the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible Coke's Commentary
by Thomas Coke
A COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT.
THE GENERAL PREFACE.
THE first of all truths, and the foundation of all religion, is, That there is a God. This truth is manifest to us at all times and in all places, and seems to spring from the bottom of our hearts. It is almost as natural for us to believe that there is a God, as it is for us to be men; and there never has existed a nation (as was remarked by a celebrated heathen) but has acknowledged and worshipped a Divinity; insomuch that it appears as if the Gentiles had inclined to admit of several gods through the fear of not having any. Man, indeed, the slave of his own corruption, has been too often willing to shrink from the knowledge of a truth that thwarted him in his pursuits, and kept his mind in awe; but the impression is too strong and too deep ever to be entirely effaced. If, therefore, sometimes the tongue dares to utter that there is no God, it either absolutely contradicts the thoughts of the heart, or is led away by the irregular motions of the soul, exhibiting rather its desire, or its wish, than what it really
Can we indeed avoid feeling and acknowledging, that a world so beautiful and so perfect as that which we behold, and of which ourselves make so considerable a part, must be the work of a Supreme Intelligence? Again, can we at the same time observe in it so many imperfections, without being convinced that it subsists not of itself, either collectively, or in its parts? For, to exist of itself, and independent of a first principle, a primary cause, is to have within itself the chief of all perfections, in which all the rest are included: now, can the matter of which the universe consists have in itself this perfection, this excellence,—that matter which is as it were the centre of all imperfection?
It is evident, therefore, that there is a primary Being, existing of himself, existing before the world, and by whom the world was produced. Now this Being is neither body nor matter at all; since matter cannot exist of itself, having neither knowledge, wisdom, nor power; all which must necessarily have been united, and have acted in concert, for the production of an universe which manifests in all its parts such wonderful design. Neither is this first Being a limited or finite spirit; for, to produce any thing where nothing existed before, and to form without materials an entire world, cannot be the work of a finite being. This first Being must therefore be an infinite Spirit, who, with an existence from everlasting, possesses all imaginable perfections without any mixture of imperfection. 1. He possesses Unity; for he must be an imperfect being if not superior to all others. 2. Power, to do whatsoever he will. 3. Wisdom, to will nothing, and to do nothing, unworthy of infinite intelligence. 4. Goodness, to reveal himself to his creatures; and so of the rest. Now this infinitely perfect Being is GOD.
This first truth naturally leads us to a second; viz. That, "since there is a God, there ought to be a religion." The idea of a primary Being and a first Principle throws all others into a state of dependence, and absorbs all the ideas which a creature can have of his own existence, and ofhis own perfections, to such a degree, that when from the contemplation of God we descend to ourselves, we hardly perceive our own existence, and are compelled to acknowledge that we are nothing. The brightness of the divine perfections, collectively considered, raises us to admiration, and exhausts all our ideas. Each perfection in particular should incite a sentiment of religion in the soul: his power impresses respect, obedience, submission; his goodness excites our love; his justice leads us to observe his law, through fear of its threats; his mercy fills us with peace and joy; his truth engages us to be faithful to him; and, finding in him all the good of which we can form an idea, all our desires centre in him; and the possessing of him becomes our only happiness. This is the character of every regenerate soul, but of no other. For, although the nature of God and of his divine perfections should thus lead us to religion; and though we have various intellectual faculties, and a heart which, narrow and limited as it is, cannot be satisfied and filled without the possession of infinite and eternal good; yet our understanding is still so imperfect, our heart by nature so completely and constantly inclined to error in all spiritual matters, that we cannot of ourselves form the plan of a religion, a worship proper to be offered to God, which would not rather be an insult to his majesty than an acceptable service. Being born with vicious inclinations, accustomed to behold terrestrial objects alone, and by nature spiritually dead in trespasses and sins, we confound the divine perfections with the grossideas which occupy our own darkened understandings.*
* See this subject fully treated in the Introduction.
It is therefore evident, that man is not capable of forming a religion for himself: his views are too limited to reach so high; and he looks too much to himself in all his actions, to arrange a plan of worship, faith, and duty, which points him to God alone, and in the study andexercise of which he incessantly beholds himself with humility and self-abasement. Now, since God alone can perfectly know himself, and be acquainted with the extent of our ignorance and corruption, so he alone is capable of giving us the form of a religion worthy of his majesty, and suitable to our real interests; and the more so, as it is one of the most essential parts of religion, to make man forego his natural inclinations, to be willing to renounce his own sentiments and thoughts, and submit them entirely to God, and to make God's will the only rule of his own. The very heathen, vain as they were of their own knowledge, yet sometimes expressed a diffidence, and acknowledged the necessity of recurring to the Divinity to learn the true method of honouring and serving him; and on this account the wisest of their legislators, as Solon among the Greeks, Numa Pompillus among the Romans, and some others, to give greater authority to their laws, and make them more esteemed and respected by the people, pretended to have received them from some of their divinities, with whom they had a close connection and particular communications. But, if these fictions were founded on a general opinion, that religion is the work of God, and not of man, it originates also from another general idea, included in the idea of a God, that, goodness being an essential attribute of Deity, he loves to reveal himself to his creatures: and indeed it is for this reason that God reveals himself to men, and that he enters and teaches them himself, and gives them knowledge of the truths which he draws from his own inexhaustible treasures.
Now this is precisely what God has done. The lights which he had communicated to the soul of the first man being extinguished by sin, God takes pity upon him; and, instead of what may be called natural religion, which was suitable to man in a state of innocence, God reveals to him another religion, conformable to man in a state of sin, promising him a Saviour; which promise should be his consolation, and revive his hopes. Thus God continued afterwards to manifest himself, in a peculiar manner, to certain chosen persons, whom he preferred to all others as the depositaries of his divine truths. At length, having selected the family of Abraham, he collected into one code of laws and of religion all the mysteries of salvation, and all the worship that he demanded from mankind; and communicated these laws to the Jews, whom he made his chosen people for the purpose.
Moses was the first who reduced the laws of God to writing. He, however, was soon followed by other prophets, to whom God miraculously revealed himself in various ways: and thus, by little and little, from age to age, the Church has seen the whole canon of the Scripture completed by the gradual labours of divinely-inspired men, Prophets, Evangelists, and Apostles.
We must either have never read the holy Scriptures with an ordinary degree of attention, or else have no taste for heavenly things, if we cannot discern and acknowledge, that God, and not man, speaks in these sacred writings, and is the primary and real author of them.
We find in them a majesty, a grandeur, which surprises, andgives such an elevation to the soul, as it experiences on the reading of no other book: and that majesty is at the same time so tempered with mildness, and so adapted to our weakness, that the enlightened mind can readily discern, that it is God who is speaking to man, and, without lessening his own greatness, perfectly adapting himself to our weak capacities.
There are three characteristics, among others, peculiar to the Scriptures; which establish the truths above delivered, and ought to convince the most stubborn mind that their origin is divine. The first is, the knowledge which the Scripture gives us of God; the second, whatit teaches man of himself, and the instructions that it gives him to lead him to perfect holiness; and the third, the predictions with which it abounds, all of which have been followed by the event predicted. Let us consider these leading points of the Scriptures, and insist upon each of them as far as may be consistent with the extent and design of our Preface.
1. The Scripture everywhere presents us with such a grand idea of God, that, were we to collect all that the most celebrated and admired sages and philosophers of antiquity have said upon the subject, and separate their purest meditations from the wretched load of fictions and reveries by which they are disgraced, we should find nothing to compare with the knowledge of God presented in the Scripture. What, indeed, can be conceived more noble, or can give a higher idea of the power of God, than the manner in which Moses relates the history of the creation, with which the Scripture opens? There we behold a God, who existed of himself before the world, and from all eternity, drawing from the bosom of his power a multitude of beings, which hitherto were absolutely a nonentity. It costs him but a word to bring anything into existence. Let there be light, said he, and there was light immediately. Let there be a firmament, or a heaven, whose immensity even our imagination cannot measure; and by that word the heaven is made. By the operation of four other words added to the two first, the stars are formed in the firmament, the earth and the sea receive their being, birds are produced in the air, and fishes in the sea; the earth is furnished with plants, trees, and animals; and from her own dust and clay, at the fiat of the same God, arises man, who is to rule over all, as being the last work and the master-piece of the Creator.
While the Scripture thus lays open to us the wonders of God's power in the creation of the universe, it also manifests, in a manner equally striking, the infinite wisdom of God in the government of the world. According to the Scripture, it is God who sustains every creature, and turns them as he thinks proper in the execution of his will; he is the absolute master of all events, directing them all for the advancement of his glory. Now this is so essential to God, that to suppose a god without a general and particular providence, as most of the heathens did, is either, with the Epicurean school, to conceive agod who is deficient either in wisdom or power, and who leaves the world to itself; or, with that of Zeno and most of the other sects, a god dependent on a kind of blind destiny or fate, and who, unable to break the chain of second causes, is led and carried away against his own will.
The other perfections of the Divine Nature, such as his holiness, his goodness, his mercy, his justice, his truth, are in the Scripture no less forcibly delineated than his power and his providence; but we need not enlarge upon these topics, as they are sufficiently known. We will therefore propose two or three questions to those who deny the Divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. Do they think that God has not the power of revealing himself secretly to those whom he thinks proper to honour with that high favour? If they doubt it, they might as well believe that there is no God; and, if they believe that God is able to do this, what difficulty can they find in believing that a God who is infinitely good, and infinitely communicative of good, (for this is a property of infinite goodness,) may not have really thus revealed himself? On this subject they have in their hands a book, which for near 4000 years has publicly passed in the world for Divine Revelation, wherein are contained those things which at different times and in various places have been revealed by God to sundry persons. This book speaks of Godas we might expect God himself would have spoken, on the supposition that he were pleased to make himself known by revelation, or by his word; this is an evident truth, and no candid person will dispute it: why then refuse to own the divinity of the Scriptures in the grand and sublime idea of God which they every where exhibit?
2. The second mark of the divinity of the Scripture is, "that it teaches man to know himself, and instructs him how to attain to perfect righteousness." Man has never thoroughlyknown himself by the powers of nature; he has ever supposed himself less corrupt and less miserable than he really is. The Scripture, accompanied by the Spirit of God, shews him the origin of his blindness, and the depth of his corruption. It informs him what he was; makes him sensible what he is; and, thus placing the first state of man in opposition to the second, it dissipates the illusions with which he is continually deceiving himself, prevents him from boasting of his condition and qualities, confounds and debases him, makes him sigh and mourn, and draws from him such lamentations as these: "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" It speaks to him of sin in a manner sufficient to inspire every attentive hearer with horror; shewing him that sin provokes the wrath of God against the sinner, that his justice pursues him to conviction, that his mouth pronounces the sentence of death, that thereupon hell opens, and the sinner is thrust therein, to suffer without end the torments which an all-powerful God is able in his vengeance to inflict. To this degrading picture of sin, presented in the Bible, the same Scripture contrasts the beautyand excellence of a holy life; shewing continually its reward, its necessity, its utility; and it is so diffuse, and at the same time so earnest and so impressive, in the instructions which it gives on this important subject of virtue, piety, and zeal, that it can proceed only from a Being infinitely holy, and anxious for the happiness of his creatures. The mind of man is too much in league with his heart, to admit of his imposing upon himself such severe laws, that allow not of the smallest fault, that leave him not even the liberty of cherishing in secret the inclinations in which he delights, and which gratify him in the most sensible manner,—concupiscence and pride. The most rigid philosophers never went so far, nor could human nature attain to it. Of what nature then must be that book which leads us so far; and whence can have proceeded a light so clear, instruction so holy? Is itnot worthy of God? Or, supposing once more that God were pleased to manifest himself, and to give laws and precepts to man, as we have shewn that his wisdom and his goodness incline him to do, is it not thus that he would speak?
3. If the spirit of incredulity yield not before the first two evidences of the inspiration of the Scripture, and it be necessary, in order to dispel all the clouds which it forms around the truth from whose light it shrinks, to produce from the Scripture itself, a third mark of its Divine origin, this will be no difficult point. It is only to read: predictions will be met with of every kind, exceptonly of that species which might be attributed to human penetration, in matters regarding policy; or to human wisdom, in matters purely natural, and which are submitted to certain rules in nature, as the eclipses of the sun and moon, &c. The books of Moses are full of predictions, the events of which are so concealed in futurity, that none but God, to whom the most distant time is always present, could possibly have discerned them, have drawn them from such profound obscurity, and revealed them to man in the way of prophecy. In the book of Genesis, we see Noah threatening the earth with a general deluge, whose waters were to change the face of it entirely, and to drown the world; and one hundred and twenty years after a prediction so strange, so unheard of, so improbable (if we look no farther than natural principles, than human reasoning), the event justified the prophesy. A man of a hundred years of age, his wife barren and old, receives a promise that at the end of a year they shall have a son; that from that son shall proceed a powerful people, numerous as the stars of heaven; that this people shall however be at first in bondage for several ages; that at the end of four hundred years, theyshall recover their liberty, and possess the land of Canaan. All this comes to pass: Isaac is born of Abraham and Sarah; from Isaac spring the patriarchs; the patriarchs become a numerous people in Egypt; they are long kept in bondage in that country; at length their misfortunes cease, and they become masters of all the land of Canaan. Jacob, on his death-bed, points out to each of hischildren what should happen to their descendants and their families, for five or six hundred years to come, and much longer; and, as if he were reading in a book concerning events already past, he tells Judah, that from him shall proceed kings, and that the sceptre shall be long in his family; he tells Zebulun that his posterity should inhabit the sea-coasts, and be in the neighbourhood of Sidon. We will proceed no farther here with the predictions of the patriarch; but will ask those who dispute the divinity of the Holy Scriptures, whence this old man,who had spent his life in feeding sheep, and always dwelt in tents, could have learned that his seed should become a mighty nation; that the posterity of Judah, who was not his eldest but his fourth son, should sit upon the throne;and that the tribe of Zebulun, emigrating at a distant day with the rest, from Egypt, where Jacob was then talking with them, should go and settle in Palestine, seizing on that particular part of it which forms the coasts of the sea of Galilee, and possess lands nigh to the ancient and famous city of Sidon? Here we find nothing human; all is divine.
These prophesies, and many others of a similar kind, which respected the establishment of the Jews in the land of Canaan, were no sooner accomplished, than, that the people growing insolent in prosperity, God was angry with them, and, to punish their ingratitude, resolved to deliver them up to the king of Babylon, to be carried into captivity. The prophets foretold this fatal revolution long before it happened: their predictions were accomplished even to the minutest circumstances; and Babylon saw this celebrated people led captive, their kings and their princes in chains, according as the prophets had foretold. Yet God had said, that he would not leave his people long under the Babylonish yoke; that at the end of just seventy years the Jews should be set at liberty, and restored to their former possessions; and all this has been accomplished accordingly. The books of Isaiah, of Jeremiah, and of Ezekiel, are full of predictions of the same kind; and that of Daniel, among others, contains such clear prophesies of the rise, growth, and fall of the famous monarchies of the Persians and Medes, the Greeks and the Romans, with a thousand remarkable circumstances, that we must either profess to deny the most established facts, and obstinately withstand every species of proof, or we must acknowledge that it is God who speaks in the book which contains all these particulars.
A few words now upon the prophesies relating to the Messiah. The books of the Old Testament are full of these; we find them almost in every page. This Messiah was to proceed from the tribe of Judah, and from the family of David; and he was to come into the world while the Jews were in subjection to a foreign power, 490 years after theirreturnfromtheBabylonishcaptivity.Theseareancientprophesies,uponthefaith of which a whole nation depended for many ages; this is certain, and cannot be disputed. Jerusalem was to be destroyed soon after the coming of the Messiah, and the Jews were to be consumed by the wrath of heaven. Daniel and Malachi, two of their prophets, are explicit on these things; (see the ixth chapter of Daniel, and the latter end of Malachi). All this we see also came to pass. But who could have foretold it so long before, except He who inhabits eternity, and to whom all things past, present, and to come, are open and clear? It must therefore be truly the book of God which contains these astonishing predictions.
The proofs relating to the divinityof the Old Testament are equally applicable to the New; because the doctrine is constantly the same. There is the same relation between them as the events have to the prophesies, and the prophesies to the events; thus, if the event throws a light upon the prophesy, and proves its truth, so does the prophesy reflect its light upon the occurrence, and point out the finger of God. But, besides this perfect agreement of the New Testament with the Old, so that they may be regarded as the same work, the New Testament has the same marks of a divine origin as we have been tracing in the Old; and the characteristics are not less striking. 1. God makes himself known, as in the books of the prophets, by every means which can give us a true idea of his greatness and of his infinite perfections; but he manifests himself in a manner still more clear,luminous, and extensive, than he had done under the old dispensation. 2. Man is here, through divine grace, more than ever brought to a knowledge of himself; and is taught so perfectly to deny himself, so absolutely to renounce every kind of vice and sin; he gains such a love of holiness, such a lively affection towards God, that the renewed heart finds no need to ask whether this be the voice of God or of man. Lastly, the New Testament contains prophesies as well as the Old; and these are so clear and so striking, that we may sometimes doubt whether we are reading a prophesy or a history. The 24th chapter of St. Matthew, and the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 21st of St. Luke, are incontestable proofs of this truth; but we shall refrain from producing any more examples, not choosing to detain the reader longer upon facts which are so well known.
