As people around the world reflect this week about Christ’s resurrection, I want to recommend that you read this concluding excerpt from John Collett Ryland’s (1723–1792) funeral sermon for Andrew Gifford Jr. (1700–1784).
Gifford was a faithful and fruitful Particular Baptist pastor for his entire adult life, and was known for his evangelistic preaching, as well as his extraordinary learning. Further, because he married into significant wealth, he was widely loved for his generosity and benefaction of evangelical causes.
Upon Gifford’s death, at the graveside in Bunhill Fields at sunrise, Ryland preached a gripping sermon, and his performance confirmed him as one of the most celebrated preachers of the Baptist denomination. It was unusual to have a burial so early in the morning, but Gifford had specially requested to be buried at sunrise as a testimony of his faith in the resurrection of Christ, who arose early in the morning.
In this sermon, Ryland was lauded as one akin to Demosthenes, that legendary Greek orator. Such praise is not unwarranted. He expounded the text of Hebrews 9:27–28, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”
The first part of his discourse focused on four reasons why God appoints all men to die: (1) to remind us of the consequences of Adam’s fall, (2) to demonstrate the vanity of the world for our happiness, (3) to endear the Lord Jesus Christ to all true believers, and (4) to display the power of God in the resurrection of the dead.
Next he explained several reasons for a final judgment: (1) to vindicate the justice of God the Father, (2) to vindicate the work of God the Son, (3) to vindicate the ministry of God the Holy Spirit, (4) to vindicate the testimonies of the people of God, (5) to demonstrate the awful offense of wicked men and devils, (6) to highlight the beauty of holiness in contrast to sin in the distribution of rewards and punishment.
Finally, and included below, Ryland contrasted the first and second coming of Christ. It is here that his sublimity of thought, powerful elocution, and seraphic zeal is on full display, perhaps as nowhere seen in any of his other writings. This is Ryland at his best and, quite honestly, no paraphrase or summary can do it justice.
~ Garrett Walden, Senior Editor, The London Lyceum
Hebrews 9:28 “…To them that look for him,
he shall appear, the second time,
without sin, unto salvation.”
“We have not time to consider that part of the verse which speaks of Christ bearing our sins in order to make a full and perfect satisfaction for them, and therefore must dismiss that subject with a most respectful reverence. All we have to do in this last part of our discourse is to represent, in some instances, the contrast between Christ’s first and second coming.
And here, my dear hearers, I am obliged to be short. But I wish for your own sakes you would amplify upon this delightful subject in your private meditations. It is a satisfaction to my heart to assist you with a few hints.
Christ, in his first appearance in our world, came as a little infant; but in his second, he will come with the fullest grandeur of a God.
He came at first into a stable and was laid in a manger; but in his second appearance, he will come to sit on a great white horse, formed of fleecy clouds and burnished with the gold of radiant sunbeams. He came at first to be driven by a tyrant into Egypt and to lie hid in obscurity in Galilee, the meanest part of Judea. He came to work like a carpenter and get his bread by the sweat of his brow, although his hands built the lofty structure of the universe. He came to live all his days in poverty, but he will come to make millions eternally rich. He came to be poorer than the foxes which have holes and the birds of the air which have nests, but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head. (Matt. 8:20; Lk. 9:58) He came to suffer dishonor from the sons of worldly wisdom, to travel many wearisome journeys, to suffer hunger and thirst, and all his days to be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Is. 53:3) He came to be valued at the price of a pagan slave, to be undervalued below Barabbas, a seditious murderer, to receive slaps on the face by the meanest servants in the house of the high priest. He came to be set at naught by Herod and his blustering and haughty men of war. And he that upholds all worlds had his hands tied to a pillar like a thief. He came to be mocked in all his offices. As a prophet, they blindfolded him and then scornfully cried a prophecy, “Who was it that smote thee?”(Matt. 26:68) As a priest, “Save thyself and us. He saved others, himself he cannot save.” As a king he was crowned with thorns, had a cane for a scepter put into his hand, and then they snatched it from him to beat the thorns into his head. They farther derided him as a king when he was clothed with the shabby old red cloak that was cast off by some of the officers. He was made to bear his cross alone, which you do not find was the case of the two thieves. And after he had borne his cross, he was nailed to the cross he bore. He was placed between the thieves as though he was most guilty of the three, and hung up between heaven and earth as unworthy of both!
