Libra, the Scales
Crux, the Cross
Lupus or Victima, the Wolf or Victim
Corona, the Crown
THE SUFFERING REDEEMER
And they sung a new song, Thou art worthy,…for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood.
Redemption, the price of redemption, and the heavenly honour of Him who brings redemption, are the topics which comes to view in this text. And what was thus exhibited to the enraptured Apocalyptist as he stood within the heavenly portals gazing upon the throne of the thrice-holy Lord God Almighty, observing the Lamb as it had been slain, and listening to the songs of the adoring living ones and elders, is the same to which the second sign in the Zodiac introduces us. Let us look at it with that devout reverence which becomes a subject so sacred, so solemn, and so mysterious.
THE SIGN OF LIBRA
There would seem to be little or nothing to arrest our attention or to illuminate our faith in a matter so ordinary and unpoetical as a pair of balances for weighing commodities. A more homely, secular, and every-day figure would be hard to find, but a more expressive one, or one more profoundly significant of the weightiest truths that concern the hopes of man, would be still harder to select when considered in the relations in which we here find this figure. The arms of that tilting beam, with its attached bowls, reach out into eternities. The positions of that beam, which a feather’s weight may change, indicate the fortunes of worlds, the destinies of ages, the estates of immortality. The equipoise of that beam marks the adjustment of a vast and mighty feud and the effectual bridging over of a chasm as deep as hell.
And the whole instrument together, in use, bespeaks the eternal justice which presides over all the boundless universe. In the Persian sphere a man or woman lifts these scales in one hand, and grasps a lamb with the other, the lamb being the form of the ancient weight. Nor can we be mistaken when we here read the divine determination of the wages of sin and the price of redemption.
The figure of the Scales, or Balances, is found in all the Eastern and most ancient Zodiacs, the down side invariably toward the deadly Scorpion. In some instances the bowl on the low side was held by the Scorpion’s claws, whence, in some of the Western spheres, Chelœ, the Claws, occasionally occupied the place of the Scales. Among the Jews it was denoted by the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, T, or Tau, originally written as we still write it, and as written in nearly all the ancient alphabets, in the form of a cross, which signified the end, the boundary, the limit, the completion; as the Saviour when about to give up the ghost on the cross said, “It is finished,” the last letter in the history of His humiliation having been reached.
The names of this sign indicate the range of meaning attaching to it. In Hebrew it is Mozanaim, the scales, weighing, as where God is said to weigh the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance. In Arabic, it is Al Zubena, purchase, redemption, gain. In Coptic, Lambadia, station or house of propitiation. In the Arab tongue, Lam is graciousness, and badia is branch – the atoning grace of the Branch. In Greek it is called Zugos, the cross-bar by which two oxen or horses draw, the yoke, pulling against each other, thwarts joining the opposite sides of a ship, the cross-strap of a sandal, the balance-beam in weighing. The name of the first star in Libra is Zuben al Genubi, the price deficient. Other names are: Zuben al Shemali, the price which covers; Al Gubi, heaped up high; Zuben Akrabi, the price of the conflict.
The figure in this sign is largely associated with the ethical impersonations of Astrea and Athene of the Greek and Roman mythology, who were the patrons of righteousness, justice, order, government, and the institutions and powers of the state, by which rights were protected, justice administered, and the general good secured. The same figure still connects with houses where courts are held, where causes are tried, where accusations and disputes are settled, and the awards of justice declared and given.
All this clearly settles, as near as may be, that this sign of the Zodiac has reference to some great divine adjudications and adjustments relating to defaults, defects, and accusations, involving penalties, prices, payments. And with these ideas applied to the continuation of the story of the Seed of the woman, the divine Son of the Virgin, promised and appointed to lift up the fallen, recover from the Serpent’s power, and bring men to the pasturages on the heavenly hillsides, we are at once brought face to face with eternal justice weighing the demerits and awards of sin on the one hand, and the price of redemption rendered and paid for it on the other.