It is clear, then, that the Scripture is the Book of God; that it was dictated by God to the prophets and apostles; and that God himself speaks therein. This being the case, we are indispensably obliged to give attention to what it contains, and to believe all that it says, whatever difficulties the understanding may meet with; because the first law and notion of reason itself is, that we should make the light of reason subordinate to that of God. If a man relates any thing to us, we are under no obligation to believe it any farther than it appears to us credible, because a man may deceive us, or may be himself deceived; but it cannot be thus with God, who is the essence of truth and goodness. All that reason requires upon these occasions is, that we do not receive as the word of God that which is not so; and that we carefully examine whether the words of Scripture have in themselves, independent of our prejudices, such or such a meaning. If, after such an examination, it appear that the Scripture teaches a doctrine which overpowers and staggers our reason, the difficulty of believing that doctrine is no longer a reason for disbelieving it; but we are guilty of stubbornness, pride, and rebellion against God, if we reject it. The Holy Scripture, for instance, informs us, according to reason, that there is but one God; but it teaches, besides, that there are three persons united in the divine essence. God, who only half unveils himself (if we may use the expression) in nature, which is the book of reason, has therein shewn us his power, his wisdom, his goodness, and some other of his attributes; but has not shewn us that his Divinity, which is unity and simplicity itself, subsists in three persons; of which one is the Father, another the Son, and the third the Holy Ghost: it is in the Scripture that he reveals to us this profound truth: and, appearing as from behind the veil, he exposes at once to the eye of faith the Trinity of Persons in the mostperfectsimplicityandunityofnature.Thetexts which teach this mysterious truth are everywhere to be found, from the first chapter of Genesis to the last of the Revelation. When God is pleased to make man, we hear him speak in the plural number, Let us make man in our own image; and soon after, when, scorning the mad temerity of this man, who thought that by tasting of the tree of knowledge he should become like God, we find the Lord saying from heaven, the man is become as one of us. In vain will the unbelievingJew, and the heretical Anti-trinitarian, labour to elude the force of these passages, wherein the idea of plurality so naturally presents itself to the mind: they can never accomplish it. This plurality, thus early pointed out, even from the creation of the world, in terms somewhat vague and general, is in the following books restrained and fixed to the number three; which are, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Respecting the Father no difficulty arises, since to the first Person unbelievers confine the whole unity and simplicity of the divine nature. With regard to the Son, the proofs are everywhere to be found, even in the books of the Old Testament, as we shall shew a little farther on; and the New Testament is full of him. With respect to the Holy Ghost, we have evident proofs of his divinity, as well as of the whole Trinity; Act 5:3-4. 1 Corinthians 2:10. Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:20. There are also express indications of the Trinity in the command which is given us to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; and in that celebrated passage, 1 John 5:7. where it is said, there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one.
Does the mind require so many assurances that this truth is taught in Scripture; and might we not have believed our eyes without seeing it so constantly before us? Finding it, however, in so many places,and revealed in so many different ways, all difficulties as to believing it must sink under the weight and authority of revelation; and whatever repugnance the mind, ever proud and stubborn, may find in yielding to it, reason tells us that we should believe God rather than reason; and that, since God must know himself infinitely better than we by the weakness of our understandings can possibly know him, it were unexampled presumption and folly to contend that God is not what he himself affirms that he is, or that he can be only just what our imagination tells us he ought to be.
It is the same with the other mysteries against which we have seen, and still do see, incredulity raise its head: a God-Man, for instance; and this God-Man redeeming the world by his death, and washing away the sins of men in his blood. It is not possible, says the heretic, who requires all truths to be brought to the level of reason, and who despises all that go beyond it; it is not possible that a God can be a man, and that the Divinity, which is an infinite essence, whose glory and majesty absorbs all our thoughts, can be united with a nature like our own, abject, capable of suffering, mortal, so as that the two natures should be but one and the same person. But whether reason can comprehend this, or not, is not the question; God has said that the thing is so; and he has affirmed it in so many parts of the sacred writings, with so much precision and clearness, that nothing in thewhole Scripture is more clear and express. The word, which is God, says an apostle, (John 1:14.) was made flesh, and dwelt among us. God, says another, (Acts 20:28.) hath purchased the church with his own blood. And in another place (Philippians 2:6-7.), Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And again in another place (1 Timothy 3:16.), Great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifest in the flesh. This therefore is a fact, a certain fact, according to the testimony of these apostles; now we do not reason upon a fact, but we believe it upon the evidencewhich is given of it, or else we reject the testimony. The heretic dares not pronounce against the Scripture; he believes, or affects to believe, its inspiration; and neither the Heathen, nor the Jew, nor he whom we are pleased to call the Free-thinker, can shake its authority after the proofs that we have brought in its favour. It only remains, therefore, to believe the incarnation upon the express word of God, without requiring our reason fully to comprehend it; since the best use that we can make of reason is, so to employ it as never to make use of it against God, or to call in question the truth of his word.
The chief object of the Holy Scriptures is always the Messiah; and, were we to enlarge our Preface beyond its proper bounds, we might shew that, from the time of Adam's transgression and fall, God had ever the Messiah in view, and that all the most grand events which are related in Scripture, and chiefly God's deep and mysterious dealings with the patriarchs and the ancient people of Israel, had a particular reference to him. But it must be recollected, that we are not writing a treatise on these points, but a Preface. Avoiding, therefore, every thing which might lead us from our immediate design, we shall only touch upon those texts wherein God has spoken of the Messiah; and this merely in a general way, to note the nature, the consequences, and the progress of the revelations which God has given of him, but not in this place to investigate those passages themselves. The first, which is as old as the fall of man, was that wherein God assured our first parents, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head, but that the serpent should bruise his heel: for such was the gracious will of God, in his love and in his wisdom, that the cure should thus quickly follow the disease. The whole mystery of redemption was contained in this oracle, but was therein concealed, like a plant in its germ or a large tree in the kernel or nut. For, as the indistinct and confused parts collected in the germ are in time unfolded and expanded, and display the true form of the plant; even so the salutary truths collected by divine grace in this first prophesy, were in time made clearer, and at length were perfectly developed. God therefore, adding some clearer predictions to this first oracle, which promised in general terms the birth of a Messiah, brings the honour of hisbirth into the particular family of Abraham. The Saviour, who had been promised to Adam under the general designation of the seed of the woman, is promised to Abraham as to proceed from himself: in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. Of Isaac, the only son of Abraham by Sarah, were born two sons, Esau and Jacob; Esau, the elder, saw all the rights and privileges of his family pass into the hands of his younger brother; and beheld the patriarchal benediction rest upon Jacob's head by a peculiar dispensation of God. Jacob had twelve sons, who were the twelve patriarchs. God was pleased that from the fourth of these should proceed the Messiah; and it was revealed to Jacob, that the Redeemer should be born of the tribe of Judah. About six hundred years after, God names the family in this tribe whence the Messiah should spring; and, his wise and powerful hand having placed David on the throne, he promised him that the Messiah should proceed from his loins. The little town of Bethlehem is the destined place of his birth. Divers oracles note the time of an event of which God was ever mindful. According to the word of one prophet, the sceptre was not to depart from Judah, till Shiloh came. Genesis 49:10. According to the predictions of another (Malachi), Jerusalem was to fall under the power of a conqueror who was to besiege it Some others prophesied that the second temple should be standing till after the Messiah should appear. Haggai 2:9. Malachi 3:1. And,finally,anotherprophetmarkedtheprecisetime,foretellingthatitshouldhappen at the end of seventy weeks after the Babylonish captivity. Daniel 9:24. God always thus supported his churchunder that great promise, which was her grand consolation, and which drew from her those deep sighs, those ardent vows for the coming of the Messiah: Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness (or, as some render it, "let them rain the just one"); let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together. Isaiah 45:8. To these oracles, which were the seeds of faith in the first ages of the world, the prophets joined lively descriptions of the person of the Messiah.
The Psalms of David are full of them; Isaiah speaks as if he had seen him with his eyes; and the rest of the prophets have pointed him out by various marks, which might be easily known. They have all endeavoured chiefly to describe him in two particular points of view; in his abasement and sufferings, and in his exaltation and kingdom. Often, indeed, they labour to exhibit together these two situations of the Messiah; so different, and seemingly contradictory. The 2d, 8th, 16th, 22d, 69th, 102d, and 110th Psalms, are evident proofs of the truth of this observation; and the 53d chapter of Isaiah shews its peculiar importance: to this we may add Zechariah 9:9. where the Messiah is represented at once in his meekness and in his quality of King and Saviour. But were we to attempt to urge all that might be said upon the present subject, we should never have done.
By these reiterated assurances, God intended, no doubt, to render the foundation of faith, among his ancient people, of faith in the Messiah, more firm and durable, and thus to form a kind of anticipated Gospel in favour of the church of that day. But it was also for those who were to live in after-ages, and during the time of the accomplishment of these promises, that he thus multiplied the oracles relating to the Messiah, and shewed him, as it were, in every point of view. It was necessary, that when God should send this infinitely rich present upon earth, it might be ascertained that it was really the gift of God; and that the church of the latter ages might exultingly say, when they saw and examined it, "Behold the man; he is the Holy One of God, the Messiah which was to come; and we need look for no other."
Prejudice, however, when joined to corruption of heart, is capable of any thing: as Isaiah says, "it calleth evil good, and good evil; and putteth darkness for light." The Jews, who for so many ages desired the coming of the Messiah, reject him as soon as he appears. He comes to them, saying, "Behold, here I am;" and they answer proudly, "We know thee not." Error, like disease, takes root with age, and becomes thereby the more incurable: the incredulity of the Jews has descended from father to son, and is become in them a second original sin accompanying them from their birth. This people still expect the Messiah; and with a degree of blindness and insanity which never was paralleled, and never will be, they look for him through faith in the ancient oracles, yet themselves overturn all those oracles, not leaving one of them entire. I know not whether, reduced as they are to advance nothing but absurdities, and tired of their own reveries, they have not in their hearts renounced the hope of ever seeing the Messiah appear; or whether they still continue to expect him, without knowing why, without having the supportof any one clear text of Scripture, without being able to shelter their faith under any one of its oracles. Formerly their nation beheld the Messiah in this famous prediction of the patriarch Jacob, The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come. The Jews of the present day, however, not only do not discern him in this passage; but they have tried every artifice, every grammatical and verbal subtlety, to give it a different turn. The second Psalm, (who would believe it?) though describing with the greatest pomp and brilliancy the glory of the Messiah and his kingdom, yet is nothing in their eyes; they find some things in it which are unpleasing to them; and they choose rather to give it up entirely, than to make it one of the foundations of their faith. They labour to invent explanations of the 110th Psalm, which may prevent them from seeing therein the Messiah. There is no text in Isaiah on which they dare to say, this is he.—When that prophet foretels, chap. Mat 7:14 that a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel, they cannot herein discern the Messiah. Nor are they much better satisfied with the description given of himin chap. Mat 9:6-7 though perhaps there is not a passage throughout the Scripture which might more probably have flattered their imaginations, prejudiced in favour of the grandeur of the Messiah, than the expressions of the prophet in that place. The branch which, chap. Mat 11:1 was to come out of the root of Jesse, appears to some of their rabbins to be, as it really is, a prediction of the Messiah; but others of them fearing lest they might be asked, Where is this stem or root of Jesse, which has disappeared for near eighteen centuries? and not knowing what reasonable answer to give, they throw up this text to the Christians.—The king having salvation, whom Zechariah shews as coming to Zion, chap. Mat 9:9 and in whom she was to rejoice greatly, would have pleased the Jews had the passage ended there; but, when this king is represented by the same prophet as meek and lowly, the Jew is disgusted, and will not acknowledge the Messiah in the prophesy.
But the Jew has more to do than to shut his eyes against the light of so many prophesies; he must either consider the general faith that his nation have ever had in the Messiah as a popular error, and pronounce that the prophets never have spoken of him; or else he must own that the Messiah really appeared 1800 years ago. Let him quibble as much as he will upon the meaning of the Shiloh whose coming was foretold by Jacob; it is as clear as the day, that this Shiloh, of whom Jacob gave this remarkable character, that unto him should the gathering of the people be, was to come at a time when the civil and political state of the Jews still subsisted, though much diminished and weakened. But the sceptre departed, and no legislative or supreme authority remained. Now it is more than 1700 years since the Jews were in the state mentioned in the prophesy; the Shiloh, therefore, must have appeared more than 1700 years ago. The same thing was foretold in a different manner by Haggai and by Malachi, who said that the Messiah should come before the destruction of the second temple, which was building in their time, as maybe seen in the prophesies that we have quoted above; that temple has been destroyed these 1700 years; where then is the Messiah, if he did not appear previous to the destruction of that edifice? Lastly, Daniel had declared, that at the end of seventy weeks of years, which make 490 years, after the edict for the rebuilding of the walls and repairing of the breaches, the Messiah should come: these 490 years expired at the time pointed out in Jacob's prediction, and in the prophesies of Haggai and Malachi: namely, more than 1700 years ago; and is not the Messiah then come! to what purpose, then, are these prophesies, which all agree in predicting that an event should happen at a particular time, if the event do not accordingly come to pass? The Jews are much confounded; and their confusion is evident in their answers: "Our impenitence," say they, "retards the coming of the Messiah; God would long ago have sent him, had we been worthy to receive him." This is a specious reason; and, as we naturally love to see men humblethemselves, and confess their sinfulness, the Jews could not veil their unbelief in a more imposing manner. But it is only an illusion with which they willingly deceive themselves, rather than renounce an error in which they have so long continued. For, when God inspired the prophets to foretel the coming of the Messiah at a particular time, did not he, whose eyes look into futurity, perceive that the Jews of that time would be exceedingly corrupt? Certainly he foresaw it; and, notwithstanding this, it was prophesied that the Messiah should appear in the second temple, and that he should appear there in seventy weeks after the return from the Babylonish captivity. It is not true, therefore, that the impenitence and corruption of the Jews hinder the coming of the Messiah. This prejudice hasarisen from their education and pride; they suppose that the coming of the Messiah was for the benefit of the people of Israel only, and that therefore it could be retarded for 1700 or 1800 years, through the impenitence of that people. The Messiah was promised also to the Gentiles, and to bring the most distant nations into alliance with God, as appears from a hundred passages in the Old Testament. Were the Gentiles then to be deprived of this advantage through the impenitence of the Jews? were they to be kept out of the visible church till the Jews should think proper to be converted, and to renounce their sins? Menmust have little knowledge of the ways of God, little acquaintance with the books of the prophets, to entertain an opinion, which, under the appearance of honouring God's justice and righteousness, does really overturn the truth of his predictions, and would have deprived a multitude of souls of those glorious privileges of the kingdom of the Messiah, which he came to bestow upon them. The Jews have no reply to these things; they sink under the weight of so many difficulties; and their only resource is, to turn away from the oracles of Jacob, of Daniel, of Haggai, of Malachi, and of many others, who had all fixed the coming of the Messiah to the same period of time. They dare not take a retrospective view, lest they should see spring forth at Bethlehem a branch from the root of Jesse, on which rested the Spirit of the Lord; lest they should see the Messiah personally in his temple, and filling all the cities of Israel with his doctrine and miracles. They forbid the time which the prophets had fixed for the coming of the Messiah to be spoken of or examined; and, as they are always in extremes in their prejudices and caprices, they say, "Woe to him that reckoneth up the times!"
Were they indeed to look back so far as to the last period of their republic, and of the existence of their temple, to the time in which Daniel's 70 weeks were accomplished, they would behold in Judea the appearance of a Jesus, the son of Mary, of the family of David, born at Bethlehem, drawing forth the admiration of all, for his holiness, his zeal, and his preaching; a Jesus, the model of meekness, of patience, of humility; ever employed in the advancement of God's glory, and in procuring salvation for men; taking no rest, but going from place to place throughout all the cities of Israel, and leaving every where in his course the most striking manifestations of his goodness and power. In one place, he heals a leper; in another, one possessed by a demon: elsewhere he restores sight to the blind, yea, even to those who were born so. In one place, he cures a palsy of thirty-eight years' duration by a single word: Arise, saith he to the diseased; and the man, stretched out helpless on his bed, springs up, and walks. At another time, he meets a funeral procession in the streets of a city called Nain; it was a young man, the only son of a widow, whom they were bearing to the tomb: his pity was awakened: Stop, said he to those who carried the bier; then to the lifeless corpse, Young man, I say unto thee, arise; and the dead man immediately sat up, and spoke. Some time after that, there died, in the town of Bethany, a man named Lazarus; Jesus was then in Galilee; and after four days he comes to the house of Lazarus, where he finds the sisters of the deceased overcome with grief and drowned in tears; he desires to be brought to the sepulchre of Lazarus: it was a cave, with a stone at the mouth of it: Jesus speaks; his voice reaches the depth of the tomb; to the dead he calls; and Lazarus, then a mere putrid carcase, receives life, and comes forth in the sight of the wondering crowd.
