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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From Sermons on Various Subjects, 1837
The importance attached to the word “finished” depends upon the nature of the work, and the glory and majesty of the workman. The finishing of the work of creation in six days, and the finishing of the work of redemption by the same person, naturally make such impressions on our minds that are not easily obliterated. When we hear the dying Saviour cry, “It is finished” while suspended on the tree between heaven and earth, after his laborious and painful work from the manger to the cross, we naturally inquire:
I. What was finished? and
II. Why was it finished?
1. But we shall inquire in the first place, what was finished?
His sufferings were at an end. The agonies of his body, and the anguish of his soul, were finished. He shall sweat the blood in large drops to the ground no more—he shall cry no more, my soul is exceedingly sorrowful even unto death—and he shall no more say, my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? His enemies shall no more plough their king furrows upon his back; he shall never be baptized in blood anymore; and he shall never be troubled by the scoffs of the governors, and the derision of the rabble anymore.
He shall never be crowned with thorns, spit upon, and nailed to the accursed tree again. He shall never be persecuted from place to place, treated as an impostor, and be accused of having confederacy with Beelzebub any more. He shall pour out his soul a sacrifice for sin no more; neither shall he feel the weight of the wrath of God against sin anymore; nor shall he ever taste of the bitter ingredients of that cup, which his Father's hands mingled for him to drink.
Again. He finished offering that sacrifice, which made an end of sin. All the ceremonial sacrifices could not obtain the bond from the hand of the creditor, they were only acknowledgements of the debt contracted, but Jesus by one sacrifice paid up the whole score, took up the bond—the hand writing that was against us, and nailed it to the cross; and when he was driving the last nail, he said, "It is finished."
Farther. "It is finished." The predictions of the prophets, relative to the life, sufferings, and death of the Messiah are accomplished. The map of his travels was drawn by the prophets in full, some hundreds of years before he was born; through the whole space of time, from eternity to eternity, from Bethlehem to the cross, from the cross to the grave, and from the grave to heaven. The Governor that was born in Bethlehem Ephrata, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger, was the person whose goings forth were of old, even from everlasting. All things that were written in the Law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms concerning Christ, were fulfilled. Jesus knowing that all were now accomplished that the Scripture might be fulfilled, saith, “I thirst.” (John 19:28)
So particular was Jesus, that every scriptural description of himself should be fully accomplished; in the whole course of his life and death; it is written in legible characters, upon every road he travelled, in every house he entered, and every city he visited, I have been here. He did not go silently through Edom and Bozrah; for he did tread the wine press alone, and of the people there was none with him. Hall says, there was no less than thirty marks of the true Messiah fulfilled in him, from the garden of Gethsemane, to the morning of the resurrection.
Again. "It is finished." In his death, he destroyed him, who had the power of death, that is, the devil, condemned sin in the flesh, and opened the prison doors. He bruised the head, and dethroned the infernal prince, so that he shall never be able to regain his usurped authority. When the dying Saviour cried, "It is finished," the sound was heard in the camps of hell; and like an irresistible cannon ball, struck the head of the old serpent with an incurable wound, and made the castles of death and the grave shake to their very foundation, so that their doors were opened, and the dead came forth after his resurrection. The strong man armed cannot stand before the word and spirit of Christ, when the gospel comes with power and demonstration of the spirit he must quit his old palace.
We may observe also, that when Jesus said "It is finished," that the moral law was honored, in the full execution of its threatenings, divine justice satisfied in all its righteous demands, and anew and living way opened whereby the vilest of characters may come with humble boldness to the throne of grace.
The law that is put in execution properly when all that is threatened is accomplished 'The Lord hath laid,' on Jesus, "the iniquity of us all." (Isa. 53:6) He was “made a curse for us." (Gal. 3:13) "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree." (1 Pet. 2:24) It is of Christ only it can be said, that "he made an end of sin," (Dan. 9:24) of the punishment of it. He "died unto sin once." (Rom. 6:10)
Every wicked man that dies in unbelief undergoes the execution of divine wrath; he dies for sin: but to die to sin is to put away that burden of sin which brought death and all our woes upon us. Jesus not only died for sin, but unto it; he bore all the weight of it. – Those who are in hell will never have to say that which he said on the cross, "It is finished." The punishment that Jesus bore in his soul and body on the accursed tree is equivalent to the demands of divine justice, and the full honor of a broken law. Here then, may a dying thief, a mad persecutor, and a foul transgressor lay down their heavy load of guilt at the foot of the cross, with a contrite spirit, and reviving hope, with a grateful heart and a tuneful tongue, and listen with joyful souls to the heavenly sound proceeding from the lips of their dying Redeemer, "It is finished."
