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Of the two great periods in the history of redemption. — Outline of the first period. — Remarks on the principles of the Old Testament. — Of the second great period. — Reference to the personal history of Christ. — Those who are now in the world are called upon to be like him. — Of the efforts and tendencies of the present age. — The final struggle at hand.

AMONG the wonderful works of God there is none more worthy of attention, none more important in its results, both to this world and to other worlds, than that of man's redemption. Man, in the exercise of that freedom of choice which God had given him, had no sooner fallen into sin and consequent ruin, than God announced to him, though at first obscurely, the great plan of salvation. As all Adam's posterity were involved in his fall, the plan of redemption, which has a relation to the whole human race in all ages of the world, occupies a great extent of time. Beginning with the promises to Adam and the early patriarchs, which were at first obscurely, and afterwards more clearly, made, it gradually unfolds itself in successive dispensations; but at last we see it in distinctness and as a whole.

The plan of human redemption may be divided, for the purpose of more distinct views of it, into two great periods; — including some subordinate distinctions and periods, to which it is not necessary to give particular attention here.

2. The first period is that which is antecedent to the coming of Christ; — comprehending the whole interval of time from the fall of Adam to the hour of the Savior’s birth. The second period, having no conclusion which is definitely anticipated and known by men, extends from the advent of Christ to the termination, whenever it may take place, of human history.

In the first period, the only account of which is to be found in the books of the Old Testament, we have the affecting records of human sin and sorrow, interspersed with intimations of better things to come. At an early period, God, who is merciful in his judgments, selected a peculiar people, a chosen generation, to whom he made his communications, and through whom other nations and ages have been taught how widely they have wandered, and in what way they may expect to return. It is in this period that we find the histories of Noah, of Abraham, of Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, and many others, whose lives and labors are connected in various ways with the great remedial plan. It is here that we find prophecy added to prophecy; — the faint intimation uttered to the sorrowing hearts of Adam and Eve, that "the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head;"— the promise to the patriarch Abraham, that in his seed "all the nations of the earth should be blessed;" — the prophetic declaration of Jacob, " the sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until SHILOH come;" — the remarkable saying of God to Moses, — a saying generally understood by commentators to have a special application to Christ, the greatest of prophets, — "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth;" — and the prophecies of Christ's coming, and of a better and more glorious period, prophecies specific in statement and sublime in imagery, which are found in the writings of Isaiah. [Gen. 3:15; 22:18. Deut. 18:15, 18. Isa. 53.]

3. It is here, in this first period, that we find intimations and declarations of God's abhorrence of sin; the announcement on Mount Sinai of the eternal principles of the moral law, which sin had obliterated or obscured in the human heart; and indications, some of them of terrible import, that the relations between sin and suffering are unchangeable, and that iniquity cannot go unpunished. The Tabernacle and the Temple, during successive generations, ministered in the development and inculcation of these great truths. Priests and Levites, in the performance of their allotted duties, helped to illustrate and confirm them. They had an expression in offerings and sacrifices, which declared the hopes as well as the transgressions of the world. It was by means of the bleeding sacrifices in particular that the Jews were taught, and other nations were destined to be taught through them, that "without the shedding of blood there is no remission."

The portion of human history, which is illustrated in the records of the Old Testament, is exceedingly interesting and important. The principles which are inculcated, (all those truths and principles which have relation to God, to man's spiritual nature, to sin, redemption, and holiness,) are the same as those in the New; — less distinctly revealed, but not differing in nature. The New is the complement and fulfillment of the Old. And it will be found true, that the Old Testament will be valued, — its history, its poetry, its prophecies, its types, will be studied and gratefully appreciated, — just in proportion as the spirit of the New is felt and realized in the human heart.

4. The second period in the history of the great work of man's redemption may be regarded as beginning with the advent of Christ, which, in being the completion of a former order of things, was itself the commencement of a new order. This new order or dispensation of things will be completed only when the objects for which Christ came, are secured by the redemption and permanent renovation of the human race.

The events occurring in the first period were merely
preparatory; — all of them having relation to the Savior’s coming and to those events and results which were connected with his coming. Before the Savior’s birth there had been labors and sufferings; — there had been teachings and prophecies, and ceremonies and sacrifices innumerable. And yet, they all were comparatively of no value, and had no effect, except in connection with the advent of the Son of God; much had been done preparatively, but nothing had been done effectually. It was Christ's coming which explained the import of preceding institutions and events, and which gave them their efficacy. And, therefore, until this period, it could not be said of the human race generally, nor of any part of the human race, "Ye are bought with a price."

In the language of President Edwards, who refers, in his remarks, to the period of Christ's coming, "No part of the price was offered
till now. But as soon as Christ was incarnate, then the purchase began immediately without any delay, and the whole time of Christ's humiliation, from the morning that Christ began to be incarnate, till the morning that he rose from the dead, was taken up with his purchase. And then the purchase was entirely and completely finished." [Edwards' History of Redemption, Period II., part 1st.]

5. But if, in the language of President Edwards, the "purchase was completely finished," it was not accepted and not even known by those for whose benefit it was made, except to a very limited extent. If the purchase was completed, the plan of salvation was not completed. It still remained necessary that those who were lost, those for whom this great work of suffering and redemption was thus brought to a close, should hear and understand the announcement of this "joyful sound." The completion of the plan of salvation required from the beginning, and does now require, that the Gospel, the good news of redemption, should be preached to every creature. In connection with what the Saviour had done, it could be said, with great and emphatic truth, that the prison doors of a fallen race were thrown open; — but those who were in the prison were so blind, and so in love with their own wretchedness, that it had become necessary to teach them their sin and their blindness, and to take them by the hand and to lead them out into the purchased liberty.

