In contemplating, in the preceding pages, the successive pictures of the Flock astray, and its return to the fold, we have been led casually to anticipate the great topic of the salvation purchased by the Shepherd for the guilty and the perishing. We shall make, however, themes of such peerless importance subject of more special and peculiar consideration in this and the following chapter, before passing to other Bible delineations regarding the Sheep. In the sublime figurative language of the prophet Zechariah, a mysterious summons is heard in the court of Heaven. The sword of Justice, which had slumbered in its sheath ever since the time when rebel angels had swerved from their allegiance, is again awoke. We listen in thought to the most dreadful words which ever broke the trance of Eternity—"Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man who is my fellow, says the Lord of Hosts; smite the Shepherd." The first thing which strikes us in this remarkable, this tremendous utterance is, that it is God the Eternal Father who gives the decree for the smiting of the Shepherd. It is at the bidding of Jehovah that that dreadful sword leaps from its scabbard, "Awake, O sword, says the Lord of Hosts."

Here, however, we must from the outset guard against anything that would tend to derogate from the character of God as a God of Love. We repeat the remark which we have already made: if there is any teaching which requires to be repudiated more than another, as alike repulsive and unscriptural, it is the unguarded language of those who speak of God much in the same way as they would speak of a heathen Moloch—a vindictive Being, an avenging Deity, whose wrath can be appeased and propitiated only by offerings of blood. The love of God is thus falsely represented as something 'bought,' extorted at the expense of another, the purchase-price being these untold sufferings of His co-eternal Son! Ah! It would be a worthless thing, that. Love is a thing that cannot be bribed. This noblest of emotions can never be degraded to the level of a marketable commodity—a piece of mercenary barter. Besides, God's love needed not thus to be purchased.

That love was the original cause of all blessing to His creatures. It existed before the birth of time. Before ever angel pealed his anthem, or morning star sang responsive to a jubilant sisterhood of worlds—it was that love which, in the Eternity that is past, first devised the amazing scheme of Redemption, and through the Eternity to come, the ascription of the triumphant Church will be, "Thanks be unto GOD for His unspeakable gift."

The manifestation, however, of Love on the part of a great Moral Governor, must be compatible with the exercise of His moral perfections. God's Justice, Holiness, Righteousness, must be upheld inviolate. While mercy and truth go before His face, justice and Judgment must continue the habitation of His throne. Under the specious semblance of exalting the Divine Ruler in the estimation of His loving and adoring creatures, it is easy to talk of His unlimited mercy, His boundless compassion; that by a mere behest of omnipotence, a volition of His sovereignty, He could have pardoned a rebel world, and gathered back the lost sheep to the fold. Such declaimers, however, look only to the Being of God; they do not think of His Character.

Doubtless, as the Omnipotent, He could do anything. He could, in the exercise of uncontrolled Almightiness, replace, this hour, Satan and his legion host on archangel thrones. So far as power is concerned, He could easily have dispensed with any medium of atonement—forbade the awaking of that sword, the wearing of that crown of thorns, and reinstated the fallen simply by the proclamation of a universal amnesty. But what God, as the Omnipotent COULD do, God, as the Holy, Righteous, Just, True, could not do. He could not promulgate laws, and leave the transgressor to mock them with impunity. He could not compromise His character—He could not darken Himself; He could not degrade his legislative enactments into a mere name and nullity. Had he done so (rather could He have done so), the pillars of His eternal throne would have tottered to their base.

Was there, then, in the case of guilty man, any possible method, compatible with the exercise of his moral attributes, by which the honor of God's name and character and throne could be preserved intact, and yet the transgressor be saved? Reason is silent here. Unassisted reason can shed no light on the great problem. No, rather, had reason been left to frame the reply, there could have been but one, "No hope,"—"A certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation."

The principle of substitution—the innocent suffering for the guilty—is one undreamed of in earthly philosophy. It is enough for us to accept the glorious revealed truth, that the principle is one recognized and sanctioned in the Divine economy—that here, at least, is one way, and it is the only one, by which the God who has so solemnly averred that He "can by no means clear," can clear the guilty—yes, and who, moreover, in doing so, can pour the luster of a high vindication around every perfection of His nature, and every requirement of His law. For dreadful as would have been the testimony to the Divine Holiness and Justice and Truth, if sinners had been shut up in the fold of destruction, and the cry had been heard, "Awake, O sword, against these sheep"—not so dreadful an attestation would it have been, as when from His own lips proceeded the gripping words, "Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow!" The Shepherd has been smitten—the Divine honor has been upheld. Mercy and truth have been betrothed before the altar of Calvary; God has joined them together for the salvation of the human race, and that marriage-covenant never can be disannulled. Justice is now equally interested with Love, in the rescue of the fallen. God is the just God, and yet the Savior.

"Oh, righteous Father," exclaimed the Redeemer in His valedictory prayer, "the world has not known You." 'They do not understand the infinite depths of Your love. But surely when that sword awakes, its gleam will flash the truth upon their souls. It will reveal what the intensity of that Love must have been glowing in Your heart, which, rather than lose a race of wanderers, a flock given over to slaughter—made You willing to give Your Eternal Son as a peerless ransom!'

Yes; we may go farther, and boldly aver; if the Father's Love had not been infinite, Justice would before now have been bidden to unsheathe her sword—the hands would have been loosed from the head of the Divine Victim—the Sinless One would have gone free, and guilty myriads been left to perish. But Love triumphs. The command is given, "Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar;" "Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow; smite the Shepherd!"

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