Who or what then is this man that has wrought so many miracles, and gained by various means such a vast reputation in Judaea? Every where he is admired; all Israel have their eyes fixed upon him; and we hear these poor people, whose minds were more in subjection to their teachers than their bodies to the Romans, saying one to another at the sight of so many prodigies, "Is not this the Messiah?" or, "when the Messiah shall come, will he do more wondrous works than these?" We easily discern what they would have said; their meaning is clear; but respect for their rulers makes them hold out a doubtful language, and stifle the conviction of the heart. Jesus observes their timidity and weakness; he, tells them himself who he is: "I am the Messiah; if ye will not believe me, believe my works." The prophets had pointed him out by these very marks,—that he should heal the lame and the maimed, give ears to the deaf, and sight to the blind: but the prophets nowhere had mentioned all his miracles; and the mysterious silence which they had in part observed, gave Jesus an opportunity of carrying the importance and number of his miracles to an extent infinitely greater than the expressions of the prophets (in other respects so rich and so full) had represented them. To fix the attention of the Jews still more upon the miracles performed by Jesus Christ, God in his wisdom had left an interval of more than 500 years between those which some of the prophets had formerly wrought, and those of Jesus. And for this reason, John the Baptist, that extraordinary man, the messenger of heaven, who was followed by all Judaea, performed no miracle: it had been improper in the servant, when the master was so near; ignorance might have confoundedthemtogether.Theapostleswroughtmiracles after Jesus Christ; but these were the miracles of Christ rather than their own; and they always gave him the glory of them, declaring aloud, that they wrought them in the name of Jesus, and through his power. Would God have united so many characteristics of the true Messiah in one man, and that man not be the Messiah? neither the time, the birth, the sanctity, the wisdom, the miracles, nothing which the prophets had foretold was wanting in him; and yet is he not he that should come? Jesus declares himself the Messiah; he asserts it; and, to overcome unbelief, he performs miracles without number, miracles in which there could be no fraud or illusion, since the witnesses to them were as numerous as the inhabitants in all Judaea,Galilee, and the country round about. And shall this man not yet be believed? Certainly God is too mindful of his own glory to lend his aid to a deceiver; and to put the seal of his miracles upon the most notorious of impostures, as would have been that of Christ if he were not the real Messiah. Moses, by his miracles, made himself known throughout Egypt as the messenger and true minister of God; and thereupon all Israel acknowledged him as such, and revered him as a prophet. In like manner were the other prophets received, whom God from time to time sent to his people; though we do not read in Scripture that they all confirmed by miracles the truth of their mission. Is Jesus only then unworthy to be believed? It must be owned, that the Jews are very unfortunate in not being able to do this injustice to our Jesus, without openly exposing and calling in question the honour of their own prophets; for their obstinate refusal to believe, after these numberless miracles, that Jesus is the Messiah, is a direct charge against their ancestors, and the whole church of Israel, of having lightly believed that Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and many others, were sent immediately from God, and were his real ministers, upon the authority of certain miracles. But it is a striking advantage for the truth we maintain, that God has given us the authority of all the prophets in favour of it, and that thus Judaism itself becomes as it were a rampart of the Christian faith. It is strange, that this reflection, which arises so naturally in the mind, should not have struck and convinced the Jews. But such is the nature of man; agitated by a certain passion, with a degree of interest or advantage attached to it, his movements are so violent, that the heart no longer leaves the understanding at liberty to reflect. The Jews wanted and expected a Messiah, rich, powerful, warlike, who should put himself at the head of a large army, deliver their country from the Roman yoke, and by a series of victories raise the glory of their nation so high as to make it formidable to all the earth. Jesus is, on the contrary, a man poor and lowly, who, till the age of thirty, leads an obscure life in the house of a carpenter, and at length shews himself publicly in the company only of a few fishermen, whom he picked up on the borders of the lake of Gennesareth, and with whom he travels throughout Judaea andGalilee. He is so meek and humble, that he maketh not his voice to be heard in the streets; and, when a great multitude, struck with admiration at hearing him speak, and seeing him perform such amazing miracles, would fain have made him a king, he steals away from the sight of the people, and retires into the wilderness. Hisdoctrine also displeases, and his preaching becomes troublesome; he requires that all men should be meek and lowly like himself; he commends nothing so much as disinterestedness, and self-denial; he constantly preaches peace, unity, concord, and the love of our enemies; he attacks ambition, pomp, and the luxury of the very heads of the synagogue. It must be owned, that the heart is often disturbed at the least privations, and that the mind, naturally fond of its own prejudices, is extremely reluctant to give up flatteringideas, to make room for an object, where, according to the depraved views of the natural man, every thing displeases, every thing mortifies. Yet such as the above is the portrait which the prophets drew of the Messiah: they said, that he should be marred more than any man; Isaiah 52:14. that he should have no form nor comeliness, no beauty that we should desire him; that he should be despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; Isa 53:2-3 poor and needy, Psalms 109:22.Zechariah 9:9; Zechariah 9:9. and lastly, a worm and no man, Psalms 22:6. The Jews read all this in their prophets; yet they would not see Christ therein. They must, therefore, have an extraordinary share of pride and obstinacy, to expect that God should send them a Messiah formed upon a plan which they had imagined for themselves, rather than according to his own will.
Lastly, their own unbelief witnesses against themselves, and, by an admirable contrivance of God's wisdom, becomes evidence of the truth of the Messiah. The prophets foretold this obstinacy, this incredulity, in express terms. Moses foresaw it fifteen or sixteen centuries before, and predictedit, Deuteronomy 18:19. and more at length in the 32d chapter of the same book. The Psalmist often lamented it, as we may see throughout almost the whole of the 22d Psalm; in the 102d, 109th, and 118th. Isaiah is full of similar prophesies, as we may read in Isaiah 49, 52, 53. In short, all the prophets have innumerable expressions of the same import. If the Jews do not discern themselves in those oracles, assuredly they have no spiritual eyes; if they do, and still refuse to acknowledge that the Jesus whom they despised, rejected, persecuted, and killed, was the Messiah, they possess neither honesty nor shame.
And they are still more culpable, because events have happened since the death of Christ, which are manifest proofs of the truth that they deny, and upon which their attention ought ever to have been fixed. The Lord Jesus had threatened the Jews, that, as a punishment for their unbelief, he would deliver them over to the sword of the enemy; that Judaea should become a dreadful scene of all the horrors of war; that Jerusalem should be besieged, taken, plundered, and totally demolished; that the templeitself should be razed to the very foundation; and a thousand things of a similar nature, which came to pass about forty years after Christ's death, or which are still fulfilling every day, in the wrath of God which continually pursues that unhappy people. Yet Jesus Christ reigns throughout the earth, and his name is worshipped from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof. His Gospel has shed its light from one end of the earth to the other; the idols of the heathen have been confounded, the Gentiles have been converted; and, while the synagogue still persists, according to the predictions of her own prophets, in refusing to own that Jesus is the Christ, the Gentile world does him homage, and reveres his authority, in conformity to the oracles of the same prophets.
What can the Jews say to this? Will they deny, that those grand events, the conversion of the Gentiles, and the fall of idolatry, were set down in the prophesies as one of the marks of the Messiah? Let them recollect, that God said to Abraham, in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; Genesis 22:18. and this seed, they well know, was the Messiah. Let them attend to these remarkable words of Jacob, unto him shall the gathering of the people be, Genesis 49:10. Let them read in the book of Deuteronomy this threat of Moses, or rather of God speaking by Moses; I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people, and I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. Deuteronomy 32:21. Let them consult the Psalms, and almost at the beginning they will find these words of God to the Messiah, (Psalms 2:8.) Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.—And in Psalms 22:0. ver. 27 all the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.—Also in Psalms 102:22. The people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the Lord.—If they consult Isaiah, he will tell them, chap. 2: ver. 2, 18, 20 that in the last days, the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills: and all nations shall flow unto it. And the idols he shall utterly abolish: in that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats.—In the 42d and 49th chapters, they will hear the Lord speaking thus to the Messiah: (chap. 42: ver. 6, 7.) I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house. (chap 49: ver. 6.) It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. And in chap. 52: ver. 13, 14 behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonished at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men. O ye Jews, do ye not behold yourselves in these passages? do ye not here recognize the meek and lowly Jesus, whose exterior so much displeased you? But let us continue to hear what God says of him in the following verse: so shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider. Upon which the Messiah himself exclaims in the following terms, chap. 65: ver. 1. I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name.—I should only fatigue the reader, were I to quote all the predictions contained in Isaiah and the other prophets which refer to the calling of the Gentiles and the fall of idolatry. But what can be urged by the Jew of the present day, straitened amidst so many prophesies and the accomplishment of them? These prophesies are too clear, too precise, too numerous, to be eluded by grammatical or chronological subtleties; and, the events or accomplishments appearing on all sides, it is impossible to contradict ocular demonstration. Jesus then is the Messiah; and, after such evident proofs, (each of which taken separately is a demonstration, but which taken collectively form such a conviction as it is impossible for the mind to resist,) the heart which can still hold out must have incredulity strongly intrenched between malice and obstinacy. But God alone can pursue it into such a fortress, and cause it to yield.
From this first truth we pass to another, no less essentially connected with it; namely, that Jesus is the son of God, and is himself the true God. And here we have the same adversaries to contend with, reinforced by a multitude of heretics, who under various names, and in divers manners, have laboured to rob Christ of his Divinity; but, by the grace of God, it is too strongly established in the Scripture to allow us to fear its sustaining the least degree of injury, orthat hell should ever deprive the church of that grand consolation.
God has pronounced hereupon in the second Psalm, where he speaks thus of the Messiah, Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee. And the Messiah, under the name of Wisdom, says, Proverbs 8:24-25. when there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water—Before the mountains were settled, before the hills were brought forth.—Micah, in a similar view, said, the goings forth (i.e. according to the Hebrew idiom, the generation), the goings forth of the Messiah have been from of old, from everlasting. Micah 5:2. And Isaiah on that account (chap. Matthew 9:6.) called him A Son (in some translations it is The Son, by way of eminence). The books of the New Testament are full of the same doctrine; and scarcely any thing is of such frequent recurrence in the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles, as the title of Son of God given to the Messiah. The banks of the Jordan resounded with it at the baptism of Christ; and the Jews, who were acquainted with the Scriptures, had it often in their mouths, and confounded it with that of Messiah; as we may collect from the testimony which John the Baptist renders to Jesus Christ in John 1:34. and the answer of Nathanael in the 49th verse of the same chapter. The Jew and the heretic reckon these texts as nothing; and, under pretence that the title of Sons of God is given sometimes to the angels, sometimes to kings and magistrates, and often to the faithful, in a vague and figurative manner, they think that they may easily elude the force of the argument, by saying that it is merely through a metaphor that the Messiah is called the Son of God. He is so called on account of his dignity and office, say the Jew and the heretic. The Arian and Socinian, who acknowledge Christ for the Messiah, add, that his being born of a Virgin by the immediate operation of the Spirit of God, the extraordinary gifts that he was endowed with, his resurrection, and ascension into heaven, have gained him the title of Son of God in a signification which places him far above the faithful, above kings, and even above the angels; but still in a metaphorical sense, so as to leave aninfinite distance between the Son and the Father, and to include the Son absolutely in the order of created beings. All this might be tolerated, had we only the expression Son of God to consider; but there is such an inequality between the beings to whom the Scripture occasionally gives the name, and our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it is an almost constant appellation, that it is impossible not to see an infinite difference, unless we are determined to be blind. In the second Psalm it is a Son of God who is to reign over the uttermost parts of the earth, whom both kings and people are to serve with fear and trembling. In the book of Proverbs and in the prophecies of Micah, it is a Son begotten before the world, and who is consequently fromeverlasting;forbythatexpression the Scripture designates eternity. In Isaiah, this Son is the mighty God, the everlasting Father. In the books of the New Testament, it is a Son of God who is the well beloved of the eternal Father, in whom he is well pleased, according to the strong and energetic terms which the Almighty used on the banks of the Jordan and on the mount of transfiguration: a Son of God, who, as himself had said in the Proverbs, was in the beginning with God, John 1:1. and who was in glory with the Father before the world was, John 17:5. a Son of God who is his only—begotten Son. John 3:16. a Son equal with the Father, John 5:18. and one with him, John 10:30. a Son of God, who, before he took upon him our sinful flesh, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, Philippians 2:6. a Son of God by whom all things were made, and without whom was not any thing made that was made; John 1:3. by whom were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist. Colossians 1:16-17.: a Son of God, whose laws all Nature reveres, and bows to his authority; a Son of God, in fine, (for how can we ever exhaust the subject?) who is the Saviour and Redeemer of the world; to whom the whole church renders the homage of adoration; and at whose feet the blessed, who have been already received into glory, humbly lay their crowns, and worship him upon the throne, as we see in the Revelations. After this, will any one dare to say, that Jesus Christ is called the Son of God only in an improper and metaphorical sense? and that, with certain allowances, (which, however, do not alter the nature of thething,) the title is bestowed in the same sense upon kings and angels? Henceforth, then, there is only a difference of more or less between the governor of the world and his creatures; between a king of dust and ashes, who commands a handful of men, who is not able to make a drop of water fall from heaven, who cannot stop the smallest breath of wind, nor defend himself from the fears, the dangers, the pains, which often spare the poor in the cottage, while they respect not the palaces of kings;—henceforth it shall be only a difference of more or less, between an eternal being and a being of a day, who cannot look a foot behind him without seeing the nothingness from which he arose; the difference between the Creator and the creature; between a Son of God who is worshipped as God by men and angels, and those sons of God who under that glorious title conceal the poverty and worthlessness inseparable from the creature. Certainly those who cry up reason so much, know but verylittle of it, if they do not discern an infinite difference between these things which we have been contrasting; and if they do, nothing can be more contrary to reason than forthem to deny that Christ is properly and essentially the Son of God. They do not comprehend, they say, how God can have a son, who is, like himself, God, unless there be more Gods than one; nor how the Father who begets, and the Son who is begotten, can be equally eternal. This then is all that occasions unbelief; and it is not that the Scripture has not sufficiently declared it; it is because reason would know too much; and that, not content with being wise with soberness, it has no more respect and deference for the assertions of the sacred books when they affirm things beyond its comprehension, than they have for the writings of a mere man. Thus it is no longer, in fact, the testimony of God which these men believe, but the testimony and direction of their own reason alone.
For, indeed, if reason, proud assuming reason, would only believe what God says of his Son, besides the other testimonies which are borne to him, and which are as clear as any testimonies possibly can be, it would be requisite only to turn for a moment to the Scriptures, and they will everywhere shew that Jesus Christ is God. Now, if they do assert it (which the heretic does not deny), why should any one say that he is not God? The reason, they reply, is, because the title of God, which is a name implying majesty and excellence, is sometimes in Scripture bestowed upon the angels, and upon kings, on account of a certain resemblance between the elevation of these creatures and the majesty of God. That is true. Now in this sense, say they, is Christ called God. The heretic has only this to urge; and if we deprive him of this distinction between a God properly so called and a God improperly so called, he will not have a word remaining to reply. But this will require no great labour, since nothing can be more easy. We find throughout the Scripture, that the word Jehovah, which in our bibles is commonly translated the Lord, is the proper and essential name of the true God: he thus explains it himself in Isaiah 42:8. I am the LORD; that is my name: and in Isaiah 45:5. I am the LORD, and there is none else; there is no God beside me: and, the better to impress this truth upon the mind, he repeats it in the following verse in the same words: I am the LORD, and there is none else. Yet we find that Christ also is JEHOVAH, or the Lord, which name is given him in a great number of passages in the Old Testament; but for the sake of brevity we shall cite only two or three. Isaiah relates, chap. 6 that the Lord appeared to him sitting upon his throne, and that he heard the Seraphim round about him crying, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts; Isa 6:1-3 and St. John, chap. Joh 12:41 says, that it was Jesus Christ whom Isaiah saw in his glory. Jeremiah calls him expressly, JEHOVAH our righteousness, chap. Jeremiah 23:6. He bears the same name, JEHOVAH, in Zechariah, and in various other places. This name is peculiar to the true God; and it is certain there is but one JEHOVAH. Hear, O Israel, says Moses, Deuteronomy 6:4. the Lord our God is one Lord. The Scripture gives this name to Jesus Christ, and bestows it with all the pomp and majesty proper to that august and adorable title, as appears from the texts that we have quoted. Jesus Christ is then the true God. No heretic can elude this demonstration.