When he first appeared in the world, he came to be bathed in his own blood in the garden; he will come to enjoy the utmost purchase of that blood, i.e. the eternal happiness of his people.
He came to be filled with astonishment and terror, as the original word implies; but he will come to fill the redeemed world with wonder and joy, and to fill the wicked world of men and devils with horror and astonishment.
He came to feel his soul exceeding sorrowful even unto death; but he will come the second time with infinite joy, and the salvation of all his dear people. (Matt. 26:38)
At his first coming, he appeared in the high priest’s hall; at his second, he will appear from the highest heavens. At his first coming, he stood at Pilate’s bar; at his second, Pilate must stand at his bar. At his first coming, he stood before Herod and his bullies to be mocked; at his second, Herod and his men of war must stand before him to be tried for eternity.
Now, Caiaphas, charge him again with blasphemy, and rend your clothes afresh! Now, Pilate, bind him and scourge him once more! Now, Herod, treat him and mock him as a fool! Laugh him to scorn! Put another purple robe on his shoulders, and with your men of war set him at naught. Reduce him to nothing once more! Barabbas, now hold up your head and rise once more above Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the despised Galilean, and swell with pride to think that you are released and honored whilst Jesus is degraded and condemned.
Judas! Judas! Sell his blood once more! Sell him for thirty pieces of silver, at the price of a slave! Give him another traitorous kiss! Go up to him, not in the garden, but on his great white throne! Say, “Hail, master! Hail, master!” And kiss him! — Why, man, do you boggle? Why do you shiver? What? Not able to reach him! Not dare to kiss him once more! Once more! Why, what is the matter, Judas? Ah! Thou perfidious traitor! Thou wretch! Thou most abandoned, cursed, ungrateful monster, it is all over with thee forever and ever!
Come, ye Jewish rabble! Cry out, now [that] you see him upon his throne. Hail! Hail! King of the Jews! Follow him afresh, and with the most violent vociferation exclaim, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Matt. 27:22–23; Mk. 15:13–14; Lk. 23:2–23)
Now, soldier, stab him to the heart once more. Plunge your spear into his bosom and say once more what probably you said before, “Curse the Jewish impostor, let him bleed!”
When Christ first appeared, he came to be so poor as to want two-pence to pay the tribute. In his second coming, he will show that he has bought the whole world with the price of his precious blood. He was valued at thirty pieces of silver by the Jewish rulers; but his blood is valued by God himself above the whole creation. He came to offer up a sacrifice of infinite value to reconcile us to an injured Monarch; and he will come with all the effects of that sacrifice before his throne.
He came to meet an inexorable judge, determined not to spare him, and awakening the sword of God’s justice to smite him; and he received the dreadful sword into the tenderest feelings of his soul. Our guilt and punishment was exacted of him, and he was made answerable.
In this character of a surety, God’s justice combined the whole creation against him. The sun hid his face, and he was wrapped in darkness. The earth shook under his feet. The devils were let loose upon him — that was their hour and the power of darkness. God withdrew the light of his countenance. He cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46)
The full cup of God’s wrath was put into his hands, without the least cordial of mercy. God spared him not. He drank it off to the last dregs, and ceased not to drink till he could say, “It is finished.” (Jn. 19:30) But at his second appearance, he will come to enjoy all the sunbeams of his Father’s countenance. Instead of the sword of divine justice in his heart, he will have the scepter of the world in his hand. And instead of passing under the sentence of condemnation, he will come to give all the millions of his people eternal absolution.
At his first appearance, he came to rescue the thief upon the cross out of the jaws of the great murderer; and he will bring that thief with him as a proof of his victorious power to save.