THE COMMERCIAL IDEA IN CHRISTIANITY
There are some to whom this commercial element in the system of our salvation is very distasteful and repulsive. The natural heart is prone to be offended with it, and to reject it altogether. Rationalism proudly asserts that sin is personal and intransferable; that the action or merit of one cannot be the action or merit of another; and that there can be no such thing as a vicarious atonement, or the release and justification from the penalties of sin by the substitution of the work, sufferings, or merit of a second party. Physically considered, this may be true. The action of one is necessarily the action of that one. But there are spheres in which the action and force of one may and does go to the account, or the determination of the estate, of another. It depends upon the relation of the parties how far the doings of the one may accrue to the good or ill condition of another. In the case of a husband and wife, a father and child, a king and his subjects, an army and the country for which it acts, the qualities and activities, good or ill, on the one side most certainly redound to the other side as well. Sin is of the nature of a debt, and debt may be as completely discharged by a friend of the debtor as by the debtor himself. Sin is of the nature of bondage, and release from bondage is a negotiable matter, and may be procured at a valuation or price, which may be equally paid by the bondman himself or by some one else kind enough to pay it for him. Many crimes and misdemeanours in human law have penalties dischargeable in money consideration, which any friend of the criminal may as truly satisfy as the convicted one, and as may not be in the power of the convict to do. Crimes depend on law, for where there is no law there is no transgression; and law is the will of government. If the government condemns in righteousness, in the same righteousness it can adjudge and accept equivalent for the penalty, and there is nothing to say nay to it. The notions of men cannot bind the Supreme.
Remission of penalty is likewise something entirely distinct from the moral estate of the criminal. The justification or pardon of the guilty one is another matter from his sanctification or personal goodness. The one is a thing of price; the other is a thing of power. The one may be procured by a friend, mediator, or surety; the other must be wrought into the experiences, affections, and impulses of the man himself. The vicariousness of redemption relates to justification, the keeping of the law satisfied by an adequate and accepted consideration, the holding back of all the powers to hurt or condemn, and to these only; whilst another administration between the Redeemer and the one for whom He answers takes charge of the inward fitting of the absolved for the enjoyment of his freedom and his training for the kingdom of the redeemed. And if the just and righteous Sovereign of the universe, supreme in all His perfections and rights, is agreed and content to accept a certain price or equivalent for releasing the culprit to the sanctifying and reforming administration of his friend or surety on the payment of the price to governmental justice, where is the wrong, or what is there in the universe to question the rightfulness of the proceeding? Let the Redeemer be found to pay the required ransom and to fill the place of such an advocate, surety, and Lord, and neither men, angels, nor devils have any right on any ground to except to the proceeding if the great Supreme is satisfied and pleased, and says, So be it.
The only question to be decided is, whether God in His word sets forth to our belief that such is the arrangement in fact. We affirm that such is the clear and unequivocal teaching of the Scriptures from end to end. In all the old prophecies, in all the ritual observances connected with them, in all the New-Testament promises, facts, teachings, and institutes, and in all the visions of the final consummation, – everywhere we find the doctrine of salvation through the sacrifice of Christ as our Substitute, Surety, and Propitiation. And this is precisely what is signified by this sign of Libra and its Decans.
In the place of the woman and her Seed we have here a pair of balances suspended in the sky, in which is signalled to us the inexorable justice of the Almighty, in which the deficiency and condemnation on the part of man, and the all-sufficiency of the ransom paid on the part of his Redeemer, are alike indicated. One of the scales is up, which says to universal man, “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.” The name of the star which marks it records the verdict – “The price deficient.” But the other side is borne down, and with it the star named “The price that covers.” Of what that accepted price was to consist is more fully told in the accompanying Decans.
THE SOUTHERN CROSS
Strikingly enough, we here come upon a figure stationed in the darkest section of the heavens, in the very lowest part of the sphere, and outlined by the stars themselves so as to be readily recognized by every beholder – a figure of the shameful instrument on which the blessed Saviour died, even the Cross. It is clear, distinct, and specially noticeable to those dwelling near or south of the equator. Humboldt speaks with enthusiasm of this cross set in stars of the southern sky. It was one of the reveries of his youth, he tells us, to be able to gaze upon that celestial wonder, and that it was painful to him to think of letting go the hope of some time beholding it. Such was his enthusiasm on the subject that he says he could not raise his eyes toward the starry vault without thinking of the Cross of the South. And when he afterward saw it, it was with deep personal emotion, warmly shared by such of the crew as had lived in those southern regions; and the more on their part because religiously attached, as Humboldt himself was not, to a constellation “the form of which recalls the sign of the faith planted by their ancestors in the deserts of the New World.” He describes this Cross as standing perpendicular at the moment when it passes the meridian. Up to that moment it leans one way, and after that moment it begins to lean the other way. It is therefore a most convenient and marked timepiece, which the people universally observe as such. “How often,” says this philosopher and traveller, “have we heard our guides exclaim in the savannahs of Venezuela or in the desert of Lima, ‘Midnight is past; the Cross begins to bend’!”
