and loyal to their prince. In attaching themselves to his person and to the ministrations of his cross, they entered upon that fearful conflict in which every trophy of the Redeemer’s grace gave fresh laurels to their own crown. His conquests are theirs; the captives of his truth and love are victory and gain to their own cause; and every accession to his kingdom swells the number of that holy family of which, as he is the Head, so they are but the elder children. It is by the cross of Christ that the angelic host sustain relations to this world which they would not otherwise have sustained, and it is only by the cross that they discover that relation. By taking hold of the lowest link of the chain of created intelligences and binding them to the highest, the cross binds the highest to the lowest, and constitutes them all one spiritual and happy community. It is the bond which unites the entire holy universe. It is through this comprehensive influence, that God "purposed in himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth; even in him." "It pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself—by him, I say, whether they be things on earth, or things in heaven."
There is still another reason for the interest which this holy and angelic race take in the cross of Christ. It is the great medium by which all the perfections of God are exhibited, and the fullness of the Divine glory flows out for the everlasting blessedness of the holy universe. God himself is the portion and joy of angels. It is the contemplation of his great and glorious character, and the reflection of that uncreated light in which he dwells, that makes them what they are. Though the essential glory of God cannot be increased, and nothing can make him holier, or wiser, or more glorious than he is, yet does he manifest these inherent and unchanging perfections of his nature in continual augmentation and enlargement. He does so by his works of creation and providence, but more especially by his greater work of grace. Hence the "glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ," is transcendent. It was "to the intent, that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places" this glory might be manifested, that his Son took our nature and died on the accursed tree. Take the cross away from our world, and angels themselves would see comparatively little of God. The fullness, the richness, the resplendency of the Divine nature would have been forever obscured. Angels would, indeed, have beheld his character without a stain, but they would not have beheld it as it is. Though its excellences would never have withered, never languished, they would never have stood out in their appropriate, glowing glory. Angels would have seen that he is powerful, and wise, and just, and good; but they would never have known how justice and mercy, in all their wonderful and strange combinations, constitute his adornment and glory, but for the cross. Their knowledge and admiration of the Divine character were greatly increased by a discovery of this great design, and it has been increasing from that day to this. This stupendous design attracts their attention more and more, because it is so full of God. To the present hour, their contemplation of it engages their purest and most ardent affections. That moral phenomenon, the love of God, in the gift of his Son, attracting to his person and his throne untold multitudes of a race otherwise degraded, despised, and cast off forever, excites within them joy and ecstasy which never could have been otherwise excited. The angels now look with peculiar interest to the scenes that once took place in this lower world, and that are even now prolonged. The most transporting exhibitions of the God who is invisible, are made through the Sufferer of Calvary, and angels behold them here; and veil their faces, and, as they tell of its mysteries, say one to another, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God of hosts—the whole earth is full of his glory!" The cross has attractions for angels. So long as the source and fullness of their joy is the knowledge and enjoyment of God, it is but to veil the cross, and you shut up the sources of their highest joy. They are not simply a few broken and refracted rays of the Divine glory that they desire, or that make them as holy and happy as they are. Obscure the cross, and, because you would thus abate their high and intense admiration of the Divine character, you would suppress the most exalted strains of their everlasting song.
Will the reader contemplate the cross with some such spiritual emotions? Not one of all that guilty race for which Jesus died, ought to regard this redemption with indifference. What admiration of this great work ought to fill our bosoms, for whom that atoning blood was spilt! How should our love to God be incited and increased, and our confidence in him be strengthened by frequent and steady contemplations of this stupendous method of his saving mercy! What humility should cover us, when angels stoop to look into these things! and what abhorrence of our sins, which thus crucified the Lord of men and angels! Can it be, that there are those who despise that which the holiest and highest race of creatures thus view with boundless admiration? that any turn away from the crucified One with shame, when angels behold him with such reverence as to veil their faces in his presence? What they behold with wonder, you may behold with wonder also. What they make the theme of their more exalted praise, you may make the theme of your humbler song.
Angels are the inhabitants of heaven—the heaven where the Savior dwells, the heaven of the Bible. Will you, beloved reader, ever dwell in that holy and happy world? You may, perhaps, imagine that there is somewhere in the universe a place called heaven, where, if you could go, you would of course be happy. Most certainly there is such a place, but it is not impossible that it is a very different place from what you conceive. If you look abroad on the world, and peradventure if you look within your own heart, you will see how differently men feel toward the cross of Christ from the sacred emotions which animate the angelic hosts. To be fitted for heaven, you must feel an interest in the thoughts, affections, employments, character, and society, which constitute its blessedness. In heaven, "they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God." Those who feel no interest in the cross, are destitute of all those traits of character which assimilate them to angels; and with their present spirit, next to the world of despair, heaven would be the abode of intense misery to those who take no delight in the wonders of redeeming love. The cross must become the center of your joys, it must have all the glory; and not until you can glory in it with Paul, and delight in it with the angels of God, can you with them come home to Mount Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon your head.
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