He came to grapple with Death on the cross, and that horrid monarch was armed with all his terrors. He had his full force upon him and darted his sting with such violence and vengeance into his whole frame, that he struck that sting through his body and soul into the cross and could never draw it out anymore; so that the king of terrors has never been able to bring his sting to the deathbed of a Christian, nor will he to the end of the world.
But this was not glory enough for our almighty Conqueror. He went down into Death’s dark dominions, fought him upon his own ground, tore his crown from off his head, broke his scepter to shivers, and with the triumph of a conquering God, he said “O Death! I will be thy plague. O Grave! I will be thy destruction.” (Hos. 13:14) And now the Christian can follow his divine Conqueror, with the triumphant apostrophe of the apostle Paul: “O Death! Where is thy sting? O Grave! Where is thy victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55)
On the third day, our Lord rose from the grave, and after staying forty days with his dear people, he ascended from Mount Olivet, amidst a hundred millions of angels to his Father’s throne. But who can tell the mighty sensations of joy his soul must feel on his first sitting down in the midst of the throne, when he looked all around heaven, and saw millions who had been saved on the credit of his death before his incarnation? Who can tell the mighty sensations of his god-like soul, when he took a prospect of the whole globe of our earth and viewed it as his own, by purchase as well as by creation? When he viewed Bethlehem and the stable, where he was born? The manger, in which he was laid? Egypt, where he was nursed? Galilee, where he worked for his bread? The river Jordan, where he was baptized. The wilderness, where he fasted forty days among wild beasts — the place where he conquered all the devil’s temptations? The sea of Gennesaret, where he trod the waves and calmed the tempests? The mountains, on which he preached and prayed? The towns and villages, in which he performed the wonders of his power and goodness? The city and temple of Jerusalem, where he proclaimed salvation and invited thirsty souls to drink in immortal life and happiness?
Who can tell the mighty joys of his soul, when from his lofty throne, he viewed the garden of Gethsemane, where he was sore amazed and in an agony sweat blood? When he viewed the high priest’s hall, where he was slapped in the face by the common slaves? Herod’s palace, where he was set at naught and treated as a mock-king? Pilate’s judgment seat, where he was doomed to death, and the pillar at which he was scourged? The street he went through with the cross under which he fainted? When he viewed Calvary, on which he died, and the tomb in which he was buried? When he viewed the mighty proofs of his Godhead in rising from the dead? When he viewed the places where he had the sweetest interviews and converse with his dear friends for forty days? When he viewed Mount Olivet from which he ascended to his present dominion and glory?
Who can tell the unbounded triumphs his soul felt within him, when he looked into the dark profound of hell and saw Satan, with all his legions, routed and absolutely conquered? Hell forever quenched for his people, the horrible gates bolted, so that no believer shall ever come there?
Who can tell his mighty sensations of joy at the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit poured out his rich graces and gifts on the apostles, when, by one grand action, he snatched three thousand souls from the jaws of hell, tore down the image of the devil from their hearts, and impressed the lovely image of God in its stead, and viewed his increasing empire through all nations to the end of time?
Who can tell the triumphs of our Redeemer’s soul in the prospect he had of this island of Great Britain, of London and its ministers and churches, of his saving the dear deceased man, and millions more who are yet unborn?
With respect to our departed friend, who has left our world at the age of eighty-four, it is no hard matter to tell where a man is gone who has lived almost all his life, or if we only say fifty years, in the exercise of faith in Christ, and repentance toward God — in love to mankind, preaching in an evangelical strain through the whole course of his ministry. As to his character, I will leave that to be set in a proper light by my younger brother.
And now we can with great truth use the common words in the form of service in the Church of England: “We commit this body to the ground, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Farewell, thou dear old man, we leave the in the possession of death till the resurrection-day. But we will bear witness against thee, O king of terrors, at the mouth of this dungeon, thou shalt not always have possession of this dead body! It shall be demanded of thee by the great Conqueror, and at that moment thou shalt resign thy prisoner. Oh ye ministers of Christ! Ye people of God! Ye surrounding spectators! Prepare, prepare to meet this old servant of Christ at that day, at that hour, when this whole place shall be all nothing but life, and death shall be swallowed up in victory!”
~ John C. Ryland