Formerly this constellation was visible in the northern latitudes; but in the gradual shifting of the heavens it has long since sunk away to the southward. It was last seen in the horizon of Jerusalem about the time that Christ was crucified. It consists of four bright stars placed in the form of a cross, and is by far the most conspicuous star-group in the southern heavens. Standing directly in the path of the second Decan of Virgo, the double-natured Seed of the woman, and connecting with Libra and the price of redemption, it takes the same place in the celestial symbology which the Cross of Calvary holds in the Christian system.
THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
Ever since Christ Jesus “suffered for our sins” the cross has been a sacred and most significant emblem to all Christian believers. Paul would glory in nothing but “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It was a sacred symbol long before Christ was born. We find it in the most sacred connections, edifices, feasts, and signs of the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Assyrians, Hindoos, Chinese, Kamtschatkans, Mexicans, Peruvians, Scandinavians, Gauls, and Celts. The mystic Tau, the wonder-working caduceus, the invincible arrows, the holy cakes, all had their fabled virtues in connection with the form of the cross which they bore. But that sign has received a far more definite and certain consecration by the death of Christ upon it. Its original ancient meaning had reference to the Seed of the woman, the divine Son who was to suffer on it, to conquer by it, and to give eternal life through it. We cannot adequately account for it except as belonging to the original prophecy and revelation concerning Him and the price He was to pay for our redemption, conquering through suffering, and giving life through death. And in all the ideas connected with it by the ancient peoples we can readily trace the application of it, the same as in the arrangement of the constellations.
Eben Ezra gives its Hebrew name, Adom, which means cutting off, as the angel told Daniel of the cutting off of the Messiah. And Christ was cut off by being condemned and crucified.
In the Zodiac of Dendera this constellation is marked by the figure of a lion, with his head turned backward, and his tongue hanging out of his mouth as if in consuming thirst. It is the same idea. Christ is “the Lion of the tribe of Judah,” and one of the few expressions made by Him as He died on the cross was that of His consuming thirst. Strong and divine as He was, His life was there parched out of Him. “Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst; and they filled a sponge with vinegar and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When, therefore, he had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost.” The hieroglyphic name attached means pouring water; and David, impersonating the Messiah, exclaims, “I am poured out like water, all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death” (Ps. 22:13-18).
It is simply wonderful how the facts in the sign correspond with the showings of the Scriptures, and how all the old myths embody the same showings.
In the triad of the three great Egyptian gods each holds the sacred Tau, or the cross, as the symbol of life and immortality; but only the second, the Son, the Conqueror and Deliverer, extends the cross, thus pictorially expressing the offering of life and immortality through the Cross.
In the triad of Brahmanic deities the second, the Son, the One who became incarnate in the man-god Krishna, sits upon his throne crossed-legged, holding the cross in his right hand; and he is the god of deliverance from dangers and serpents. The same is otherwise represented as the ruler of the elements, the stiller of tempests, the good genius in all earthly affairs. But in all these relations and offices he always wears a cross on his breast. It is the same story of deliverance and salvation through the Cross-bearer, the divine Son of the Virgin. And even so “it pleased the Father that in Christ should all fullness dwell, and, making peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things.”
The old Egyptians pictured departed spirits as birds with human heads, indicating the laying off of the earthly form and the putting on of immortality. But all such figures are represented holding the cross, emblematic not only of eternal life, but of that life as in, with, or through the Cross, just as the Gospel teaches.
The old Mexicans, at certain of their holy feasts, made a cross composed of the flour of maize and the blood of a victim offered in sacrifice, which they first worshipped, and finally broke in pieces, distributed the fragments among themselves, and ate them in token of union and brotherhood. The Egyptians and others also had the sacred cake with the form of a cross upon it, which they ate in holy worship. It was but another form of the same idea – life and salvation through the Cross.