But, to make this fundamental truth still more evident, and not to leave the smallest doubt in the mind, that it is properly and literally, and not improperly and metaphorically, that Jesus Christ is called God in so many parts of Scripture, let us ask those who fly to this wretched distinction as their only resource, in what manner a name must be given to a person or thing so as to be attributable to it in its true and literal signification? and then let us examine whether all this does not unite in Jesus Christ. When we call a picture or a statue a man; seeing that this man has neither flesh, nor bones, nor life, nor motion; that it has neither speech nor understanding; we say, or rather it is understood, that such a picture or statue is called a man, not literally, but in an improper sense, from some distant resemblance. But when we give this name to a living and animate being; a being who with thehuman figure unites sight, hearing, speech, action, reason; we should regard that man as destitute of reason who should say that such a being cannot literally and properly be called man. When actors appear on a stage, one in the character of a soldier, another as a captain, another as a king, every body knows this to be feigned, nor is it necessary that anyone should tell us that such names do not properly belong to such actors; the thing speaks for itself. But when we see a man giving laws to a whole country, obeyed by a whole people, receiving tribute and every other homage appertaining to royalty, we hesitate not for a moment in calling that man a king; and, when we hear him so named, we do not childishly ask, whether it is in a literal or a figurative sense that the title is bestowed upon him? The Holy Scripture speaks of Christ by the names of God, of Jehovah, of Lord of Hosts, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and by many other titles which are never bestowed except upon the true God. Farther, it acknowledges in Christ all the characteristics which are proper and essential to the true God, as being eternal, knowing all things, all-powerful, &c. Isaiah calls him the mighty God, the everlasting Father, chap. Matthew 9:6. And St. John, Revelation 1:8. the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. The same apostle, in his Gospel, calls him the God by whom all things were made, and without whom was not any thing made that was made. John 1:3. St. Peter said to him, Lord, thou knowest all things; John 21:17. and the apostles collectively addressed him with the most profound humility (Acts 1:24.), Thou, Lord, knowest the hearts of all men. They worshipped him, and all the church with them and after them, as the Creator of the world, the King of men and of angels, the Redeemer of mankind, and the sovereign Judge of quick and dead. Can a metaphorical and figurative God be thus designated? and has the Scripture ever described in terms more lofty the JEHOVAH adored by the Jew, or the God whom the heretic professes to worship? The time may come for the conversion of these men; but in the meanwhile, till their consciences, freed from the prejudices of the mind, shall make them own, viva voce, that Jesus Christ is properly and truly God, let us rest upon the express declaration of an apostle who beheld Jesus Christ in his glory in the third heaven, and who tells us that Jesus Christ is the great God (St. Paul to Titus 2:13.); and upon the testimony of the beloved disciple, who assures us, that Jesus is the true God. 1 John 5:20. And upon the testimony of these two witnesses, the truth, of which we have given so many proofs before, is firmly established.
Such then is the Messiah whom God had promised from the beginningof the world as the Redeemer and Saviour of mankind; the Son of God, the Everlasting God; and, in the fulness of time, born of a woman, of the blessed seed of Abraham, the son of David; and thus the true Immanuel, God and man. In this mysterious union of two natures, so unequal and dissimilar, the divine and the human, the Almighty laid open the glory of all his attributes more than they had yet been manifested in the creation and subsequent government of the whole universe. His mercy, that virtue or attribute which in so many ways exalts the glory of God, had never appeared but for this; and hisholiness, which includes all his other moral perfections, and which seems peculiarly to draw upon him the wonder of angels, has appeared with more glory in the death of a God-man, than in all the laws that he could have formed for man, or in all the rigour of his justice by punishing everlastingly the infraction of those laws. Jesus died, as marked in all the prophesies, and by his death has satisfied the divine justice for all that will believe, has expiated their sins, and has reconciled them to God. This is the uniform doctrine of Scripture; it is the Law, and the Prophets, and the Gospel. The sacrifices under the Law were all shadows of his sufferings, and types of his death. The 22d, 69th, 102d, and 109th Psalms were descriptive of his sufferings; in the 40th Psalm we behold him presenting himself as a sacrifice for us, instead of those sacrifices which were offered daily under the law, and which, with all the rivulets of blood that the priests poured out at the foot of the altar, could not of themselves do away one single sin. Isaiah, in his time, at the distance of near 800 years, beheld the sins of men collected from all parts, and resting upon this victim, who washed them all away in his own blood. Surely (breaks forth the prophet, ch. Isaiah 53:4-6.) he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. These expressions, and a hundred others of a similar nature, are too strong for us to look upon, and then to regard the death of Jesus Christ as that of a man who dies merely to leave an example of patience and resignation, or only to seal by his death the doctrine that he had preached. We must be strangely perverse and prejudiced, if we do not discern in all these transactions a victim who dies for the sins of others, and washes them away with his blood. The apostles unanimously taught the same doctrine; and St. Paul strongly insists upon it in the 3d chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, as may be seen in the text, and in the comment thereon. He is still more express to the purpose in the 5th chapter of the 2d Epistle to the Corinthians; and it is the chief foundation of his whole Epistle to the Hebrews. St. John says, that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin; and that he is the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 1:7; 1 John 1:9; 1 John 2:2. And if the apostle Peter lays before the faithful the death of Christ as an example of meekness and patience upon which they should often meditate, it was not (God forbid it should!) to restrain it from being viewed in any other light, as some heretics pretend; since, on the contrary, there is no doctrine more clearly taught by that apostle than the doctrine of the Atonement. He (St. Peter) declares, in the consultation holden at Jerusalem, that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved. Acts 15:11. In the 1st chapter of his first General Epistle we read, that we were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 1 Peter 1:18-19. And in 1Pe 2:24 speaking of Christ's death as of a model,he says, imitating the language of Isaiah, that Jesus Christ bare our sins in his own body on the tree; as if he intended to prevent any misunderstanding or abuse of those words, wherein he lays down a doctrine which ought never to be separated from that of the Atonement.
But, not to enlarge farther on these great doctrines of Christ's divinity, and of his propitiatory sacrifice, let us conclude with an important consideration drawn from St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians. Herein the apostle, ever labouring to support the honour of the Christian religion, devoutly declaims against the arrogance of the unbelieving Jews and Heathens, who, judging of it, like our heretics, according to the prejudices and vain reasonings of a carnal mind, considered the Gospel as a mad extravagant system; and he declares that, whatever may be the opinions of these pretended teachers in the synagogue or in the schools of philosophy, he would never preach any other than Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness. Why it was a stumbling-block to the Jews, is easily understood: the Jew had figured to his imagination aMessiah that should be rich, powerful, full of glory; and Jesus, after leading an abject life, expires upon the cross. But the Greek, who had no share in the dreams of the synagogue, and had none of these prejudices, why did he treat the cross of Christ as foolishness? for, supposing the apostles to have taught nothing more of Christ than the heretics against whomwe are contending believe of him, namely, that he was an extraordinary man, full of zeal for God and for the good of mankind, who, having taught a heavenly doctrine, was content to seal it with his blood, and to exhibit in his death an example of moderation, patience, charity, and many other virtues; what could there be in all that to offend the reason of the philosopher, or which a heathen rage should denominate foolishness? Nothing, on the contrary, could have been more agreeable to reason; and certainly a religion thus constituted could never have raised the philosophers against it; since the Gentiles so much honoured those persons who sacrificed themselves for the public good, that they invented the name of hero, and applied it to those extraordinary men. But the Greek found foolishness in this, that a man stretched out dead upon a cross should be God; and that the blood of one crucifiedshould atone for the sins of mankind. This then was really what the apostles preached; and in the belief of these two mysteries the whole church has persevered, and still subsists.
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT.
THREE propositions I shall endeavour to establish in this Introduction, as preparatory to the consideration of the NEW TESTAMENT, that Divine Revelation which is peculiarly intended of God for the infinite benefit of mankind.
First, That religion, the only mean by which men call arrive at true happiness, or by which they can attain to the perfection and dignity of their natures does not, in the present circumstances of the world, depend on human reasoning or inventions: for, were this the case, we need not go from home for religion, or seek farther than our own breasts for the means of reconciling ourselves to God, obtaining his favour, and, in consequence of it, life eternal.
Secondly, That the great end of religion is future happiness; and, consequently, the best religion is that which will most surely direct us to eternal life.
Thirdly, That the authority and word of God is the only sure foundation of religion, and the only reasonable ground for us to build our hopes upon.
In this state of thecase, the necessity of religion in general is supposed; and the only question is, from what fountain we must derive it? The dispute can only lie between natural and revealed religion: if nature be able to direct us, it will be hard to justify the wisdom of God in giving us a revelation, as the revelation can only serve the same purpose which nature alone could well supply.
Since the light of the Gospel hasshone throughout the world, nature has been much improving in speculative things: we see many things clearly, many things that reason readily embraces, to which, nevertheless, the world before was generally a stranger. The Gospel has given us true notions of God and of ourselves, right conceptions of his holiness and purity, and of the nature of divine worship. It has taught us a religion, in the belief and practice of which our present ease and comfort, and our hopes of future happiness and glory, consist; it has rooted out idolatry and superstition; and, by instructing us in the nature of God, and discovering to us his unity, his omnipresence, and infinite knowledge, it has furnished us even with principles of reason, by which we reject and condemn the rites and ceremonies of heathenism and idolatry, and may, through the grace of God, discover wherein the beauty and holiness of divine worship consist: for the nature of divine worship must be deduced from the nature of God; and it is impossible for men to pay a reasonable service to God, till they have just and reasonable notions of him. But now, it seems, this is all become, in the judgment of the infidel, pure natural religion; and it is to our own reason and understanding that we are indebted for the notion of God and of divine worship: and whatever else in religion is agreeable to our reason, is reckoned to proceed entirely from it.
But let us examine this pretence, and see upon what ground this plea of natural religion can be maintained. If nature can instruct us sufficiently in religion, we have indeed no reason to go anywhere else: so far we are agreed. But whether nature can or not, is in truth rather a question offact, than mere speculation; for, the way to know what nature can do, is to take nature by itself, and try its strength alone. There was a time when men had little else but nature to go to; and that is the proper time to look into, to see what mere unassisted nature can do in religion. Nay, there are still nations under the sun, who are, as to religion, in a mere state of nature. The glad tidings of the Gospel have not reached them, nor have they been blessed, or (to speak in the modern phrase) prejudiced with divine revelations, of which we, less worthy of them than they, so much complain. In other matters they are polite and civilised; they are cunning traders, fine artificers, and in many arts and sciences not unskilful. Here then we may hope to see natural religion in its full perfection; for there is no want of natural reason, nor any room to complain of prejudice or prepossession. But yet, alas! these nations are held in the chains of darkness, and given up to the blindest superstition and idolatry. Men wanted not reason before the coming of Christ, nor opportunity nor inclination to improve it. Arts and sciences had long before obtained their just perfection; the number of the stars had been counted, and their motions observed and adjusted; the philosophy, oratory, and poetry of those ages are still the delight and entertainment of this. Religion was not theleast part of their inquiry; they searched all the recesses of reason and nature; and, had it been in the power of reason and nature to furnish men with just notions and principles of religion, here we should have found them: but, instead of them, we find nothing but the grossest superstition and idolatry; the creatures of the earth advanced into deities; and men degenerating and making themselves lower than the beasts of the field. Time would fail me to relate the corruptions and extravagancies of the politest nations. Their religion was their reproach, and the service which they paid their gods was a dishonour to them and to themselves; the most sacred part of their devotion was the most impure; and the only thing which was commendable in it was, that it was kept as a great mystery and secret, and hid under the darkness of the night; and, were reason now to judge, it would approve of nothing in this religion, but the modesty of withdrawing itself from the eyes of the world.
This being the case wherever men have been left to mere reason andnature to direct them, what security have the great patrons of natural religion now, that, were they left only to reason and nature, they would not run into the same errors and absurdities? Have they more reason than those who have gone before them? In all other instances nature is the same now that it ever was, and we are but acting over again the same part that our ancestors performed before us: wisdom and prudence and cunning are now what they formerly were; nor can this age shew mere human nature in any one character exalted beyond the examples which antiquity has left us. Can we shew greater instances of civil and political wisdom than are to be found in the governments of Greece and Rome? Are not the civil laws of Rome still held in admiration? and have they not a place allowed them still in almost all kingdoms? Since, then, in nothing else we are grown wiser than the heathen world, what probability is there, that we should have grown wiser in religion, if we had been left, as they were, to mere reason and nature? To this day there is no alteration for the better, except only in the countries where the Gospel has been preached. What shall we say of the Chinese, a nation that wants not either reason or learning, and in some parts of it pretends to excel the world? They have been daily improving in the arts of life, and in every kind of knowledge and science; but yet in religion they are ignorant and superstitious, and have but very little of what we call natural religion among them. And what ground is there to imagine that reason would have done more, made greater discoveries of truth, or more entirely subdued the passions of men, in England or France, or any other country of Europe, than it has in the eastern or southern parts of the world? Are not men as reasonable creatures in the east as they are in the west? and have they not the same means of exercising and improving their reason? Why then shouldit be thought that reason would do that now in this place, which it has never heretofore been able to do in any time or place whatever?
This fact is so very plain and undeniable, that I cannot but think that, were men to consider it fairly, they would soon be convinced how much they are indebted to the revelation of the Gospel, even for that natural religion of which they so fondly boast: for how comes it to pass, that there is so much reason, such clear natural religion, in every country where the Gospel is professed, and so little of both everywhere else?
But is there then, an objector may ask, no such thing as natural religion? Does not St. Paul lay the heathen world under condemnation for not attending to the dictates of it? Because, says he, that which may be known of God, is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools; and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. A sad account this of the state of religion in the heathen world, and a manifest proof how much nature stands in need of divine assistance! What we learnfrom St. Paul is plainly this: that notwithstanding the care which God had takento display the evidences of his own being and Godhead in every work of the creation, so that men could not but have a notion of the Deity; yet, so little did they profit by that knowledge, that it served only to render them inexcusable in their superstition and idolatry: for, when they knew God, (as indeed all the heathen world had a notion of a supreme being) yet they glorified him not as God, but changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. And was not nature an excellent guide to follow, which thus stumbled at the very threshold, and, having from natural reason the notion of a supreme Deity, sought to find him among the four-footed beasts and creeping things of the earth? Can you say what it was that thus debased the reason and understanding of mankind; what evil it was which had diffused itself through the whole race, and so possessed their senses, that seeing they did not perceive, and hearing they did not understand? Or, do you think that you alone are exempt from this common, this universal blindness; and that the same reason and nature, which hitherto have misguided all the world into error and idolatry, would lead you, out of the common road, into truth and pure reli
Is it not the height of presumption to think thus, and to imagine that we alone are able to surmount those difficulties under which all the world before us have sunk? And yetthusevery man must think, who sets up natural religion in opposition to revelation; for has mere nature ever yet, in any one part of the world, extricated itself from error? Do the nations of old, or those of our time, afford any instance of this kind? But still you think that nature is sufficient to direct you; and what is this, but to distinguish yourself from all the world, as if you alonewere privileged against the common failings and corruptions of mankind?
But you will ask, Are there not complete schemes of natural religion drawn from principles andaxioms of reason, without calling in the help of revelation; and are they not evident demonstrations thatnature is able to furnish us with a religion which is pure and holy, and agreeable to the divine attributes? Let us suppose this for the sake of argument: but let us then be informed, how it came to pass, that there never should be any system of this pure religion in use and practice in any nation, or indeed ever fully discovered, till theGospel had enlightened the world. You may boast of Socrates and Plato, and some few others in the heathen world, and tell us perhaps of their great attainments upon the strength of mere reason. Suppose it to be so (though I doubt not but both Socrates and Plato were divinely assisted); yet what is this to the present question? Must millions in every age of the world be left in ignorance, because five or six among them may rise above theerrors of their times? Or, will you say that all men are seven feet high, because we now and then see some that are?
What was it, I ask, that suppressed, for so many ages, that light of reason and nature of which you so much boast? and what has now set it free? Whatever the distemper was, nature, it is plain, could not cure it, being unable to disengage herself from the bonds and fetters in which she was held: wemay disagree perhaps in finding a name for this evil, this general corruption of nature; but the thing itself is evident; the impotence of nature stands confessed; the blindness, the ignorance of the heathen world are too plain a proof of it. This general corruption and weakness of nature made it necessary that religion should be restored by some other means, and that men should have other helps to resort to, than their own strength and reason. And if it be admitted for argument, that natural religion is indeed arrived atthat state of perfection so much boasted of, it gives a strong testimony to the Gospel, and evidently proves it to be an adequate remedy and support against the evil and corruption of nature: for, where the Gospel prevails, nature is restored; and reason, delivered from bondage by grace, sees and approves what is holy, just, and pure: for to what else can it be ascribed, but the power of the Gospel, that, in every nation which names the name of Christ, even reason and nature see and condemn the follies and vices which others still, for want of the same help, consider as innocent, or do not condemn.
Can this truth be evaded or denied? What a return then do we make for the blessing that we have received? And how despitefully do we treat the Gospel of Christ, to which we owe that clear light even of reason and nature which we now enjoy, when we endeavour to set up reason and nature in opposition to it? Ought the withered hand, which Christ has restored and made whole, to be lifted up against him? or should the dumb man's tongue, just loosened from the bonds of silence, blaspheme the power which set it free? Yet thus foolishly do we sin, when we make natural religion the engine to batter down the Gospel; for the Gospel only could, and alone has restored the religion of nature, if I may use the expression: and therefore there is a kind of parricide in the attempt, and an infidelity, heightened by the aggravating circumstance of unnatural baseness and disingenuousness.
Nor will the success of the attempt be much greater than the wisdom and piety of it; for when once nature leaves its faithful guide, the Gospel of Christ, it will be as unable to support itself against error and superstition, as it was to deliver itself from them, and will by degrees fall back into its original blindness and corruption.Had you a view of the disputes which arise even upon the principles of natural religion, it would shew you what the end must be; for the wanderings of human reason are infinite. Under the Gospel dispensation we have the immutable word of God for the support of our faith and hope. We know in whom we have believed; in Him, who can neither deceive, nor be deceived; and, poor as our services are, we have his word for it, that our labour of love shall not be forgotten, through the merit of his blood. But for them who rely on nature only, it is not evident, nor can it be, that any future reward shall attend their religious service. No other religion can give any security of eternal life and happiness to its votaries. To what refuge then shall we fly, but to Jesus Christ; or to whom shall we seek forsuccour, since he alone can bestow upon us pardon, holiness, and heaven?