Though the redemption and salvation of sinners shall not be fully completed until the day of the general resurrection, yet he hath laid a sure foundation in his death for the salvation of all that will believe in him, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. Once more we remark. "It is finished." As the High priest of our profession he has filled his hands with the merit of his own sacrifice, and is now gone to the holy of holies; to appear before God the Father to plead on our behalf, he will need no new sacrifice, for the merit and sweet savor, of that once offered, when he said, "It is finished," shall continue forever.
The tunnel under the River Thames could not be finished on account of the water rushing down upon the workmen, and for want of money to counteract that sore disaster, without making a second subscription. But Jesus found unsearchable riches in his one sacrifice, sufficient to finish completely a new way through the dark region of death, to the land of immortality, and eternal life.
II. Let us now enquire, why was this work finished?
What necessity was there for it? Why must the Son of God suffer, bleed and die for sinners? Was there no other person that would undertake this arduous work? No, there was not one willing, neither was there any one that was able to save one soul; it was too much for Gabriel to do—yes too much for all the angels in heaven to accomplish. Had it not been for Jesus who undertook our cause, became our surety, and not only engaged, but fully accomplished the glorious work of our redemption, we must have been under the wrath and the displeasure of God forever, crying, the harvest was past, and the summer ended, and our souls not saved. None but the Lion of the tribe of Judah could raise the seals of death from the book of life. None but the God that was manifested in the flesh could deliver us from the second death.
It was not for his own sins that he suffered, but it was for crimes that we have done, he died upon the tree. It was that we might be exalted, that he humbled himself; it was that we might be made rich, that he became poor; it was that we might be healed that he was wounded; it was that we might drink of the waters of immortal life that he drank the very dregs of the cup that the Father gave him to drink; and it was that we might live and reign with him forever, that he died the shameful and painful death of the cross. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into his glory?
This ought or must is the must of love, the must of covenant engagement, and the must of the conditions of the covenant of redemption. We see then that repentance and remission of sins must be preached in his name throughout the world, and the preaching of the gospel must and shall be blessed for the conversion of countless millions of the human race.
With what majesty, power and glory our blessed Redeemer finished his work. He had power to lay down his life, and power to take it up again. He meekly bowed his head, and gave up the ghost; and cried with a loud voice, “It is finished.” All men die because they can live no longer; whatever the disorder may be, they die of weakness; but this was not the case with him, who said, “It is finished,” on the cross. He died with such unspeakable majesty that the sun was darkened, the earth quaked, the rocks rent, the grave opened, the veil of the temple rent in twain, and the Centurion cried, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)
In dying, Jesus cried with a loud voice, to evidence his conquest over the powers of darkness; he bowed his head that death might take hold on him, for he was too holy, too glorious, and infinitely above the reach of the monster death, had he not willingly humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. He gave up his spirit in a sacrifice by fire unto the Lord for the sins of his people, which was accepted, and with which the Father was well pleased as a full equivalent to the law, as a full satisfaction to the demands of justice, and as a sure testimony that the rights of the divine government have been maintained by him who knew no sin, but was made a sin offering for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
The tragedy on Mount Golgotha being so much enveloped in thick darkness, and all nature appeared fainting, the earth shaking, and the luminaries of heaven as if they were expiring. None but Jesus could tell the state of that wonderful combat in the fire - the blood and the pillars of smoke. When he was in the heat of the battle in the land of Bozrah entirely out of sight, the word finished, which may be considered as the bulletin of the state of the war to cheer the hearts of the women of Galilee, and the beloved disciples at the foot of the cross. The two streams of blood and water gushing from his side to justify and sanctify poor sinners have been a source of unspeakable consolation to believers in the house of their pilgrimage on earth, and shall continue a theme of praise to the redeemed company in heaven through the countless ages of eternity.