And in every aspect in which the figure of this Decan, in its deeper inward significance, appears in the records and remains of antiquity, it connects with deliverance, life, and salvation by means of it. Accordingly, it stands among the starry symbols of the ancient astronomy precisely as it stands in our blessed Christianity. It was placed there as the sign of what holy prophecy had declared should come, just as we reverence it as the sign of what has come in Jesus of Nazareth, the Virgin-born Redeemer of the world. It is the Cross of Calvary prefigured on the sky in token of the price at which our redemption was to be bought.
THE VICTIM SLAIN
The next in the series of these heavenly signs gives us a still fuller and clearer indication of the nature and payment of that price. Christ was not only “crucified,” but He was also “dead and buried.” Hence we have in the second Decan of Libra a slain victim, pierced and slain with a dart barbed in the form of the cross – pierced and slain by Centaur himself. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die;” “Without shedding of blood there is no remission.” Hence the doctrine of the Scriptures, that Christ’s life was made an offering for sin – He who knew no sin consenting to be made a curse for us, that we might be made righteous through Him. He not only felt the cross, enduring its agony and shame, but He died upon it – died for us, that we might have eternal redemption through His blood.
But an important element in the mysterious transaction was, that He sacrificed himself. Men in their wickedness killed Him, but it was He who gave himself into their hands to do it. Without this voluntariness and self-command in the matter the great redeeming virtue of His sacrifice would be wanting. Hence He was particular to say as He went to the cross, “I lay down my life for the sheep….No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again”
Hence He is preached as the great High Priest passed into the heavens, “who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God,” having “appeared once in the end of the world to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb.9:11,26). This was partially prefigured by the Cross in Centaur’s path, but more particularly in this Decan, which shows the death infliction by the barbed dart from His own hand.
What this victim of Centaur is, is not very definitely determined. Many of our modern atlases give it as a wolf, but with no ancient authority for it. The Greeks and Latins sometimes called it the wolf; but they were so much in doubt that they more commonly called it the animal, the victim, without describing it. Ulugh Beigh says it was anciently called Sura, a sheep or lamb. The Arabs use a word in connection with it which means to be slain, destroyed; hence the slain one, the victim. It plainly expresses slaying, sacrifice by death; and so would fall in with that saying of the Apocalypse, that Christ is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
In some of the Coptic and Egyptian representations this victim is a naked youth, a stripped and unresisting young man, with his finger on his mouth. This youth is Horus, the beloved son of Osiris and the virgin, the One to come, who appears in various relations under different names, all more or less connected with the bringing of life and blessedness through humiliation and death. In Phœnician this youth is called Harpocrates, under which name he became known to the Greeks and Romans. Harpocrates means justice, or the victim of justice, the vindication of the majesty of law. Among the Romans, Harpocrates was the god of silence, quiet submission, and acquiescence. All of this connects with this Decan as a sign of the promised One, and prefigured Him as quietly and meekly submitting as a victim and sacrifice to justice and the law, even as Christ did actually lay down His life and submit himself as our propitiation. “As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.”
In some of the pictures of this youth he is represented with the horn of a goat on one side of his head, as well as with his finger on his lips. This again connects him with sacrifice – willing, silent sacrifice. In some other pictures this horn is detached and held in his hand, filled with fruits and flowers – the original of the cornucopia, or horn of plenty; thus signifying that all good to man comes through that meek submission to stripping and sacrifice to satisfy the requirements of eternal righteousness.
So, then, from every side we get the idea of silent submission to death as a slain victim, and the bringing in thereby of a plentiful and everlasting provision for all the wants of man; prefiguring exactly what the Gospel sets forth as fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who, “being found in fashion as a man, humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).
THE TURN IN THE HISTORY
But the Cross, and Christ’s death by the Cross, mark the limit and farthest boundaries of the humiliation for human redemption. There was nothing lower than that in the history; and the first two Decans of Libra are the southernmost constellations but one in the ancient astronomy. From the moment that Jesus gave up the ghost the price was paid, the whole debt was discharged, and everything gave token of change. The tide there reached its lowest ebb, and turned, thenceforward to flow in ever-augmenting volume from glory to glory.