THE second thing to be considered is, That the excellency of religion consists in affording certain means of obtaining eternal life and happiness.
Religion is founded in the principles of right reason; and, without supposing this, it would be as rational an act to preach to horses as to men. A man, who has the use of reason, cannot consider his condition and circumstances in this world, or reflect upon his notions of good and evil, and the sense which he feels in himself that he is an accountable creature for the good or evil that he does, without asking himself how he came into this world, and for what purpose, and to whom it is that he is, or possibly may be, accountable? When, on tracing his own being to the original, he finds that there is one supreme, all-wise Cause of all things; when by experience he sees that this world neither is, nor can be, the place for taking a just and adequate account of the actions of men; the presumption that there is another state after this, in which, men shall live, grows strong and almost irresistible. When he considers, farther, the fears and hopes of nature with respect to futurity, the fear of death common to all, with the desire of continuing in being, which never forsakes us; and reflects for what use and purpose these strong impressions were given us by the Author of nature; he cannot help concluding that man was made not merely to act a short part upon the stage of this world, but that there is another and more lasting state, to which he bears relation. And hence it must necessarily follow, that his religion must be formed on a view of securing a future happiness.
Since then the end which men propose to themselves by religion is such, it will teach us wherein the true excellency of religion consists. If eternal life and future happiness are the objects of our desire, that will be the best religion which will most certainly lead us to eternal life and future happiness. And it will be to no purpose to compare religions together in any other respects, which have no relation to this end.
Let us then by this rule examine the pretensions of revelation, and, as we proceed, compare it with the present state of natural religion, that we may be able to judge on this important point.
Eternal life and happiness it is out of our power to give ourselves, or to obtain by any strength and force, or any policy or wisdom. Could our own arm rescue us from the jaws of death, and the powers of the kingdom of darkness; could we set open the gates of heaven for ourselves, and enter in to take possession of life and glory; we should want no instruction or assistance from religion.
But since we have not this power of life and death; and since there is one that has, who governeth all things in heaven and in earth, who is over all, God blessed for evermore; itnecessarily follows, that either we must have no share or lot in the glories of futurity, or else that we must obtain them from God, and receive them as his gift and favour: and, consequently, if eternal life and happiness be the end of religion, and likewise the gift of God, religion can be nothing else than the means proper to be made use of by us to obtain of God this most excellent and perfect gift of eternal life and happiness.
It is the perfection of religion to instruct us how to please God; and since to please God, and to act according to the will of God, are but one and the same thing, it necessarilyfollows, that that must be the most perfect religion, which most perfectly instructs us in the knowledge of the will of God. Allowing then nature to have all the advantages which the greatest patrons of natural religion ever laid claim to on her behalf; admitting reason to be as clear, as uncorrupted, as unprejudiced, as even our fondest wishes would make it; yet still it can never be supposed that nature and reason, in all their glory, can be able to know the will of God so well as he himself knows it: and therefore, should God ever make a declaration of his will, that declaration must, according to the nature and necessity of the thing, be a more perfect rule for religion, than reason and nature can possibly furnish us with. Had we the wisdom and reason of Cherubim and Seraphim to direct us in the worship and service of our Maker, it would nevertheless be our highest wisdom, as it is theirs, to submit to his laws, that is, to the declarations of his will.
Secondly: Hence it appears, how extremely wrong it is to compare natural religion and revelation together, in order to inquire which is preferable; for it is neither more nor less than inquiring, Whether we knowGod's will better than he himself knows it? False revelations are no revelations; and therefore to prefer natural religion before such pretended revelations, is only to reject a forgery: but to suppose that there is, or may be, a true revelation, and yet to say that natural religion is a better guide, is to say that we are wiser than God, and know better how to please him without his directions than with them. Upon this state of the case then a revelation must be entirely rejected as a forgery, or implicitly submitted to; and the only debate between natural religion and revelation must be, whether we really have a revelation or not; and not whether revelation or nature be the best and surestfoundation of religion: which dispute but ill becomes our condition, and is a vain attempt to exalt ourselves and our own reason above every thing that is called God.
Since then revelation, considered as such, must needs be the surest guide in religion, everyreasonable man is bound to consider the pretensions of revelation, when offered to him; for no man can justify himself in relying on natural religion, till he has satisfied himself that no better directions are to be had. As it is the business of religion to please God, is it not a very natural and very reasonable inquiry to make, whether God has anywhere declared what will please him? at least it is reasonable; when we are called to this inquiry, by having a revelation tendered to us, supported by such evidence, which, though it may be easily rejected without reason, yet to reason will ever approve itself.
We are not now arguing in behalf of any particular revelation, which may be true or false for any thing that has hitherto been said. But this I urge, that revelation is the surest foundation of religion; and this requires no other proof than an explication of the terms. Religion, considered as a rule, is the knowledge of serving and pleasing God; Revelation is the declaration of God how he would be served, and what will please him: and, unless we know what will please God better than he himself does, revelation must be the best rule to serve and please God by; that is, it must be the best religion.
Hence then, I say, it is incumbent on every man of sense and reason, upon every one who judges for himself in the choice of his religion, first to inquire whether there be a revelation, or not? Nor can the precepts of natural religion singly be drawn into question, till it is first certain that there is no revelation to direct us: and therefore there can be nocomparison stated generally between natural and revealed religion, in order to determine our choice between them; because the revelation must be first rejected, before natural religion can pretend to the direction.
And yet this is the beaten path which infidels tread. They consider in general, that revelation is subject to many uncertainties; it may be a cheat at first, or it may be corrupted afterwards, and not faithfully handed down to them; but in natural religion, say they, there can be no cheat, because in that every man judges for himself, and is bound to nothing but what is agreeable to the dictates of reason and his own mind: and upon these general views they reject all revelations whatever, and adhere to natural religion as the fairer guide. But attend to the consequence of such reasoning, which is this; that because there may be a false revelation, therefore there cannot be a true one: for unless this consequence be just, they are inexcusable in rejecting all revelations, because of the uncertainties which may attend them.
But now, to apply what has been said to the Christian revelation: it has such pretences, on the face of it, as make it worthy of a particular consideration: it pretends to come from heaven; to have been delivered by the Son of God; to have been confirmed by undeniable miracles and prophesies; to have been ratified by the blood of Christ, and also by that of his apostles, who died in asserting its truth: it can shew likewise an innumerable company of martyrs and confessors: its doctrines are pure and holy, its precepts just and righteous; its worship is a reasonable service, refined from the errors of idolatry and superstition, and spiritual like the God who is the object of it: it offers the aid and assistance of Heaven to the weakness and corruption of nature; which makes the religion of the Gospel to be as practicable as it is reasonable: it promises infinite rewards to faith and obedience, and threatens eternal punishment to obstinate offenders; which makes it of the utmost consequence to us soberly to consider it, since every one who rejects it stakes his own soul against the truth of it.
Are these such pretences as are to be dismissed with general and loose objections? Because miracles may be pretended, shall not the miracles of Christ be considered, which were not so much as questioned by the adversaries of the Gospel in the first ages? Because there may be impostors, shall Christ be rejected, whose life was innocent, and free from any suspicion of private design; and who died to seal the truths that he had delivered? Because there have been impostures introduced by worldlymen endeavouring to make a gain of godliness, shall the Gospel be suspected, which, in every page, declares against the world, against the pleasures, the riches, the glories of it; which labours no one point more than to draw off the affections from things below, and to raise them to the enjoyment of heavenly and spiritual deli
But whether you will consider it, or not; yet there is such a call to you to consider it, as must render your neglect inexcusable. You cannot say that you want inducement to consider it, when you see it entertained by men of all degrees. The Gospel does not make so mean a figure in the world, as to justify your contempt of it: the light shines forth in the world, whether you will receive it or not; if you receive it not, the consequence is upon your own soul, and you must answer it.
Were men sincere in their professions of religion, or even in their desires of salvation and immortality, the controversies in religion would soon take a new turn: the only question would be, whether the Gospel were true, or not: we should have no reasoningagainst revelation in general; for it is impossible that a sincerely religious man should not wish for a revelation of God's will, if there be not one already: we should then see another kind of industry used in searching the truths of God, which are now overlooked, because men have lost their regard for the things which make for their salvation. Were the Gospel but a title to an estate, there is not an infidel of them all, who would sit down contented with his own general reasonings against it: it would then be thought worth looking into; its proofs would be considered, and a just weight allowed them: and yet the Gospel is our only title to a much nobler inheritance than this world knows; it is the patent by which we claim life and immortality, and all the joys and blessings of the heavenly Canaan. Had any man but a pedigree as ancient as the Gospel, what a noise should we have about it? And yet the Gospel is despised, which sets forth to us a nobler pedigree than the kings of the earth can boast; a descent from Christ, who is head over the whole family; by which believers claim as heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ: and did we not despise our relation to Christ as our Saviour, and secretly abhor and dread the thoughts of immortality, we could not be so cold in our regard to the Gospel of God.
Iwish that every man, who argues against the Christian religion, would take this one serious thought along with him; that he must hereafter, if he believes that God will judge the world, argue the case once more at the judgment-seat of God: and let him try his reasons accordingly. Do you reject the Gospel because you will admit nothing that pretends to be a revelation? Consider well; is this a reason which you will justify to the face of God? Will you tell him, that you had resolved to receive no positive commands from him, nor to admit any of his declarations for law? If it will not be a good reason then, it is not a good reason now; and the stoutest heart will tremble to give such an impious reason tothe Almighty, which is a plain defiance of his wisdom and authority.*
* I recommend to my readers the perusal of the Sermons, Dissertations, and other writings of Bishop Sherlock; in which they will find the ideas I have now held out to them enlarged upon in the most masterly manner. And here I must, to the glory of God, acknowledge my unspeakable obligations to the works of that learned prelate. During part of the time of my residence at the University of Oxford I was a Deist—an infidel: but by reading the works of Bishop Sherlock I was restored to a belief of the Bible, that blessed book, which is the delight of my heart!
A FAIRER issue there cannot be for the trial of any religion: for, since eternal life and happiness is the end that all men aim at by religion, that must necessarily be the best religion, which most certainly leads us to this great and desirable blessing.
But the grand objection of the infidel against the Christian revelation is, that it is full of mysteries.
Though this objection is levelled against the Christian revelation particularly, yet it must conclude equally against revelation in general, considered as a principle of religion, if it makes any addition to the things to be believed or done beyond what reason teaches us. The question then will be, whether it can be reasonable for God to propose any articles of faith, or any conditions of salvation, the reason and propriety of which do not appear to man? And this is a question of great importance, it being confessedly the case of the Gospel.
In the sense of the Gospel, whatever is the effect of God's secret counsels, in order to the redemption of the world,is a mystery. That men ought to obey God in truth and holiness, that they may obtain his blessing,—and, that sinners ought to be punished,—are not, nor ever were, mysteries. But all the methods of religion beyond these were, and still are, mysterious: the intention of God to redeem the world from sin by sending his own Son in the likeness of man, is a mystery unknown to former ages, if we speak of the world in general: it is a mystery still, inasmuch as we cannot penetrate into the depths of this divine oeconomy, or account by the principles of human reason for every step or article of it. But let it be remembered, that not human reason, but the will of God, is the rule and measure of religious obedience: and, if so, the terms of religious obedience must be tried by their agreeableness to the will of God, and not measured by the narrow compass of man's reason. If reason can discover, either by internal or external signs, the conditions of salvation proposed to us to be the will of God, the work of reason is over, and we are obliged to use the means that are prescribed by God, as we hope to obtain the end, which is the gift of God: and how little soever reasoncan penetrate into the mysteries of God, yet if it can discover them to be indeed the mysteries of God, and by him proposed to us as necessaryto salvation, it discovers plainly to us that these mysteries of God make an essential part of the grand system that leads to eternal life and happiness, which is all, I think, that a reasonable man would desire to find in his religion: for, since all that he desires to obtain by his religion is eternal life and glory, what more has he to look for in his religion than the means of eternal life and glory?
This is true, you will say, upon the supposition of God's requiring from us the belief of mysteries or the practice of any positive duties; then it will be our duty to hearken to his voice, and entirely submit our wills and understandings to him: but how does this prove it reasonable for him so to do, or remove the prejudice which lies against the Gospel, because of its mysterious doctrines?
To come then to the point: it will, I suppose, be easily granted to be agreeable to the wisdom and goodness of God to reveal whatever is necessary to be revealed in order to perfect the salvation of mankind; as, on the other side, it must be allowed, that it is not consistent with infinite wisdom and goodness to reveal mysteries merely to puzzle the minds of men. These allowances being made on each side, the question is reduced to this; whether it can be ever necessary to reveal mysteries in order to save mankind? When it is necessary it must be reasonable, unless it be unreasonable for God to save the world: and upon this ground it will be found, that any thing proposed to us as a revelation, cannot be from God without opening to us all necessary truths, how abstruse and mysterious soever some of them may be.
With respect to infinite wisdom, there is no such thing as mystery in nature: all things are equally clear in the understanding of God; all things lie naked before his eye, having no darkness, obscurity, or difficulty in them. A mystery, therefore, is no real or positive thing in nature; nor is it any thing that is inherent or belonging to the subjects of which it is predicated. When we say this thing or that thing is a mystery, according to the form of our speech, we seem to affirm something of this or that thing; but, in truth, the proposition is not affirmative with respect to the thing, but negative with respect to ourselves: for, when we say this thing is a mystery, of the thing we say nothing; but of ourselves we say, that we do not comprehend this thing. With respect to our understanding, there is no more difference between truth which is, and truth which is not mysterious, than, with respect to our strength, there is between a weight which we can lift, and a weight which we cannot lift: for, as defect of strength in us makes some weights to be immoveable, so likewise defect of understanding makes some truths to be mysterious.
The complaint then against mysteries in religion amounts to no more than this; that God has done something for us, or appointed something for us to do, in order to save us, the reason of which we do not understand; and requires us to believe and to comply with thesethings, and to trust in him that we shall receive the benefit of them.
But to return to the question, Whether it can be ever necessary for God to reveal mysteries, or appoint positive duties, in order to perfect the salvation of mankind; or, in other words, to use such means for the salvation of the world, the agreeableness of which to the end intended the reason of Man cannot discover? This is certain, that, whenever it is out of our power by natural means to save ourselves, if we are to be saved at all, it is necessary that supernatural means be made use of.
Suppose then, that all men have so far sinned as to have lost the right and pleas of obedient subjects: that an universal corruption has spread through the whole race, and rendered them incapable of performing the duties of reason and nature, or, if they could perform them, precluded the merit and title of all such works to reward; for the works of nature, if they could prevent a forfeiture, yet cannot reverse a forfeiture once incurred: in this case what shall be done? Is it unreasonable for God to redeem the world? God forbid! and yet by the means of reason and nature the world cannot be redeemed. Will you allow that God may freely forgive the sins of the world, and remit the punishment, and bestow even on sinners the gift of eternal life? How mysterious would even this grace be, and how far beyond the power of reason to comprehend? Could you, from any of the natural notions of your mind, reconcile this method of redemption with the wisdom, justice, and holiness of God? Consider the essential difference between good and evil, the natural beauty of one, and thenatural deformity of the other; compare them with the essential holiness of the Deity; and then tell me the ground upon which he reconciles himself to sin, pities and forgives it, and offers immortal glory to the sinner, perseveringly returning to him through his grace; or, if this way please you not, consider his wisdom, by which he rules and governs the world, and try, by all the notions you can frame of wisdom, whether it be not necessary for the good government of the rational world, that rewards and punishments should be divided with an equal hand to virtue and vice; and then tell me, where is the wisdom of dropping all the punishment due to sin, and receiving sinners not only to pardon, but to glory? There may be wisdom and holiness in this, but not human wisdom, nor holiness which human reason can discern; but infinite mysterious wisdom and holiness. If, from your notions of wisdom and holiness, you can have no help in this case, much less will the natural notion of justice assist you: is not justice conversant in rewards and punishments? Is it not the essence of justice to distribute both where they are due? Is there not in nature and reason a connection between virtue and reward, between vice and punishment? How then comes nature to be reversed, and the laws of reason to be disturbed? and how, as if justice were more than poetically blind, come sinners to be intitled to life and happiness? Even in this case, therefore, of God's finally forgiving the sins of penitent and faithful souls, which is the lowest that can be put, religion would necessarily be mysterious, and not to be apprehended by reason or nature, but to be received by faith; and our only refuge would be, not in the reason and nature of the thing, but in the unfathomable goodness and incomprehensible mercy of G
But, should it reallybe; as to human reason it appears, inconsistent with the wisdom and justice of God, so freely to pardon sin, as not to leave the marks of his displeasure upon it; or to remit the transgressions of men, without vindicating, in the face of the whole creation, the honour of his laws and government; in what a maze must reason then be lost in searching after the means of reconcilement and redemption! How shall sin be punished, and yet the sinner saved? How shall the honour of God's government be vindicated in the face of all the world, and yet in the face of all the world the rebels justified and exalted? These are difficulties irreconcileable to human reason and nature; and yet they must be reconciled, or the world, once lost, must lie for ever under condemnation. The religion that can adjust this difficulty, and give us the clue to lead us through these mazes, in that human reason must for ever wander, can be the only religion that can possibly be suitable to human nature in its present corrupted state, and must necessarily abound with inconceivable mysteries, but with mysteries of grace and mercy.
