“He was buried.” A Sermon for Easter Even by Thomas Macgill

“He was buried.”

A SERMON

FOR

EASTER EVEN.

BY
THOMAS MACGILL,

CURATE OF CLAPHAM,
EVENING PREACHER AT THE MAGDALEN HOSPITAL.

Clapham:
PRINTED BY D. BATTEN.

1849.

p. 2If there be any profits from the sale of this publication, they will be added to the funds for Building a Temporary Church in Clapham.

p. 3A SERMON.
1 Cor. xv. 4.—“He was buried.”

Who has not witnessed a funeral! Who is unacquainted with the emotions that possess the heart whilst carrying the remains of a beloved friend to the grave! And even when we have no interest in the deceased beyond the ties of a common humanity, there is a majesty in death itself that overawes the mind, and the gloomy pomp that proclaims death’s triumph arrests the thoughtlessness of man and repeats to him the lesson of the Bible—“The grave is thine house, and thou must make thy bed in the darkness.” Who has not felt his curiosity awakened when some splendid train of mourners has passed by, declaring by the parade in which corruption sits in mockery, how noble, or how renowned, or how rich the victim on whom the hand of the destroyer has fallen, and how utterly vain and empty are all human glories. And who has not experienced a hallowed sympathy when he has met a little band hurrying towards the churchyard all that is mortal of some friendless man, who lived unknown and died unbewailed, and who now seems to be stealing out of a world that had scarcely acknowledged his existence,—yet declaring in his undistinguished departure that “death has passed upon all men, because all have sinned.”

p. 4To-day I invite you to contemplate the funeral ceremonies of the Prince of Life, of Him who lay down amid the mansions of the dead, that by dying He might destroy death and him that had the power of death.

The mourners on this mysterious occasion were few in number. The Lord whom all despised, and who had no home in which to lay his head in life, could scarcely attract around him in death as many as could carry him from the cross to the grave. His disciples, with one honoured exception, had all disappeared in shameful flight. A few women, with tearful sympathy, lingered to mark the spot where their Lord should be laid, and assisted Joseph and Nicodemus to perform the last offices to the crucified Immanuel. These two persons were men of considerable distinction in Judea, rich and honourable, and members of the great council of the nation. Of Joseph it is written that he was “a good man and a just.” Of Nicodemus we read that he was a ruler of the Jews, a public teacher, “a master in Israel,” but of a remarkably timid disposition. Three years before this sad day he had visited Jesus under the cover of night, and received instructions in the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but he had never yet openly avowed his attachment to Messiah. The world’s frown, the dread of its reproach, the certainty of its persecution, had deterred both Joseph and Nicodemus from confessing Christ before men. But his death, the event that encreased the peril of his disciples, had the effect of dissipating all their fears, and constrained them openly to profess their respect to the Lord. With a boldness which defied all danger they begged from Pilate the body of Christ, that it might not be cast into a malefactor’s grave, but entombed with such honour and distinction as circumstances would allow. The earnest desire of such a person as Joseph was not to be p. 5refused, and agreeing, as it doubtless would, with Pilate’s own feelings respecting one whom he had pronounced innocent, the request was at once complied with.

How strange an event was this! At the very time of Messiah’s utmost desertion, when heaven frowns with gathered blackness, and the cry has been uttered, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me!”—when lover and friend were put far from Him, there went forth from the Sanhedrim that had condemned Him two distinguished witnesses to proclaim His praise, and shew to His lifeless remains the respect they had themselves denied to His living person.

Thus it is, Christian brethren, that, when least expected, God’s hidden work of grace may be silently advancing; in young and aged hearts Christianity may be putting forward its sacred and resistless claims and obtaining a mastery within, that needs only to be put to the trial to exhibit its real power. There is not always the “rushing mighty wind” when the Spirit of the Lord takes possession of a man’s heart. There is not always the intense sorrow of “one mourning as for an only son,” when the sinner looks to Christ. There is not always the alarm of “Men and brethren what shall we do?” when sin’s appalling consequences are first spiritually discovered. The work of grace is often silent and gentle, like the season of spring in a tropical clime, when the earth by some rapid change of the atmosphere seems by enchantment to be covered with new created loveliness, and welcomes the blessed showers of heaven with a bloom as sudden as it is glorious. And how often are the very circumstances that seem most unfavorable to the progress of faith, chosen by God for the manifestation of His grace. Yet let no man carry this principle beyond its legitimate use, nor consider that the existence of p. 6religious principles can ever be consistent with a life of ungodliness. In the case of Joseph it is expressly declared that, though he was a member of the Council that condemned Jesus to death, he had not consented to their verdict.—No; men cannot be the children of God whilst they are avowedly the children of their father the devil, whose works they do.