The plan of salvation, therefore, in its second period, is still in progress, and, this being the case, there still remains a great work to be done; — a work in which holy men have been engaged from the time of Christ;— a work in which they will continue to be engaged, until the last darkened mind is enlightened, the last ruined soul is saved.

6. In order to understand and feel the spirit of this new dispensation of things, in order to harmonize successfully in the prosecution of the plan of redemption as it is now in progress, it is important to be well acquainted with the personal history of Christ. Study Christ, that ye may be like him.

How affecting is the simple, yet wonderful story of the Savior’s life! Behold him, the ruler and king who had been so long predicted, making his appearance, not in the splendor of the palace, but in the humility of the manger! See him, as if the powers of darkness trembled before his infancy, carried in his mother's arms a fugitive into Egypt! Mark the early developments of his wisdom, as he converses and reasons with the learned Jewish teachers in the Temple! Appreciating the great truth of a Divine Providence, which requires the adjustment of action to circumstances, he said to John the Baptist, — " It becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." And accordingly, in his domestic relations, he fulfilled, in meekness and love, the duties of a son and brother. In relations of a more general and public nature, he conformed to the civil and religious institutions of his country; — rejoicing in what was good, and submitting to what was imperfect and evil, because the day of its destruction had not arrived. Full of divine sympathy, he went about doing good; but without the spirit of boasting, and "without observation." The appointed renovator of the world, he may be said to have restored institutions
prospectively, by sowing great principles which were to germinate and bear fruit in the appropriate hour of Providence. He was a man; — but, unlike man in his fallen and depraved state, he was a man dwelt in by the Holy Ghost, who descended visibly upon him. Baptized of John in the waters of the Jordan, — teaching men with heavenly wisdom, and at the same time exemplifying in his life the principles of eternal truth and love, — persecuted but never avenging himself, — in all situations and under all circumstances, he realizes and exemplifies the full idea of the Son of God. His last act is to die, not for himself, but for others; —" The Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.”

7. In the matter of union with God in the great work of the world's redemption,
"Christ is our example.” Those who are now in the world, called upon to realize its situation, and to labor for its restoration, can be in union with God only so far as they have Christ's spirit. There is a sense in which it can be said, with great truth, that holy souls are the perpetuation of Christ. We are called upon, therefore, to be just what Christ would be if he were now living. If he were now on earth, it is certain that he would live, and labor, and suffer for the completion of that great object for which he lived and suffered so many centuries ago. In the same spirit of meekness, in the same fixedness of purpose, in the same readiness to act and to endure, he would say now, as then, "I come to do thy will.”

8. It is a matter of gratitude, however obvious may be the delinquencies of Christians, that something of the true spirit of Christ still lives. This spirit has developed itself with increased truth and energy in more recent times. The remark is often made, and there seems to be a foundation for it, that the commencement of the present century was the commencement of a new and better series of ages. The closing years of the last century were signalized by the prevalence of infidelity, and by crime and violence, almost unexampled. In the extremity of those sufferings and sorrows, which were the natural result of their infidelity, men began to look to God, and to believe in him as alone able to give them help. An increase of faith naturally inspired love; and the new series of ages has been honorably distinguished by deeds of benevolence.

It is a great and cheering truth, that the progress of the church cannot be separated from
the progress of humanity. And probably more has been done by Christians for the elevation of the human race, during the last half century, than during any previous period of equal length, with the exception perhaps of the period denominated the apostolic age. Within the period of half a century how many benevolent institutions have been founded! How many missionaries have been sent to heathen lands! What mighty changes and improvements have taken place in administrations and forms of government! What efforts have been made to enlighten the ignorant, to relieve the poor, the oppressed, the dumb, the blind, the insane! How changed is the public sentiment in relation to war! — and how widely disseminated, compared with the state of things at any former time, is the sentiment of universal brotherhood and good-will to man!

9. These and many other favorable results have been witnessed, chiefly through the influence and exertions of Christians, and by the mighty power of the religious sentiment. Christians have done much, not only because they desired to do much, but because they
believed. They begin to understand, more than in former periods, the mighty results of simple trust in God. It is a sentiment found in the great poet of the ancient Romans, that faith, even in the ordinary concerns of life, is power, POSSUNT QUI POSSE VIDENTUE. And if much, in accordance with this sentiment, can be done by the natural man with the aids and strength of natural faith, how much more can be done by those, who, in adding religious to natural faith, are aided by the promises and the power of God!

But what has been witnessed during the last half century is only the beginning. The mighty power of divine faith strengthens itself day by day. If to-day the man of faith can arrest the listening ear of warring nations, to-morrow he may expect to hear the last sound of their cannon. Every step that he takes gives him increased strength for effort and increased influence. If to-day he can plant his missionary stations in Africa, in China, in Syria, in the Sandwich Islands, to-morrow, by effort added to effort, and by faith added to faith, he may expect to see the foundations of the old idolatry totter, end its temples fall.

10. Engage, therefore, in the great work of man's redemption. Engage in it, not in human strength, not under the influence of human excitement, but in Christ's strength, under the leadings of the Holy Ghost, and in the fixedness and calmness of everlasting principle.

The day in which we live, if we regard either the intimations of prophecy or the signs of the times, is the day of the last struggle. Everything indicates that the powers of light and darkness are marshaling themselves for a contest greater than any which has preceded it. Humanity must rise now, or, we have reason to fear, that it will sink forever. Whatever may be the result of the struggle, there is but one course for those who would either seek or maintain their union with God, and that is, to possess the spirit of Christ, and, like him, to toil, to suffer, and to die if it be necessary, for the renovation of a fallen and suffering race.