So far is it from being an objection against the Gospel of Christ, that it contains many wonderful mysteries of the hidden wisdom of God,—that, as our case stands, without a mystery it is impossible for us to be saved: for, since reason and nature cannot find the means of rescuing sinners from punishment, and of making atonement to the justice of God: since they cannot prescribe a proper satisfaction for sin, in which the honour of God and the salvation of men shall be at once consulted: since they cannot remedy the corruption which has spread through the race of mankind, or infuse new principles of virtue and holiness into the souls already subdued to the lust and power of sin; since, if they could procure our pardon for what is past, they cannot secure us for the future from the same temptations, which, by fatal experience, we know we cannot, but by grace, withstand: since, I say, these things cannot be done by the means of reason and nature, they must be done by such means as reason and nature know nothing of; that is, in other words, they must be done by mysterious means, of the propriety of which we can have no adequate notion or conceptio
If you stand in need of no new favour, if you aim not so high as eternal life, religion without mysteries may well serve your turn. The principles of natural religion tend to procure the peace and tranquillity of this life; and the not distinguishing between religion as a rule of life for our present use and well-being here, and as the means of obtaining pardon for sin and eternal life hereafter, may have in some measure occasioned the great complaint against the mysteries of the Gospel: for mysteries are not indeed the necessary parts of religion, considered only as a rule of action; but most necessary they are to it, when considered as a means of obtaining pardon and eternal glory. And this farther shews, how unreasonably men object against the mysterious wisdom of the Gospel, since all that the Gospel prescribes to us as our duty is plain and evident; all that is mysterious is on God's part, and relates intirely to the surprising acts of divine wisdom and mercy in the redemption of the world. Consider the Gospel then as a rule of action, no religion was ever so plain, so calculated upon the principles of right reason: so that natural religion itself had never more natural religion in it. If we consider the end proposed to us, and the means used to intitle us to the benefit of it, it grows mysterious, and soars above the reach of human reason; for God has done more for us than reason could teach us to expect, or can now teach us to comprehend. Let us then do our part by receiving Jesus Christ into our hearts, through that simple and sincere faith which works by love; and let us trust in God that he will do his, though it exceeds the strength of human wisdom to comprehend the length and breadth and depth and height of that wisdom and mercy which God has manifested to the world through his Son Christ Jesus our Lord
UPON the supposition of men's becoming sinners, and liable to the displeasure and wrath of God, religion itself becomes a new thing. Innocence, which once was all the care that religion had, is now vanished, and, with it, all our hopes of glory and immortality. The natural attributes of God, which to the eyes of innocence afforded a pleasant prospect, to the eyes of sinners are exceedingly dreadful. What then shall the sinner do? Shall he resort to natural religion in this distress? But if this religion be nothing but a rule of living well, what is that to him, who has already lived so ill as to be obnoxious to condemnation? As well may you send the condemned malefactor to study the law by which he dies, in order to save his life, as the sinner to the perfect rule of life which he has transgressed, in order to save his soul. The more he studies the rule by which he should have lived, and compares it with his own transgressions, he will but the more fully comprehend how much he deserves punishment, and how desperate the state is to which sin has reduced him. In a religion that is barely a rule of life, there is no sure comfortor support to be had against the terrors of guilt and sin. Unbelievers may think we ask too much of them to be granted, when we argue upon this supposition, That all are sinners, and are fallen short of the glory of God. But, as this is the supposition upon which the Gospel uniformly proceeds, pretending to no more than to provide means of salvation for sinners, whoever takes upon himself to question the reasonableness of the Gospel, must consider it as being what it pretends to be; otherwise he will not argue against the Gospel, but against something else formed in his own imagination. If, upon examination of the Gospel, it appears to be indeed what it pretends to be, a means for saving sinners, you must necessarily come to one or other of the following resolutions: If you are consciousto yourself that you are a sinner, you must gladly receive the remedy provided for you, and which, upon examination, you find to be proper for your case: or, If you are satisfied with yourself, and want no help, you must reject it as unnecessary and improper in your case, and trust entirely to your own merit; and must appear before God, and demand life and immortality as due from his justice and equity, which you will not accept as a gift from his grace and mercy.
Let us then consider what is necessary to be done for a sinner, in order to restore him to eternal life and glory; and that will teach us the true notion of the religion of the Gospel.
First, then, It is necessary, in order to restore a sinner to eternal life, that God be reconciled to him: Secondly, That the sinner be purged from the impurity contracted by sin. Thirdly, That, for the future, he be enabled to obey the holy laws of God, without which his reconcilement to God would be fruitless and of no effect.
I think there needs but little to be said to prove the necessity of these conditions: if the sinner's case be desperate, because God is provoked by his iniquity, and justly angry at his offences; there can be no foundation for him to hope till God be reconciled to him: if the sinner is impure in the sight of God because of his sins, his impurity must be cleansed before he can abide with God for ever: if the transgression of the laws of reason and nature, which are the laws of God, was that which lost him the favour of God; that he may not lose it again after being reconciled to him, it is necessary that he sin no more; or, if he do, that a remedy be provided to restore him.
Allowing then these conditions to be necessary to the salvation of a sinner, and likewise that religion must contain the means of eternal life and glory; it necessarily follows, that the sinner's religion must contain the means by which he may be reconciled to God; the means by which he may be purified and cleansed from sin; and the means by which he may be enabled for the future to obey the will of God: for these are the necessary means by which a sinner must be saved; and, therefore, they must necessarily be contained in the sinner's religion. How imperfect a notion then have we of such a religion, when we consider it only as a rule of action! and how weakly must we argue against it, when our arguments are pointed only against this notion or idea of it!
A rule of action must be plain and intelligible, or else it is no rule; forwe can neither obey nor disobey a law which we cannot understand: and, therefore, from this idea of religion that it is a rule of action, there lies a very plain objection against admitting mysteries in religion. And let the objection have its full force, the Gospel is secure from the blow; for the rule of life contained in the Gospel is the plainest as well as the purest that ever the world was acquainted with. In the precepts of Christianity there is no mystery, no shadow of a mystery to be seen; they are all simple, and, to men of the lower understandings, intelligible; the duties which it requires us to perform to God, to ourselves, and to our neighbours, are such as, when offered to us, we cannot but in our minds and consciences speculatively approve: and, therefore, the Gospel, as far as it is a rule of life, is far from being mysterious, since both the sense and the reason of the law are open and plain, and such as we cannot but see, and, when we see, acknowledge in speculation.
But since this is not the only notion or idea of religion, that it is a rule of life; let us consider whether, according to the other ideas which belong to it, it be equally absurd to suppose it in some points mysterious. Let us examine it then under this notion, as containing the means by which God is reconciled to sinners.
And, first, it is obvious to observe, that here is not the same reason against mysteries as in the other case:for, though we cannot practise a law without understanding it, yet God may be reconciled to us, and we have the assurance of it, without our being able to comprehend and account for every thing which was done in order thereto. A malefactor may receive a pardon, and enjoy the benefit of it, without knowing what it was that induced his prince to grant it; and would, without doubt, be thought mad to stand out against the mercy, merely because he could not dive into the secret reasons of it. Could not a sinner receive the benefit of God's mercy without understanding all the methods of it, it would then be necessary indeed, that even this part of religion should be free from mysteries, and made plain to every man's understanding: but, since a sinner may be saved by a mercy which he cannot comprehend, where is the absurdity of offering sinners mercy, and requiring them to rely on it, or, in other words, to believe in it, though it be ever so incomprehensible or mysterious? Were it unreasonable or impossible to believe things to be, without knowing how they came to be, faith could never be reasonable in religion, or in any thing else: but, since the knowledge of the essence of things, and of the existence of things, are two distinct kinds of knowledge, and independent of one another; our ignorance of the essence of things, and of the relation which they have to each other, can never be a good argument against the belief of their existence: and yet this objection contains all the argument that unbelievers bring against the mysteries of Christianity. Why do they, for instance,refuse to believe Christ to be the Son of God?
Only because they cannot comprehend how he can be the eternal Son of God. And, if they will be true to their principle, and carry the objection as far as it will go, they must in time come to deny the existence of every thing in the world, themselves not excepted. Since then to comprehend the reason and nature of things is neither necessary to our believing the reality of them, nor yet to our receiving benefits and advantages from them; how comes it to be necessary, that in religion there should be nothing which we do not understand? Necessary it cannot be to our salvation, for we may be saved by means that we comprehend not; nor yet to our faith is it necessary; for we may, and do, daily believe the reality of things, without knowing any thing of the nature and reasons of them. And if mysteries may set forward our salvation, and are not destructive of our faith, upon what other views they can be excluded from religion I cannot conceive.
Thus much then may serve to shew, that according to this notion of religion, That it contains the means by which God is reconciled to sinners, no argument can be drawn to weaken the authority of any religion because some parts of it are mysterious: but if you consider it farther, it will appear, that this part of religion must necessarily be mysterious, and the means of reconcilement such as reason and nature cannot comprehend.
The principles from which this consequence will follow, are these: That men are sinners; that God must be reconciled to sinners in order to their salvation; that religion must contain the certain method by which we may obtain eternal life and happiness. The consequence of these principles is evident, That religion must contain the means by which God is reconciled to sinners; for, since this reconcilement is necessary to eternal life and happiness, religion cannot produce eternal life and happiness without it. How then, if there be no such means of reconcilement, which reason and nature can either discover or comprehend, this part of religion must necessarily be mysterious; sincewhat reason cannot comprehend is mysterious. Now from the natural notion that we have of God, and his attributes, there arises such a difficulty in this case, as reason cannot get over: for it is certain, according to all the natural notions of our mind, that it is just for God to punish sinners. It is likewise certain, that God can do nothing but what is just: if, therefore,he forgives sinners, receives them to mercy, and remits their punishment, it is then certain, that it is just for God in this circumstance not to punish sinners. Now, reason cannot comprehend how it should, with respect to the same individual sinners, be just to punish, and just not to punish them. If it be not just to punish sinners, there wants no reconcilement for sinners; and, if it be not just not to punish them, no reconcilement can be had, for it is contrary to the nature of God to do what is not just. The same argument lies from all the attributes of the Deity which are at all concerned in the redemption of mankind: his wisdom and holiness, and even his mercy, are as indiscernible as his justice. Now try how far reason can go towards discovering the means of reconcilement. Lay down first these certain and allowed principles; That it is just for God to punish sinners; that God can do nothing but what is just: and try how you can come at the other conclusion, which must be the foundation of a sinner's reconcilement to God; namely, That it is just for God not to punish sinners, and righteous in him to receive them to favour. If reason cannot discover nor comprehend how both these propositions should be true at the same time with respect to the same persons, it is impossible that it should discover or comprehend the means which God makes use of to reconcile himself to sinners; that is to say, itis impossible for God to make use of any means which are not mysterious, that is, above the reach and comprehension of human wisdom.
This difficulty must forever remain, as long as we attempt to scan the divine justice by our narrow conceptions of it; and this is the very difficulty which makes many things in the Gospel to be mysterious. The Scripture tells us, that God has been reconciled to sinners by the death of Christ; that he made atonement for the sins of the whole world. These are great mysteries. But if we could see the reasons upon which the justice of God proceeds in this case, here would be no mystery: and therefore the mysteriousness of the whole proceedingarises only hence, that our finite minds cannot comprehend the reasons and limits of the divine justice. Most certain it is, that, if God be reconciled to sinners, satisfaction must be made to his justice; for he may as well cease to be God, as cease to be just. Whatever satisfaction is made, it must be founded in the reasons of his own justice, that is, of justice directed by infinitewisdom. The reasons of such justice we cannot comprehend; and therefore we must either be saved by means which are mysterious to us, or God must give us infinite wisdom to comprehend the reason of his justice. You see then, that from this notion of religion, considered as containing the means by which God has reconciled himself to sinners, it is so far from being absurd to suppose it in some parts mysterious, that it is not possible it should be otherwise.
To redeem the world is the work of God: he only could find the means of reconciliation, and he only could apply them: it is our part merely to accept them, and to obey the terms and conditions upon which he offers them. Religion, therefore, which is founded upon redemption, must needs consist of these two parts;—an account of the redemption wrought by God; and instructions to men upon what terms they may reap the benefit of the redemption. As far as our part goes in the Gospel, there is nothing mysterious. As to the other parts of the Gospel, we are not required to comprehend and account for God's methods of salvation, but only to accept them; which, as I before observed, are two distinct acts of the mind, and not dependent upon each other. As for the work of God in our redemption, it is indeed wonderful and mysterious: and why should it seem strange to you that it is so? Are there any other works of God which are not mysterious? Consider the creation and formation of this world; consider the sun, the moon, and the stars, the works of his hand; tell me by what secret power they move, by what rule their different motions were at first impressed, and by what secret in nature or providence ever since preserved. Or, if you think it hard to be sent to consider the heavens at a distance, do but consider the earth, and the meanest creatures of it. Can you tell how they are formed? how they live, and move, and have their being? Nay, can you name that work of God which is not mysterious? Is there any thing in nature, the first principles of which you can discover and see into? If in all the works of God there is no such thing, why should we think it strange that in his work of redemption he has appeared so like himself, and that in this, as in every thing else, his ways are past finding out? We live by the preservation of Providence, and enjoy the comforts and pleasures of this life; and yet how mysterious is our preservation! How little do we know of the methods by which we are preserved! and yet the benefits of it we enjoy, notwithstanding our ignorance of the means: and why is it a greater absurdity to suppose that men may be redeemed without comprehending all the means made use of in their redemption? In all other instances whatever, the miraculousness of an escape adds to the pleasure and joy of it, and is always remembered with a kind of ecstasy in the relation. Salvation is the only instance in which men demur upon the means, and are unwilling to receive the mercy because they cannot understand the methods of obtaining it. In any other case, a man would be thought beside himself who should act in the same manner.
As to the two other points, the cleansing of sinners from their iniquity, and enabling them to live virtuously for the future, or, in other words, the sanctification and grace promised in the Gospel; I shall not here enter into the consideration of them particularly, because the same way of reasoning is applicable in these cases, mutatis mutandis; and therefore I shall leave them at present to your own reflection.
Upon the whole: The only true and fair way of judging of the Gospel is, to consider what is the true state of mankind in the world. If men are in a state of purity and innocence, no redemption is wanting, and the methods prescribed in the Gospel bear no relation to their circumstances: but, if men have everywhere sinned, and come short of the glory of God, the law of nature cannot help them to those blessings which by the law of nature are forfeited; and there is manifestly a necessity to have recourse to other means to obtain salvation.
Considering, therefore, religion in this view, we shall have reason to conclude, that our only hope is in Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Redeemer; and to say with St. Peter, Lord, whither shall we go? Thou, thou only, hast the words of eternal life: and we believe, and are sure, that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.
WHEN we consider the great and wonderful work of our redemption, though we cannot account for every step of it to our own reason and understanding, yet neither can we imagine it to be the effect of mere will and arbitrary appointment, and void of all foundation in the reason and propriety of things. All the works of God are works of wisdom; and, as far as our capacities give us leave to judge, we discern evident marks of wisdom in them all, and discover a fitness and propriety in every thing with respect to the end which it is intended to serve or promote. If this be so in every instance in which we are able to make any judgment, it is a great presumption that it is, and must be so, in all other instances which are too high and great to be viewed and measured by human understanding: and we have one positive argument that it is so, arising from the natural notion that we have of God, and of his attributes of wisdom and justice. It is impossible to suppose such a Being to do any thing by chance, or in compliance to mere will and humour. No: every act of God is the act of infinite wisdom, and is founded in the necessary reason and propriety of things: and it is as true of the works of grace, as it is of the works of nature, that in wisdom he has ordained them all.
It is one thing, not to be able to discern the reasons of providence and grace; and another, to suppose there is no reason in them. The complete reasons which made it either necessary or proper for Christ to die for the sins of mankind, may be removed out of our sight: but to suppose that Christ really did die for the sins of the world, and yet that there was no reason or propriety in his so doing, is to found revealed religion upon a principle destructive of all religion; for no religion can subsist with an opinion that God is a Being capable of acting without reason.
The publication of the Gospel has given us new views in the scheme of religion, by revealing to us the eternal Son of God, whom God hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who is the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his Person; who upholdeth all things by the word of his power. Hebrews 1:2-3.
The knowledge of the Son of God, of his power and dominion in the creating and upholding of all things, becamenecessary as the foundation of the faith required to be placed in him as our Redeemer. The character of Redeemer would be but ill supported by any person who had not power equal to the great undertaking.