But to return to the narrative. No sooner had Joseph obtained the consent of Pilate than he hurried back to the cross. The day was, however, far spent and the sabbath was at hand, therefore the funeral ceremonies must needs be finished in a very hasty manner. With such assistance as the occasion commanded, Joseph and Nicodemus removed the sacred corpse, extracted the nails from the cross, wiped off the stains of indignity with which that holy countenance had been profaned, and having wound the body in fine linen with spices and aromatic gums they bore it to a new tomb wherein never before was man laid. There amid the dimness of twilight, the fitting emblem of the extinguished hopes of the world, they deposited with speechless grief, the precious form of Him who came in the name of the Lord to save us. O ye men of holy and humble hearts, how sad was your task! and your faith was too feeble and your hopes too gloomy to sustain you in this pious duty.

It is to be observed that the sepulchre in which Christ was laid was a new one, the property of a rich man, and was situated beyond the gates of Jerusalem. Thus the Scriptures were fulfilled which declare that He should be “with the rich in His death (Isaiah liii. 9.) thus was fulfilled the type involved in the command that the ashes of the sacrifice should be carried without the camp, (Leviticus iv. 12. Heb. xiii. p. 711, 12). It was also a part of the proof necessary for the fact of the resurrection, that He had been laid, not in the place where the bodies of felons were usually cast, nor in any ordinary burying ground where other bodies lay, and where some deceit might have been practised by the disciples; and being a grave excavated in the rock it could only be approached by one entrance, and the entrance was guarded by sentinels and sealed. These circumstances are of vast importance as bearing on the reality of His resurrection, and they are proofs which easily and naturally present themselves to the mind.

“There laid they Jesus.”—Observe its locality; it was in a garden, a lonely but a lovely resting place, constructed amid the arbors and flower-paths, and near it there would grow many a fragrant plant with leaves painted by heavenly art, and be like ornaments of beauty designed to relieve the gloom that overhangs the dwellings of the dead. Here there would be nothing to remind us of death, no sickening vapours of corruption; no mouldering fragments of humanity, to proclaim it a place of skulls. All around would breathe the spicy odours of the eastern clime; yea, from the sepulchre itself would exhale a balmy sweetness, fulfilling the words of the royal poet,

“All thy garments smell
Of myrrh and aloes and cassia:
Out of the ivory palaces
Whereby they have made thee glad.”

And what does this flowery abode of death speak to us, Christian friends? It proclaims how death and the grave have been divested of all their terrible features by the work of Christ, how He hath planted flowers of heavenly promise around the margin of the tomb, perfumed the sepulchre itself with odours of eternal love, and scented the once hateful garments of the dead with the fragrance and freshness of a sure p. 8and certain immortality. It proclaims that there is nothing now in the chill and darkness of the narrow house, to alarm the fears of the dying Christian. For Jesus has been there and has left within it the impress of His own form, and has changed its aspect and altered its character. It is no longer a prison-house, but the vestibule of heaven, in which the children of the kingdom repose their wearied frames before they enter with spiritual bodies on the employments of a glorious eternity.

“And there,” says St. Matthew, “was Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sitting over against the sepulchre.” Let us draw near, and share with them their holy musings.

There, in that rock, lies He that made the world. There are sealed up the lips which said, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” There are closed the eyes which always beamed compassion, and wept for human woe. There, cold, are the hands which were laid on little children to bless them, and opened the eyes of the blind, and delivered the widow’s son alive to his mother. There reposes that gentle head, that knew no resting place till He could say “I have finished the work that my father gave me to do.” There lies the Life of the world and the Hope of Israel!—The Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace! He was fairer than the children of men! He was the image of the invisible God! He went about doing good; He was rich, and for our sakes He become poor!

Were we seated beside the two Marys, with bleeding hearts we might think what epitaph would best become Immanuel’s tomb; and had we been like them at that moment, ignorant p. 9of the purpose of His death, this would express both our faith and our fears—

“We trusted that it had been He
Who should have redeemed Israel.”

But had their conceptions of the great scheme of the atonement been correct, had they understood the nature of Christ’s satisfaction for sin, had they comprehended how before one sinner could be saved the law must be made honourable in all its penalties and all its requirements, they would have been disposed to rejoice rather than mourn when Jesus came to the grave, and they would have written “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, that the King of Glory may come in, to spoil you of your strength and prostrate all your pride. He comes, the Lord of hosts, like a second Samson, to lay His hands on your most colossal pillars, and complete by His own death the overthrow begun in the days of His life.”

