Imatges de pàgina

circumstances, and the great honours he vindicated to himself, rejected him with disdain.

But farther. The late appearance of Christ in the world gave room for the full accomplishment of the prophecies concerning him, which had been repeated at different times with increasing clearness and precision; insomuch, that the time, place, and every circumstance of his birth, life, and death, had been distinctly foretold. Thus the truth and authority of the Old Testament were confirmed; and the wisdom, power, and providence of God, over-ruling and directing the contingencies of human affairs to produce this grand event in its determinate period, were displayed to the highest advantage. And as the state of the moral world made his presence highly necessary, so God, in due time, disposed the political state of mankind in such a manner as to prepare the way for a speedy and general publication of the Gospel through the world.

It would be pleasing to consider how the rise, and fall, and change of empires, were made successively subservient to introduce the kingdom of Jesus. But this would lead me beyond my present bounds. I can only just hint at two or three events which had a more general influence. The first is, the rapid progress of Alexander, whose extensive conquest, divided amongst his successors, laid the foundation of four powerful monarchies, and opened an intercourse between countries till then unknown to each other. By this means the Greek tongue became familiar and common to many nations; and soon after the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into that language, and the prophecies concerning the Messiah were laid open to the Gentiles. To this may be added the several dispersions of the Jews; who, upon


various occasions, had been settled in almost considerable city under the heathen governments. By their traditions and prophecies, imperfectly understood, a general expectation had been raised of some extraordinary deliverer, who would shortly appear. Lastly, by the growth of the Roman empire, many nations and people, who were before acquainted by means of one common language, became more closely united under one dominion. Every province had a necessary connexion with Rome; and Rome was the centre and resort of the greatest part of the then habitable world.

As to the Jews, many things concurred to animate their wishes and expectations of the Messiah's approach. The prophecies were in their hands. Many of their wise men were apprised that the term of seventy weeks, spoken of by Daniel, was drawing to a period. The sceptre seemed departing from Judah; they groaned under a foreign yoke, from which, they vainly imagined, the Messiah would set them free, and give them, in their turn, a temporal dominion over the nations of the earth. Though this mistake prompted them to reject Christ when he preached a deliverance unsuitable to their worldly notions, yet it made them solicitous and eager for the appearance of the person on whom their hopes were fixed. A few amongst them, however, better instructed in the true meaning of the prophecies, were secretly waiting, in the exercises of faith and prayer, for the consolation of Israel.*

From this general view of the moral and political state of mankind, and the leading designs of divine revelation and providence, previous to the birth of Christ, we may conclude, that the time * Luke, ii. 25.

fixed on from before the foundation of the world for his actual exhibition amongst men was not an arbitrary, but a wise and gracious appointment; a determination admirably suited to place the most important truths in the strongest light. In this way, the depravity, misery, and helplessness of man, the mercy of God, and the truth of the Scriptures, were unquestionably proved to all succeeding times. The necessity of a Saviour was felt and acknowledged; and the suitableness, allsufficiency, and condescension of Jesus, when he undertook and accomplished the great designs in which his love engaged him, were more strongly illustrated by the preceding contrast. He knew the whole human race were sinners, rebels, enemies against God: he knew the terms, the price of our redemption; that he must obey, suffer, weep, and die. Yet he came. He emptied himself of his glory and honour, and took on him the form of a servant, to bring the glad tidings of salvation to men. In effect, the Gospel of Christ soon appeared to be the great desideratum, and completely redressed the evils which philosophy had given up as desperate. The genius and characteristic marks of this Gospel will be considered in the following chapter.


The Character and Genius of the Gospel, as taught and exemplified by Christ.

A SUCCINCT history of the life of our Lord and Saviour is no part of our plan. This the inspired evangelists have performed with the highest advan

tage and authority; and their writings (through the mercy of God) are generally known and read in our own tongue. It will be sufficient for me to select a few passages from them, to explain and confirm the several points I have proposed to treat of in this book, as principles whereon to ground our observations on the spirit and conduct of after-times.

At present I propose to state the true character and genius of his doctrine. This may seem a digression from my main design; but, as I shall often have occasion to speak of the Gospel, and the opposition it has met with, it will not be improper, in the first place, to exhibit a general idea of what we mean by the Gospel; especially as the professed followers of Christ have been, and still are, not a little divided upon the point.

We may describe the Gospel to be-A divine revelation in the person of Jesus Christ, discovering the misery of fallen man by sin, and the means · of his complete recovery by the free grace of God, through faith, unto holiness and happiness. The explication and proof of these particulars from our Lord's express declarations, and the tenour of his conduct, will sufficiently point out the principal marks and characters of his Gospel. But before we enter upon this, two things may be premised.

1. Though I confine myself to the writings of the evangelists in this disquisition, yet it should be remembered, that whilst our Lord was visibly conversant with men, he did not ordinarily discover the whole system of his doctrine in express terms. He spoke to the multitude, for the most part, in parables,* and was not forward to proclaim himself the Messiah upon every† occa+ Ch. xvi. 20.

Matt. xiii. 10, 11.

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sion. And, even in his more intimate discourses with his disciples, he taught them with a wise and gracious accommodation to their circumstances and weakness.* The full explanation of many things, he referred to the time when, having accomplished his wish, and returned victorious and triumphant into heaven, he should send down, according to his promise, the Holy Spirit to enlighten and comfort his people. Then,† and not before, they fully understood the meaning of all they had seen and heard while he was with them.

2. The doctrine of the Gospel is not like a mathematical problem, which conveys precisely the same degree of truth and certainty to every one that understands the terms. If so, all believers would be equally enlightened, who enjoy the common privilege of the written word. But there is, in fact, an amazing variety in this respect. Where this doctrine is truly understood, though in the lowest degree, it inspires the soul with a supreme love to Jesus, and a trust in him for salvation. And those who understand it best have not yet received all the evidence, comfort, and influence from it which it is capable of affording. The riches of grace and wisdom in this dispensation are unsearchable and immense, imparted in different measures, and increased from time to time, according to the good pleasure of the Spirit of

* John xvi. 12. 25. Our Lord taught his disciples gradually; their knowledge advanced as the light, or (according to his own beautiful simile) first the blade, then the ear; first green corn, then fully ripe. He considered their difficulties, he made allowance for their infirmities. It is to be wished his example was followed by all who teach in his name. Some are so hasty, they expect to teach to others in one discourse or interview, all that they have attained themselves by the study and experience of many years.

+ Mark, ix. 10.; John, ii. 22. ‡ Ephes. iii. 8. § 1 Cor. xii. 11.



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