When we consider what expectations we have from our Redeemer, and what great promises he has made to us in his Gospel, we cannot possibly avoid inquiring who this person is: when we hear his promise to be always present with us to the end of the world, to support us under all our difficulties, it is but a reasonable demand to ask by what authority he does these things: and when we are told that he liveth for ever, and is the Lord of life and of glory, there is no room to doubt but he is able to do every thing which he has promised for his faithful people. St. Paul tells us, that the Lord Jesus Christ shall change our vile bodies, that they may be fashioned like unto his glorious body: a great expectation this! but consider what the reasonable foundation of this expectation is: St. Paul informs us, that it is the energy of power which Christ possesses, whereby he is able even to subdue all things to himself. Our Saviour places this article upon the same ground: hear his declaration; Verily, verily I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live. In the next verse, the reason follows: For, as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself, John 5:25-26. If the Son has life in himself, even as the Father has life in himself; if he be really endued with power to which all nature submits and obeys, a power sufficient for the creation of the world at first, and for the preservation of it ever since; we have reason to conclude, that he is now as able to restore life as he was at first to give it; to call men from the grave into being, as well as to call them out of nothing at the first creation.
St. Paul tells us expressly, that Christ is the head of the Church; a title founded in the right of redemption, that in all things he might have the pre-eminence; that, as he was the head of all creatures in virtue of having created them, so he might be the head of the church, the faithful people of God, in virtue of having redeemed them: For it pleased the Father, that in him should all fulness dwell; that is, that Christ should be all inall, the head of the second as well as of the first creation, Colossians 1:18. According to St. Paul's reasoning here, if any other person had redeemed the world, or if the world had been redeemed without Christ, he would not have had the pre-eminence in all things; which yet he had before sin came into the world; and, consequently, the sin of the world would have been the diminution of the headship and power of Christ. Upon these principles of the Gospel revelation, we may discern vast propriety in Christ's coming to redeem the world: the work was such, that no person of less power could undertake it; and his relation to the world was such, as made it fit and proper that he should be the Redeemer of it when lost.
The redemption of mankind is a work which in the event seems to concern men only: but, considered as a vindication of the justice and goodness of God towards his creatures, it is a work exposed to the consideration of every intelligent being in the universe. Whether they may be supposed to inquire into God's dealings with the children of men, we may judge by ourselves. It is little that we know of the fall of angels; yet how has thatemployed human curiosity! For every man considers himself as having an interest in the justice and equity of that Supreme Being under whose government he lives, and by whose judgment he must finally stand or fall. If we doubt whether the superior orders of beings have the like inclination, St. Peter will tell us, That the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow,—are things the angels desire to look into. 1 Peter 1:11-12. And indeed the method of God's dealing with any rational creature is a common concern to all; and it is for the honour of God's government to be vindicated in the sight of every intelligent being, that he may be justified in his saying, and overcome when he is judged.
If this be so, it must necessarily follow, that the redemption by Christ, though it relates immediately to men, must be agreeable to all the reason and relation of things, known or discoverable by the highest intellectual beings.
St. Paul tells us in his Epistle to the Hebrews, that Christ took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Angels sinned, and men sinned: men only are redeemed. If God is just, there must be reason for this, though not within our reach at present.
What relation these angelic beings stand in to us in many respects, I will not now inquire: but that they are not unconcerned spectators in the work of our redemption, is evident. Our Saviour tells us, There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. Luke 15:10. Again; He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. Revelation 3:5. Here the angels are mentioned as witnesses of the justice of the judgment, and not merely as attendants to make up the pomp and ceremony of judicature.
Since then the justice and equity of God in redeeming men are things which the angels desire and are concerned to look into; it is evident, that his justice and equity, and the reasons of Providence in this great affair, may be discernible to the highest order of intellectual beings, though not perfectly discoverable by us.
That this is probably the case may be hence learnt, that, where the Gospel has revealed to us any of these relations not discoverable by human reason, so far we can see the reason and propriety of this great work of our redemption.
But let us consider how well these principles and doctrines of the Gospel agree together, and how naturally the one flows from the other. When we view the sad condition of mankind, thesin, folly, and misery, which are in the world; and then turn to contemplate the perfections, the wisdom, and the goodness of Him who made us; some hopes spring up in us, that this confusion will some day find a remedy, and ourselves a release, from the goodness and wisdom of Him who formed us. I blame not these hopes, for they are just. But if we once have the knowledge of the eternal Son of God, and can discover that the world was made and is upheld by his power; that we are his immediate creatures and subjects, is it not reasonable in that case to found some hopes upon this relation? Ought we not to be willing to believe, that this great Person who made us will have some compassion upon the work of his own hands, if we seek him in his own prescribed way? Ought we not to hope to find in him at least an Intercessor on our behalf, an Advocate with the Father? Ought we not to be inclined to recommend to him all our pleas, to put all our interest into his hands, trusting that he cannot want bowels of affection towards the creatures whom he originally formed after his own image and likeness? We are indeed by nature dead in trespasses and sins; and it is the Spirit of Christ alone who can give the spiritual eye to discover effectually the sacred relations existing between Christ and his church. However the Gospel discovers to the believing soul these relations between Christ and theworld, and particularly the relations subsisting between Christ and his church; it requires from us such faith and hope, and such obedience, as flow from this relation; and could it possibly require less? Would it notbe absurd to tell us, that Christ is Lord of the world that is, and of that which is to come, and not to require us to have hope and confidence in him? Would it not be absurd to tell us, that he is the Lordof life and glory, and to bid us expect life and glory through any other hands than his?
From these and the like considerations we may discern how reasonable the religion of the Gospel is. It has indeed opened to us a new scene of things, discovering to us the ever-blessed Son of God, the Creator and Governor of the world, who is God over all, blessed for ever. What else it proposes to us results naturally from this relation between Christ and the world. This mysterious work of our redemption itself seems to have arisen from the original relation between the only begotten and eternal Son of God, and man the creature of God; and our Christian faith, in every article and branch of it, has a just foundation and support in the power, authority, and pre-eminence of the eternal Son of God. We may well believe that he has redeemed us, since we know that he made us. And, though all nature seems to frown on us, and to threaten death and destruction, from which no human power or cunning can deliver us; yet the hope of the faithful is stedfast and unmoveable, being placed in him who is able to subdue all things to himself.
The belief, that the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and arise to life, is one of the grand fundamental articles of a Christian's faith: if this be not well established, our hope and confidence are vain, and the preaching of the cross of Christ is foolishness.
Let us reflect a little how our case stands with respect to the prospect beyond the grave.
When we view the world in its present circumstances, and see the misery and oppression which are in it; when we consider that the distresses and sorrows arising from the weakness and the wickedness of men are in number and in weight ten times more than all the sufferings to which we are exposed by the mere frailty of our condition; we can hardly imagine that a wise and just God made the world to be what we find it is. When we look farther, and find that the best men oftentimes fare worst; that even the desire and endeavour to please God frequently exposes them to infinite sorrows in this world; we stand amazed, and are ready to doubt whether these appearances can be reconciled with the belief that God governs the world. But, since all nature proclaims the being and the power of God, and the visible things of the creation declare in every language of the world the wisdomand goodness of him who made them; under the force and conviction of this evidence that there is a God, we can find no possible way to account for his justice and goodness towards the children of men, but by supposing that he has appointed a clay in which he will judge the world in righteousness: and since this world evidently is not the scene of this judgment, we conclude there must be another, in which we shall stand before his tribunal. Scholars may reason of the nature of the soul, and the condition of it when separated from the body; but the common hopes of mankind receive no support from such inquiries. But something farther is necessary to give ease to the mind in this painful search after life and happiness. The numberless instances of mortality which we hear and see, the remains of those who left the world ages before we came into it, and are still mouldering in their tombs, form an undeniable evidence that death destroys this compound being which we call man. How to revive this union nature knows not; and as for those who make the spirits of men in the divided state to be perfect men, they seem to have formed a conclusion without consulting the premises.
Look now into the Gospel: there you will find every reasonable hope of man, nay, every reasonable suspicion, cleared up and confirmed, every difficulty answered and removed. Do the present circumstances of the world lead you to suspect that God could never be the author of such corrupt and wretched creatures as men now are? Your suspicions are just and well founded: God made man upright; but through the temptation of the devil sin entered, and death and destruction followed after.
Do you suspect, from the success of virtue and vice in this world, that the providence of God does not interpose to protect the righteous from violence, or to punish the wicked? The suspicion is notwithout ground. God leaves his best servants here to be tried oftentimes with affliction and sorrow, and permits the wicked to flourish and abound. The call of the Gospel is not to honour and riches here, but to take up our cross, and follow Christ.
Do you judge, from comparing the present state of the world with the notion that you have of God, and of his justice and goodness, that there must needs be another state in which justice shall take place? You reason right; and the Gospel confirms the judgment. God has appointed a day to judge the world in righteousness: then those who mourn shall rejoice, and the persecuted and afflicted servants of God shall be heirs of his kingdom.
Have you sometimes misgivings of mind? Are you tempted to mistrust this judgment, when you see the difficulties which surround it on every side; some which affect the soul in its separate state, some which affect the body in its state of corruption and dissolution? Look to the Gospel: there these difficulties are accounted for; and you need no longer puzzle yourself with dark questions concerning the state, condition, and nature of separate spirits, or concerning the body, however to appearance lost and destroyed; for the body and soul shall once more meet to part no more.
Would you know who it is that gives this assurance? It is one who is able to make good his word; one who loved you so well as to die for you; yet one too great to be held a prisoner in the grave. No; he rose with triumph and glory, the first-born from the dead, and will in like manner call from the dust of the earth the bodies of all those who put their trust and confidence in him.
But who is this, you will say, that was subject to death, and yet had power over death? How couldso much weakness and so much strength meet together? That God has the power of life, we know; but then he cannot die: That man is mortal, we know; but then he cannot give life.
Consider; does this difficulty deserve an answer, or does it not? Our blessed Saviour lived among us in a low and poor condition, exposed to much ill-treatment from his jealous countrymen. When he fell into their power, their rage knew no bounds: they reviled him, insulted him, mocked him, scourged him, and at last nailed him to a cross, where by a shameful and wretched death he finished a life of sorrow and affliction. Did we know no more of him than this, upon what ground could we pretend to hope that he will be able to save us from the power of death? We might say with the disciples, We trusted this had been he who should have saved Israel; but he is dead, he is gone, and all our hopes are buried in his grave.
If you think this ought to be answered, and that the faith of a Christian cannot be a reasonable faith, unless it be enabled to account for this seeming contradiction, I beseech you never more complain of the Gospel for furnishingan answer to this great objection, for removing this stumbling-block out of the way of our faith. He was a man, and therefore he died. He was the eternal Son of God, yea, God over all, blessed for ever; and therefore he rose from the dead, and will give eternal life to all his true disciples. He it was who formed this world and all things in it, and for the sake of man was content to become man, and to taste death for all, that all who faithfully receive him, may live through him. This is a wonderful piece of knowledge which God has revealed to us in his Gospel; but he has not revealed it to raise our wonder, but to confirm and establish our faith in Him to whom he hath committed all power, whom he hath appointed Heir of all things, even his own eternal Son.
Had the Gospel required of us to expect from Christ the redemption of our souls and bodies, and given us no reason to think that Christ possessed power equal to the work, we might justly have complained; and it would have been a standing reproach, that Christians believe they know not what. But to expect redemption from the Son of God, whose goings forth have been from everlasting, (Micah 5:2.)—the resurrection of our bodies from the same hand which at first created and formed them, are rational and well-founded acts of faith; and it is the Christian's glory, that he knows in whom he has believed.
That the world was made by the Son ofGod, is a proposition with which reason has no fault to find. That He who made the world should have power to renew it to life again, is highlyconsonant to reason. All the mystery lies in this, that so infinitely great a person should condescend to become man, and be subject to death for the sake of mankind. But are we the fit persons to complain of this transcendant mysterious love? Or, does it become us to quarrel with the kindness of our blessed Lord towards us, only because it is greater than we can conceive? No; it becomes us to bless and to adore this exceeding love of the great Jehovah, by which we may be saved from condemnation, by which we expect to be rescued from death; knowing that the power of our glorious Lord and Head is equal to his love, and that he is able to subdue all things to himself.
A PREFACE TO THE FOUR GOSPELS.
CONCERNING the authority of the Four Gospels, unquestionably owned by all Christians as sacred Scriptures, indited by those Apostles and Evangelists whose names they bear; and the reason why they, and they only, have obtained to be received as the authentic records of what our Saviour did, and spake, let it be noted:
1st, That Irenaeus informs us concerning Polycarp, that he was made bishop of Smyrna by the Apostles, and conversed with many who had seen the Lord: and from him Victor Capuanus cites a passage, in which we have the names of these four Gospels as we at present receive them, and the beginning of their several Gosp
2dly, That Justin Martyr, who, says Eusebius, lived not long after the Apostles, shews that these books were then well known by the name of Gospels, and such as were read by Christians in their assemblies every Lord's day; and we learn from him that they were even read by Jews, and might be read by Heathens; and, that we may not doubt that by the memoirs of the Apostles which, says he, we call Gospels, he meant these four received then in the church, he cites passages out of every one of them, declaring that they contained the words of Christ.
3dly, That Irenaeus, in the same century, not only cites them all by name, but declares that there were neither more nor less received by the church, and that they were of such authority, that though the heretics of his time complained of their obscurity, depraved them, and lessened their authority, saying, they were written in hypocrisy, and in compliance with the errors of those to whom they wrote, and with whom they conversed; yet durst they not wholly disown them, or deny them to be the writings of those Apostles whose names they bore: and he cites passages from every chapter of St. Matthew, and St. Luke, from fourteen chapters of St. Mark, and from twenty chapters of St. John.
4thly, That Clemens of Alexandria, having cited a passage from the Gospel according to the Egyptians, informs his reader that it was not to be found in the four Gospels delivered by the church.
5thly, That Tatianus, who flourished in the same century and before Irenaeus, wrote a Catena, or harmony of the four Gospels, which he named το διατεσσαρον, the Gospel gathered out of the Four Gospels. And that the apostolical constitutions name them all, and command that they be read in the church, the people standing up at the reading of them.
6thly, That these Gospels, being written, says Irenaeus, by the will of God, to be the pillars and foundation of the Christian faith, the immediate successors of the Apostles (who, says Eusebius, did great miracles by the assistance of the Holy Ghost, as they performed the work of evangelists in preaching Christ to those who had not yet heard the word,) made it their business, when they had laid the foundations of that faith among them, to deliver to them, in writing, the holy Gospels.
II. The mention of other gospels bearing the names of other apostles, or of gospels used by other nations, is so far from being derogatory from or tending to diminish the testimonies of the church concerning these four Gospels, that it tends highly to establish and confirm them, as will be evident from the following consideratio
1st, That we find no mention of any of these Gospels till the close of the second century, and of few of them till the third or the fourth century; that is to say, not till long after the general reception of these four Gospels by the whole church of Christ. For Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, who cite large passages from these four Gospels, make not the least mention of any other gospels noticed either by the heretics or by the orthodox.
2dly, They who speak of them in the close of the second, or in the following centuries, do it still with this remark; that the Gospels received by the church were four; and that these belonged not to them, nor to the evangelical canon. Clemens of Alexandria is the first ecclesiastical writer who cites the Gospel according to the Egyptians, and he does it with this note, that the words cited thence are not to be found in the four Gospels. In the same book, he cites another passage quoted by the heretics, as he conjectures from the same Gospel; but then he adds, these things they cite who would rather follow any thing than the true evangelical canon. Ibid. p. 453. Origen is the next who makes mention of them, and he does it with this censure, that they were the gospels not of the church, but of the heretics; among these he reckons, the Gospel according to the Egyptians, the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles, the Gospel according to St. Thomas, and Matthias, and others; but, says he, there are only four, whence we are to confirm our doctrine; nor do I approve of any other.
Eusebius is the next ecclesiastical writer who speaks of other Gospels, viz. The Gospel according to St. Peter, St. Thomas, and Matthias, and also of the Acts of St. Andrew, St. John, and other Apostles; but then, as Origen had told us that the heretics only had them, so he says, that they were published by them, and that they had no testimony from those ecclesiastical persons who continued down the other Gospels in a succession to them; and that the doctrine contained in them was much different from the catholic doctrine; whence he concludes, that they are the inventions of heretics, and are not so much as to be ranked among spurious books, but are to be rejected as wicked and absurd.
Seeingthen that these four Gospels were received without doubting or contradiction byall Christians from the beginning, as the writings of thoseApostles and Evangelists whose names they bear; and they both owned and testified that they were delivered to them by the Apostles as the pillars, foundations, and elements of their faith, even by those who preached that very Gospel to them which in these writings they delivered, or rather by that God who enabled them to preach, and directed them to indite these Gospels for that end: (2.) Seeing they were delivered by the immediate successors of the Apostles to all the churches which they converted or established, as a rule of faith: (3.) Seeing they were read from the beginning, as Justin Martyr testifies, in all assemblies of Christians, and that not as some other ecclesiastical writings were in some assemblies upon some certain days, but in all Christian assemblies on the Lord's day, and so must have been early translated into those languages in which alone they could be understood by some churches, viz. the Syriac and Latin: (4.) Seeing they were generally cited in the second century for the confirmation of the faith, and the conviction of heretics; and the president of the assemblies exhorted those who heard them to do and imitate what they heard: (5.) Seeing we never hear of any other gospels till the close of the second century, and then hear only of them with a mark of reprobation, or a declaration that they were ψευδεπιγραφα, falsely imposed upon or ascribed to the Apostles, that they belonged not to the evangelical canon, or to the Gospels delivered to the churches bysuccession of ecclesiastical persons, or to those Gospels which they approved, or from which they confirmed their doctrines, but were to be rejected as wicked, and absurd, and the inventions of rank heretics: All these considerations must afford us a sufficient demonstration, that all Christians then had an unquestionable evidence that they were the genuine works of those Apostles and Evangelists whose names they bore, and so were worthy to be received as the records of their faith: and then what reason can any persons of succeeding ages have to question what was so universally acknowledged by those who lived so near to that very age in which these Gospels wereindited,andwhoreceivedthemunderthecharacteroftheholyanddivineScriptures?