On the tombs of mortals, however illustrious, we write these humbling words, “Here he lies,” but I hear the angel saying at the tomb of Christ, “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”

Brethren, “companions in tribulation, and in the patience and kingdom of Christ”—it is well for us to stand by His grave and compare His deep humiliation with His essential glory. Let us behold in His death the infliction pronounced against sin; let us learn the odiousness of it in the sight of God, the vastness of the evil displayed in the magnitude of the remedy, the boundlessness of God’s grace in “sparing not His own Son but giving him up” to the death “for us all.”

But, above all, let us learn to look on Jesus as one whom we have pierced, and who has purchased our ransom from p. 10eternal death by sorrows and sacrifices which neither time nor eternity will enable us to estimate aright. Let us put ourselves in the place of those charged with the bloody deed, when they reflected that they had sacrificed an innocent being. Suppose that you had been consenting to His death. Suppose you had been the cause of it. Suppose his murderers had only been agents employed by you. Then your resentment will operate nearer home, and your grief will rend your own heart. And this, brethren, is the only true repentance. By faith the sinner perceives his own blood guiltiness in this cruel tragedy, and “looking upon Him whom he has pierced, he mourns for him.” (Zech. xii. 10.) No; you cannot learn the true evil of sin and your own lost condition because of it, but by considering and laying to heart the cross and passion, the precious death and burial, of your Lord and Saviour. Many think that sin is but a light thing; but hear Him, in whom was no sin and who did no sin, saying, in the anguish of a wounded spirit “My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death.” See Him “sore amazed and very heavy;” behold “His sweat as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” No; you cannot otherwise learn what a dreadful evil sin is—you cannot trifle with it—you cannot be reconciled to it—when you see the agonies of Him who “made His soul an offering for” it, and became a curse on account of it.

In the ancient history we read that the citizens of Rome, when they beheld the mangled body and the gory mantle of Cæsar, rushed forth in fury to be avenged upon his murderers. So will the heart of every true believer, when he sees the wounds of Jesus, be stirred up to mutiny and rage—against himself, against those sins which caused the shedding of that innocent blood.

p. 11And such emotions best become this solemn time. The language of this sad event is this—“Scarcely for a righteous man will one die, peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die, but God commendeth His love to us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Come, then, to the hallowed scene of Immanuel’s death. Come, and anoint His body with tears of godly sorrow, and swathe it in the fine linen of undissembled love. If David, in that most plaintive of all elegies, could say over the slaughtered bodies of Saul and Jonathan, “Weep, O daughters of Jerusalem, over Saul who clothed you in scarlet, and put ornaments of gold upon your apparel,” much more may we say, “Weep, ye believers in Jesus, weep over the King of Salem, who clothes you with righteousness and crowns you with salvation.”

And are there some among you mourning the loss of dear relatives, departed this life in God’s faith and fear? I bid you look upon the tomb of Christ, and learn what it is to have sorrow sweetened by grace and sanctified by truth. If their Saviour strengthened them amid the weakness of mortality to glory in His cross, and practically to exclaim, “O death, where is thy sting; O grave, where is thy victory?”—if now you feel that the fairest flowers you can strew over their memory are those of faith and hope and love, why should your hearts be heavy and your spirits faint! Know ye not that Christ hath laid them in his own resting-place, and that all who sleep in Jesus, God shall bring with Him? Precious Gospel! which has brought life and immortality to light; which bids us “not be ignorant concerning them that are asleep”—which tells us that our departed brethren are blessed, and that when we too shall come to the shores of the better land, we shall be welcomed by them arrived before us—that we shall together walk along the golden streets of the holy p. 12city, and sit down together by the fountains of joy which adorn and beautify our common home.

But whatever may be our private griefs, whatever the hopes we cherish of departed friends, let the burial and grave of Christ remind us that we must die, and that after death there is the judgment. It appeals to the thoughtless and the careless and the gay, with a searching enquiry, “When will your spirit be at rest?” when corruption preys upon your body, it asks “are you united to the Saviour? Have your submitted to the righteousness of God, and renounced your own, as a sinner guilty and hell-deserving? Have you fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before you on the cross of Christ? Or are you yet dead in trespasses and sins—a captive to Satan—a vessel fitted for destruction?”

Men and brethren, the fashion of this world passeth away, the grave, and the mourners, and the funeral train, are preparing for us all. Then it is high time to awake out of sleep.

And now, “O Lord, grant that as we are baptized into the death of thy blessed Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with Him; and that through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for His merits, who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

London: D. Batten, Printer and Publisher, Clapham Common.