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down from the charge of licentiousness; because it is our professed design in the progress of this work to prove, from the history of the church, not only that these principles, when rightly understood, will infallibly produce obedience and submission to the whole will of God, but that these only can do it. Wherever and whenever the doctrines of free grace and justification by faith have prevailed in the Christian church, and according to the degree of clearness with which they have been enforced, the practical duties of Christianity have flourished in the same proportion. Wherever they have declined, or been tempered with the reasonings and expedients of men, either from a well meant though mistaken fear lest they should be abused, or from a desire to accommodate the Gospel, and render it more palatable to the depraved taste of the world, the consequence has always been an equal declension in practice. So long as the Gospel of Christ is maintained without adulteration, it is found sufficient for every valuable purpose; but when the wisdom of man is permitted to add to the perfect work of God, a wide door is opened for innumerable mischiefs-the divine commands are made void, new inventions are continually taking place, zeal is diverted into a wrong channel, and the greatest stress laid upon things, either unnecessary or unwarrantable. Hence, perpetual occasion is given for strife, debates, and divisions, till at length the spirit of Christianity is forgot, and the power of godliness lost, amidst fierce contentions for the form.
To sum up this inquiry in few words. The Gospel is a wise and gracious dispensation, equally suited to the necessities of man and to the perfections of God, It proclaims relief
to the miserable, and excludes none but those who exclude themselves. It convinces a sinner that he is unworthy of the smallest mercy, at the same time that it gives him a confidence to expect the greatest. It cuts off all pretence of glorying in the flesh, but it enables a guilty sinner to glory in God. To them that have no might, it increases strength; it gives eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame; subdues the enmity of the heart, shews the nature of sin, the spirituality and sanction of the law with the fullest evidence; and, by exhibiting Jesus as made of God, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption to all who believe, it makes obedience practicable, easy, and delightful. The constraining love of Christ engages the heart and every faculty in his service. His example illustrates and recommends his precepts, his presence inspires courage and activity under every pressure, and the prospect of the glory to be revealed is a continual source of joy and peace, which passeth the understanding of the natural man. Thus the Gospel filleth the hungry with good things, but it sendeth the rich and self-sufficient empty away, and leaves the impenitent and unbelieving in a state of aggravated guilt and condemnation.
Concerning the true ground of the opposition our Lord met with in the course of his ministry; and the objections and artifices his enemies employed to prejudice the people against him, and prevent the reception of his doctrine.
IF our knowledge of the history of Jesus was confined to the excellence of his character, and
the diffusive goodness that shone forth in all his actions; we should hardly conceive it possible that any people could be so lost to gratitude and humanity, as to oppose him. He went about doing good: he raised the dead, healed every disease, and relieved the distresses of all who applied to him, without any difference of cases, characters, or parties; as the sun, with a rich and unwearied profusion, fills every eye with his light. Wisdom flowed from his lips, and his whole conduct was perfect and inculpable. How natural is it to expect that a person so amiable and benevolent, so blameless and exemplary, should have been universally revered!*
But we find, in fact, it was far otherwise. Instead of the honours he justly deserved, the returns he met with were reproach, persecution, and death. The wonders of his power and goodness. were maliciously ascribed to Satan; he was branded as an impostor, a madman, and demoniac; he was made the sport of servants and soldiers, and, at length, publicly executed, with every possible circumstance of ignominy and torture, as a malefactor of the worst sort.
* The heathen moralists have supposed that there is something so amiable in virtue, that, could it be visible, it would necessarily attract the love and admiration of all beholders. This sentiment has been generally admired; and we need not wonder; since it flatters the pride of man, without thwarting his passions. In the Lord Jesus, this great desideratum was vouchsafed; virtue and goodness were pleased to become visible, were manifest in the flesh. But did the experiment answer to the ideas of the philosophers? Alas! to the reproach of mankind, Jews and Gentiles conspired to treat him with the utmost contempt. They loved darkness, and therefore could not bear the light. They had more compassion and affection for the most infamous malefactor; therefore, when the alternative was proposed to them, they released Barabbas, a robber and a murderer, and nailed Jesus and virtue to the cross.
What could be the cause and motives of such
injurious treatment? This is the subject of our present inquiry. It might indeed be answered very briefly (as it has been) by ascribing it to the peculiar wickedness and perverseness of the Jews. There is not a fallacy more frequent or pleasing to the minds of men, than, while they act contrary to present duty, to please themselves with imagining, how well they would have behaved in another situation, or a different age. They think it a mark of virtue to condemn the wickedness of former times, not aware that they themselves are governed by the same spirit. Thus these very Jews spoke highly of the persons of the prophets, while they rejected their testimony; and blamed their forefathers for shedding innocent blood, at the time they were thirsting for the blood of Jesus.* It is equally easy, at present, to condemn the treachery of Judas, the cowardice of Pilate, the blindness of the people, and the malice of the priests, who were all personally concerned in the death of Christ. It is easy to think, that if we had seen his works and heard his words, we would not have joined with the multitude in crying, Crucify him: though, it is to be feared, many, who thus flatter themselves, have little less enmity against his person and doctrine, than his actual murderers. On this account, I shall give a detail of the true reasons why Christ was opposed in the flesh, and of the measures employed against him, in order to show that the same grounds of opposition are deeply rooted in the fallen human nature; and how probable it is, that if he was to appear again in the same obscure manner, in any country now called by his name, he would meet
Matt. xxiii, 29, 30.
with little better treatment, unless when the constitution and laws of a civil government might interpose to prevent it.
But it may be proper, in the first place, briefly to delineate the characters of the sects or parties mentioned by the evangelists, whose leaders, jointly and separately, both from common and distinct motives, opposed our Saviour's ministry, and cavilled at his doctrine. These were the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians.
The Pharisees, including the Scribes (who were chiefly of this sect), were professedly the guardians of the law, and public teachers of the people. They were held in high veneration, by the common people, for the austerity of their deportment, the frequency of their devotions, and their exactness in the less essential parts of the law. They observed the traditions of the elders, were still adding to them; and the consequence was (as it will always be in such a case), that they were so pleased with their own inventions, as to prefer them to the positive commands of God; and their studious punctuality in trifles withdrew their regard from the most important duties. Their specious show of piety was a fair outside, under which the grossest abominations were concealed and indulged. They were full of pride, and a high conceit of their own goodness. They fasted and prayed, to be seen and esteemed of men. They expected reverence and homage from all, and challenged the highest titles of respect, to be saluted as doctors and masters, and to be honoured with the principal seats in all assemblies. Many of them made their solemn exterior a cloak for extortion and oppression; and the rest, if not hypocrites in the very worst
* See Matt. xxiii.; Mark, vii. 13.; Luke, xviii. 9—14.