III. And yet even to this general and uncontrolled tradition we may add farther strength from the following considerations:
1st, That since our adorable Lord was a prophet, or a teacher sent from God, he must have left to his church some records of his Father's will; this King Messiah, being to reign for ever, must have some laws by which his subjects must be for ever governed; this Saviour of the world must have delivered to the world the terms on which they may obtain the great salvation purchased by him; or he must be in vain a Prophet, King, and Saviour; and so some certain records of those laws and those conditions of salvation must be extant. Now, unless the Gospels and other scriptures of the New Testament contain these laws, they must be wholly lost, and we must all be left under a manifest impossibility of knowing, and so of doing his will, and of obtaining those blessings which he has promised to his faithful followers. For to say tradition might supply the want of writing, is to contradict experience, since the traditions of the Jews made void that word of God which theyhad received in writing; and then how reasonable is it to believe that they would have much more done it, had no such writing been delivered? Again, our blessed Lord spake many things which were not written; he taught the multitude by the sea, Mark 2:13. beyond Jordan, Mark 10:1. in the synagogues of Galilee, Luke 4:15. at Nazareth, ver. 22. Capernaum, ver. 31 out of Simon's ship, Luke 5:3. and very often in the temple, John 7:14.-viii. 2. He interpreted to the two disciples going to Emmaus through out all the Scriptures the things concerning himself, Luke 24:27. He discoursed with his disciples after his resurrection touching the things of the kingdom of God, Acts 1:3. St. John assures us that there were exceeding many miracles that Jesus did which were not written, chap. Matthew 20:30. Now, whereas all those miracles and sermons which were written are intirely preserved, and firmly believed, tradition has not preserved one miracle or sermon to us which wasnever written, and therefore can be no sure record of the doctrine or the laws of Christ.
2dly, That it was necessary that the Christian doctrine or revelation should be preserved in some writing, may fairly be concluded from the Holy Scriptures; for if St. Paul thought it necessary to write to the church of Rome, to put them in remembrance, because of the grace given to him of God, Romans 15:15. as also to send to the Corinthians, in writing, the things they had read or did acknowledge, 2 Corinthians 1:13. and to write the same things which he had taught to his Philippians, chap. Matthew 3:1.: If St. Peter thought it needful to the Jewish converts, to testify to them that it was the true grace of God in which they stood, 1 Peter 5:12. and to stir up their sincere minds by way of remembrance, that they might be mindful of the commands of the Apostles of our Lord and Saviour, 2 Peter 3:1-2. though they at present knew them, and were established in the truth, 2 Peter 1:12-13.; and St. Jude to write to the same persons, to mind them of the common salvation, Jude 1:3. If the beloved Evangelist closes his Gospel with these words, These things were written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and believing might have life through his name: Surely these persons could not but think it necessary that the essential doctrines of Christianity should be written; and yet we are sure that they only have been written in those Gospels, and other Scriptures contained in the canonof the books of the New Testament, and therefore we cannot have any possible doubt of their authority. Add to this,
That the Apostles, and that Holy Spirit who did assist them in the inditing of these Gospels for the church's use, could not be wanting in causing them to be transmitted to those Christians for whose use they were indited, because they could not be wantingto pursue the end for which they were indited; for they being therefore written that they might know the certainty of those things in which they had been instructed, Luke 1:4. and partly to engage them more firmly to believe that Jesus was the Christ, they must very early commit them to those churches for whose sake they were written.
3dly, It is evident, that the immediate succeeding age could not be ignorant of what was thus delivered to them by the church from the Apostles, as the pillar and the ground of faith; nor is it easy to conceive that either they would have thus received them, had the Apostles given them no sufficient indication of them, or that they would have been esteemed so immediately the charters of the Christian faith, had not the Apostles delivered them to the churches under that character.
Lastly, We have good reason to suppose that the Providence of God, which was so highly interested in the propagation of the Christian faith, and making of it known to the world, would not permit false records of that faith to be so early and so generally imposed upon the Christian world.
IV. We may, with the strongest evidence of reason, conclude, that these four Gospels, and the other Scriptures received then without doubt or contradiction by the church, were handed down to them uncorrupted in the substantials of faith and practice. For, 1. These records being once so generally dispersed through all Christian churches, though at a great distance from each other, from the beginning of the second century: 2. They being so universally acknowledged and consented to by men of great parts and different persuasions: 3. They being preserved in their originals in the apostolical churches, among whom, says Tertullian, their original letters are recited, it being not to be doubted but they who received the originals from the Apostles, and who had authentic copies of them given to them by their immediate successors, would carefully preserve them to posterity: 4. They being multiplied into numerous versions almost from the beginning: 5. They being esteemed by the churches as digesta nostra, their law books, says Tertullian,—Books which instructed them to lead a divine life, say the Martyrs,—and believed by all Christians to be divine scriptures, says Origen, and therefore as the records of their hopes and fears: 6. They being so constantly rehearsed in their assemblies by men whose work it was to read and preach, and to exhort to the performance of the duties they enjoined: 7. They being so diligently read by Christians, and so riveted in their memories, that Eusebius mentions some who had them all by heart: 8. They being, lastly, so frequently quoted by Irenaeus, Clemens of Alexandria, Origen, and many more of the early fathers of the church, as now we have them: It must be certain from these considerations, that they werehanded down to succeeding generations pure and uncorrupt.
And indeed these things render us more secure that the Scriptures were preserved entire from designed corruption, than any man can be that the statutes of the land, or any other writings, histories, or records whatsoever, have been so preserved; because the evidence of it depends upon more persons, and they more holy, and so less subject to deceive, and more concerned that they should not be corrupted, than men have cause to be concerned for other records; and so we must renounce all certainty of any record, or grant that itis certain these are genuine records of the Christian faith. Again; any supposed corruption of the word of God, or substitution of any other doctrine than what has been delivered by the Apostles, could not be done by any part or sect of Christians, in such a manner that they who had embraced the faith, and used the true copies of the word of God in other churches of the Christian world, would not have found out the cheat: and therefore this corruption, if it were at all effected, must be the work of the whole mass of Christians: whereas it cannot rationallybesupposedthattheimmediatesucceedingagesshoulduniversallyconspire to substitute their own inventions for the word of God, and yet continue stedfast in and suffer so much for that faith which denounced the severest judgments against them who did corrupt this word: or that so many men should, with the hazard of their lives and fortunes, avouch the Gospel, and at the same time make such a change even in the frame and constitution of this doctrine, as made it ineffectual both to themselves and their posterity: nor can it reasonably be thought that they should venture upon that which, were the Gospel true or false, must needs expose them to the greatest evils, while they continued abettors of it. Lastly, that these sacred records of the word of God have not been so corrupted as to cease to be a rule of faith and practice, we argue from the Providence of God; for nothing seems more inconsistent with the wisdom and goodness of God, than to inspire his servants to write the Scriptures for a rule of faith and practice for all future ages, and to require the belief of the doctrine, and the practice of the rules of life plainly contained in it, and yet to suffer this divinely inspired rule to be insensibly corrupted in things necessary to faith or practice. Who can imagine that that God who sent his Son out of his bosom to declare this doctrine, and his Apostles by the assistance of the Holy Spirit to indite and preach it, and by so many miracles confirmed it to the world, should suffer any wicked persons to corrupt and alter any of those terms on which the happiness of mankind depended? This surely can be esteemed rational by none but such as think it not absurd to say that God repented of his good-willand kindness to mankind in the vouchsafing of the Gospel to them, or that he so far maligned the good of future generations, that he suffered wicked men to rob them of all the good intended to them by this declaration of his will. For since those very Scriptures which have been received as the word of God, and used by the church as such from the first ages of it, pretend to be the terms of our salvation, Scriptures indited by men, commissioned from Christ,—by such as did avouch themselves Apostles by the will of God, and for the knowledge of the truth which is after godliness in hope of life eternal, they must be in reality the word of God, or Providence must have permitted such a forgery as renders it impossible for us to believe and perform our duty in order to salvation. For if the Scriptures of the New Testament should be corrupted in any essential requisite of faith and practice, it must cease to make us wise unto salvation; and so God must have lost the end which he intended in inditing it. The objections which the Papists make on account of the various lections, are fully answered by Dr. Mills.
GENERAL REMARKS UPON THE FOUR EVANGELISTS.
THE Evangelists have given an abridged history of Jesus Christ. St. Matthew and St. Luke begin at his birth; the two others from the time of his receiving baptism at the hand of St. John the Baptist, which was at the beginning of the thirtieth year of his life, and the first of his ministry. It was sufficient to the comfort and faith of the church to know, that the Messiah, promised by so many oracles, and expected from the earliest ages of the world, was at length come; that in the course of his ministry he had fulfilled all the duties of his office, that he had died to atone for our sins, that be had risen again, and was ascended into heaven. And it could have been of little service to us to have been acquainted with all the particulars of his life from his birth till his ministry began. The prophets had foretold nothing in relation to it; and the Evangelists only acquainted us with what had reference to the predictions of the prophets; in order to shew us the full agreement of the events with the prophesies,—the Old Testament with the New.
Nothing essential, however, is wanting in the history of Christ: not one of the characteristics proper and essential to the Messiah is omitted; of this we have given undeniable proofs in the General Preface; and it would be superfluous to add any more, though it might easily be done. It is clear, then, that the whole of the Gospel History leads to the belief that Jesus is the Messiah: but it does not rest there: it shews us what the Messiah is, and what he has done for our salvation. Upon the first point it acquaints us, that the Messiah, who was born of a pure virgin, of the family of David, a man in that respect, and like unto us in all things, sin only excepted, is the Son of God, his own Son, his only Son, begotten before all worlds; the image of the Father, the brightness of his glory; equal to him, and God as he is; true God; God ever blessed, God almighty; the Creator of the world; the Judge of quick and dead. This truth appears throughout the four Gospels; and St. John's begins with it: In the beginning, says he, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word WAS GOD. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. And the Word was made flesh. John 1:1-2; John 3:14. This then is really what the Scripture requires us to believe of the Messiah; and not merely that Jesus is the Messiah. St. Peter well understood this, when, in reply to the question which Jesus asked of his disciples, Whom do men say that I am? he did not content himself with saying, Thou art the Christ, but immediately added, the Son of the living God. But, this being a mystery beyond the comprehension of man, our Lord thus answered his apostle; Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father which is in heaven. To say, after this, that the name Son of God was merely a title of the Messiah, as is asserted by those enemies to our mysteries, who would have all religion upon a level with their reason, is following prejudice alone, not listening to the Gospel. According to the Gospel, indeed, the Messiah and the Son of God are the same; but according to the same Gospel this Son of God existed actually and really before the Messiah was born into the world. John 1:1-2; John 8:58; John 17:5. and, according to the doctrine of the apostles, this Son of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, Philippians 2:6. the great God, Titus 2:13. and over all, God blessed for ever, Romans 9:5. Thus, according to the Gospel, the Messiah and the Son of God are the same, only because the Son of God, being made man, became, by the personal union of the human nature with the divine, an Immanuel, God and man, and thereby Messiah, Jesus, King of Israel, and Saviour of the world. And if the Jews, at the time that Christ came into the world, did commonly use the title Son of God to designate the Messiah, as may be collected from some parts of the Gospel, and if they understood the expression in a low and improper sense, the fault was in themselves. The royal prophet understood it very differently in the second Psalm, whence it probably came by degrees to be used commonly in the synagogue; for neither David, nor Isaiah, nor Jeremiah, nor Micah, nor Zechariah, nor Malachi, who all spoke of the Messiah as of God, as appears in the General Preface, had ever given theJews any latitude to use the august title of Son of God, as belonging to the Messiah, in any sense of diminution, or as merely an official title. But, if the ignorant Jews, did give the title of Son of God to the Messiah in an improper and figurative sense, is it from them that we are to learn in what sense the Gospel calls the Messiah the Son of God? They certainly attached wrong ideas to the words Messiah, King of Israel, Son of man, Saviour, redemption, kingdom of heaven, and many other expressions which Christ and his apostles found in common use among them, and which they retained. But, as we need not inquire of the Jews in what sense Christ and his apostles used these expressions, but of Christ and his apostles themselves, neither is it of the Jews, but of the evangelists and apostles, that we are to learn in what sense they called the Messiah the Son of God. Now the passages which we have quoted so clearly shew that it was not used as a title of dignity or office, but as a natural and specific name, that we must have a different gospel, before we can teach or understand it otherwise.
From these two truths, which shine throughout the Gospel, that Jesus is the Messiah, and that he is the Son of God, of the same nature with God the Father, the Evangelists lead us to a third, which depends upon the other two; namely, that the Messiah is the Saviour of the whole world, but especially of them that believe. It is impossible to give a clearer idea of a victim who dies to atone with its blood for the sins of others, than is given in an abundance of passages in sacred writ. And it is the uniform doctrine of the apostles, that it is the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, which cleanseth from all sin, 1 John 1:7. and that he was made to be sin for us (or the offering for our sins), that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, 2 Corinthians 5:21.
On these premises, that Jesus is the Messiah, that he is the Son of God, and God like his Father, that he died for us as a victim dies in the stead of the culprit, and that by his blood he has made expiation for our sins, the Evangelists everywhere teach us,—that, there is salvation only through Jesus Christ;—that there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12. Now, to believe in Jesus Christ, as he is depicted in the Gospel, is not only to believe that he is the Messiah, and that, having lived a holy life, and confirmed by miracles the truth of what he taught, he died on the cross to seal the truth of the same doctrine, nearly as we believe, by a faith merely historical, that St. Paul was sent from heaven to preach the Gospel, and that he piously and generously suffered martyrdom for the gospel that he preached;—but it is to believe in Christ's death and resurrection for pardon and real internal salvation. It is to such as thus believe in Christ, and not such as have merely an historical faith that he is the Messiah, that Christ has said, they have passed from death unto life, &c.
To all this Christ has added such strict rules of life, such frequent exhortations to preserve believers in obedience to God's commandments, that holiness could not be more strongly enforced under the law of works. This we find in all his discourses; and the Evangelists insist no less upon holiness and good works, than upon faith, as necessary to salvation. If faith produces not holiness in our heart, it is a false faith, which has the appearance of life, but is dead. God loves us that we may love him, and he forgives us that we may fear him. Such is the foundation of the Gospel, and a summary of the covenant of grace. The Evangelists are explicit upon these things, and we can scarcely read a page without finding them clearly expressed.
They have taken much pains also in detailing the frequent disputes which Christ, during the three years and a half of his ministry, had with the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the severe censures that he uttered against those two sects. John the Baptist had not sparedthem in his discourses (Matthew 3:7.); but Christ opposed them wherever he found them, and he found them almost everywhere; for it may be asserted, that the Pharisees and Sadducees divided the synagogue between them. The Pharisees by their traditions were become the leaders of the people; and, through the authority of their doctors, and the antiquity of certain dogmas and usages, they imposedwhatordinances they pleased upon the timid minds of the ignorant. Our Lord freed them from this unjust servitude; he thundered against thepride and hypocrisy of the Pharisees; and, by his constant exhortations to the people not to follow such treacherous guides, he taught thewhole church by no means blindly to submit to their leaders, or to admit into their religion, or receive among the articles of their faith, any doctrine merely upon the authority of their teachers, or of its antiquity. As for the Sadducees, they taught such monstrous errors, that it is almost incomprehensible how they could have raised a party or sect in the synagogue; for, had it been only that they denied the resurrection, that were sufficient to stamp them as impious men, who at one blow would overturn the whole of religion. Jesus Christ contended with them against this wicked doctrine; and, though they had great credit in the nation, and were almost at the head of the Sanhedrim, on account of the extraordinary corruptness of the synagogue at that time, as appears from Acts 5:17, our Lord opposed them powerfully, and publicly confounded their impiety. Hence he had both sects, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, for his bitter enemies; and it was these chiefly who conspired against his life, and brought him to the death of the cross. Their intentions were merely to destroy him, and to satisfy their revenge; but God availed himself of their injustice and cruelty to accomplish the greater of all his designs.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT MATTHEW.
GOSPEL signifies good tidings; and is of the same import with the original word ευαγγελιον. See Luke 2:10. The Gospel, according to St. Matthew, signifies the history of the good tidings preached by Jesus Christ, as it is related by St. Matthew, one of his immediate disciples and followers; who was the first Evangelist, and who, it is generally agreed, wrote his Gospel for the use of the Jewish converts at Jerusalem, as some suppose, about the year of our Lord 48 or 49; but as others, with more show of probability, about the year 38. See Dr. Campbell's fifth Preliminary Dissertation to the four Gospels, for a very full and accurate criticism on the word Gospel.