The bones of the two thieves were broken, but the death of Jesus, already accomplished, spared His body that indignity. A man high in office and estate moved to take charge of His remains for honourable sepulture in an honourable tomb. Imperial Rome lent its soldiers and its seal to guard and protect them in the place of their rest. The earth and sky gave signs of sympathy, and yielded attestations which drew even from heathen lips the confession of His divinity. A few days, and hell stood confounded before His majesty, and the doors of the grave gave way, and angels in white array stood round the spot to welcome His forthcoming in the powers of an endless life. Far above all principalities and powers, and every name that is named, He ascended, and for ever sat down at the right hand of the Father, the great Procurer and sovereign Giver of all good and grace. He accepted death, consented to quit His earthly life, agreed to take His place with departed spirits, “died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3); but thence ascended where the heavens resound with the new song, “Thou art worthy, for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood.” Now, then, “we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour” (Heb. 2:9). His shameful Cross issued in a glorious Throne.
THE NORTHERN CROWN
And so we find it foreshown in these starry pictures. That Southern Cross connects with the Northern Crown. The one is a Cross formed of stars, and the other is equally a Crown formed of stars. The third Decan of Libra is the Corona Borealis, vertical over Jerusalem once in every revolution of the earth.
“The golden circlet mounts, and, as it flies,
Its diamonds twinkle in the distant skies.”
The Greeks say that this was the bridal-gift of Bacchus to Ariadne, the woman who through her love for Theseus came to her death by the hand of Artemis, or, according to another story, was so ill-treated in her affection that she put an end to her own life, but was saved by the god, who became so pleased with her beauty that he raised her to a place among immortals, and gave her this crown of stars. It was but a clumsy and carnalized version of the story recorded in the primeval astronomy. Not a woman, but a man, even the Seed of the woman, is the subject. It was through His great love to mortals that He came to grief, neglect, persecution, and death. That death was the divinely-exacted price which had to be paid in bringing the object of His love out of the dark labyrinth of sin and condemnation; but it was at the same time by His own free will and choice. He was brought up again out of death in immortal beauty and glory, and through the good pleasure and delight of the Father was awarded an imperishable crown in heaven. And that heavenly crown had its sign in this beautiful constellation. In its true original this story of Ariadne and her crown is the same as that of the great Redeemer, giving up, and himself sacrificing, His life for the objects of His love, raised from the dead in immortal glory, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Thus, then, the prophetic sign in the stars is fulfilled in the facts of the history.
I have heard intimated that this is all speculation. It may suit some to dismiss it in this way. But will those who think it nothing but speculation tell us, then, what is not speculation? The French savants, whom many reverence as the high priests of reason over against all credulity and superstition, take it as solid enough to build on it an argument against Christianity; why, then, is it not solid enough to build on it an argument for Christianity? Some think it speculation to hold for truth that there is a personal God; that the Bible contains a revelation from Him; that man has a soul to live beyond death; that there is to be a future judgment; that the earth is a globe in motion ever rolling around the sun; or that Jesus Christ is the appointed and only Saviour of fallen man; – are we therefore to put all these things from us as empty dreams? Believing the Bible, we believe that God from the beginning promised a divine Seed of the woman to bruise Satan’s head, and through suffering and death to bring in everlasting redemption for man; that He has come as the Son of the virgin, born at Bethlehem, crucified on Calvary, buried in Joseph’s tomb, resurrected the third day, opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Dare we for an instant allow that this is mere speculation? And if what we read in the book of God is not speculation, can it be mere speculation when we find it written with the same clearness on the stars? It is not above a child’s capacity to judge whether the story thus told by the constellations answers to the story of the Gospel or not; and, seeing the correspondence, are we not to conclude that the one is the prophetic foretelling and anticipation of the other? If not, I am at a loss to know what, in all the rounds of human belief or unbelief, is not mere speculation. No, no; the story of the Cross of Christ is true, and the word on the heavens unites with the word in the Book to assure us of the certainty thereof.
“My trust is in the Cross; there lies my rest,
My fast, my sole delight.
Let cold-mouthed Boreas, or the hot-mouthed East,
Blow till they burst with spite;
Let earth and hell conspire their worst, their best,
And join their twisted might;
Let showers of thunderbolts dart round and round me,
And troops of fiends surround me:
All this may well confront; all this shall ne’er confound me.”