The sword had pierced Mary's heart, and wounded her faith in seeing the agony of her supernatural Son, but the echo of the word "finished" sounding with such majesty and power from his lips must have strengthened her heart, and revived her drooping spirits. When she recollected the words of the angel Gabriel, and the expression of old Simon in the temple, “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)
The work which the Father had given him to do was very important; it lay very heavy upon his soul. O! How he was straitened until it was accomplished. His soul was exceedingly sorrowful even unto death. This most important work being finished, he could forbear no longer. He did not wait for the third day, but cried out with all the majesty of the Creator of the universe, "It is finished;" with full confidence and assurance that his sacrifice would be accepted, that the grave could not withhold him a moment longer than the appointed time, and that the everlasting gates would open, and lift up their heads to welcome him home unto his glory.
The moment Jesus said, "It is finished," the greatest confusion and disorder were felt in the camp of hell. When the hour and power of darkness was come, Satan and his hellish crew were busily engaged to accomplish the destruction of Son of God. They moved one of his disciples to deny him, and another to betray him; they instigated the multitudes, who a little before were crying “Hosanna to the son of David,” (Matt. 21:9) to cry out, “Crucify him; crucify him,” (Luke 23:21) and the Roman soldiers to mock and nail him to the tree; they filled the minds of all classes, among the Jews, with envy, to accuse him without a cause, and the mind of Pilate with ambition and injustice to condemn the just One to die without a fault.
When the rulers of darkness had thus succeeded so far in their hellish stratagems, they thought no doubt the victory certain on their side, and the kingdom confirmed forever by the death of the second Adam; for when they had him nailed to the cross, they were in no doubt about his death, but waiting in anxious impatience for him to breathe his last, that they might shout with infernal triumph to the depth of the gates of hell, till the sound would echo on the walls of the heavenly city—the new Jerusalem, but in the interval, how wonderful the change —the dying Saviour cries, “It is finished!”
The despised Galilean turns all the artillery of hell back upon itself; he wrests the keys of hell and of death out of the hands of the devil; he entangles the rulers of darkness in their own nets, and makes them ruin their designs with their own stratagems; and the very devices of these powers of darkness he made the means of spoiling and triumphing over themselves.
So the prince of this world was completely foiled in his artful schemes, and disappointed in his most sanguine expectations; like the inhabitants of Gaza, when they locked Samson in the city, they thought that they had nothing more to do, than wait one night, fully persuaded, and satisfied in their minds, that they should kill him in the morning; how astonished and disappointed they must have been in the morning to find that Samson was gone with their gates and bars to the top of the hill, too far to be of any service to defend their city.
So Jesus dealt with the gates of death. The Philistines never imagined that after they had caught Samson, and brought him to their temple to make them sport, that it was possible for him in such a low condition to injure or gain any advantage over them. “Suffer me,” said Samson, “that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them.” (Judges 16:26) Samson bowed himself with all his might upon the two pillars: till the house fell upon himself and the Philistines —in his dying they died. Upon the cross, Jesus laid hold on the two pillars, and died himself, and in dying, ha pulled down the temple of death upon the head of sin and Satan, but on the morning of the third day he left them all in the ruins, where they shall remain forever, and began his journey home to his Father's house.
Jesus said, "It is finished," that he might leave upon the cross the morning star of hope for the guilty and polluted sinner. In his death alone have we hope of a free, full and eternal salvation. There is salvation in no other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:12) He is the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6) A perfect robe of righteousness is finished by Jesus Christ upon the tree, for all who believe in his adorable name; and being clothed in this, we shall not be found naked, when he comes to make up his jewels; to evidence the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God, and him that serveth him not.
When Jesus said, "It is finished," the blissful sound was heard within the walls of the celestial city, and must. have filled the spirits of just men made perfect, with ecstasy not to be described, for that the Captain of their salvation was victorious over all his enemies, and that the work he had engaged to do for them was completed; and the holy angels must have been struck with wonder, admiration and praise, in witnessing him, whom they were commanded to worship, triumphing over the powers of darkness. They never saw so much of God before.