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the miracles they could not deny, and maliciously ascribed them to the agency of the devil.* This pertinacious resistance to the conviction both of their senses and consciences, was the highest stage of impiety, and constituted their sin (as our Lord assured them) unpardonable. Not that any sin, considered in itself, is too great for the blood of Jesus to expiate; but, as they utterly renounced and scorned his mediation, there remained no other sacrifice, but they were judicially given up to incurable impenitence and hardness of heart. Yet it is probable, that even this black assertion was not without influence upon some who were wedded to their sins, and therefore glad of any pretext, how unreasonable soever, to refuse the testimony of truth.
6. Another means they made use of (the last we shall enumerate), and not the least effectual, to intimidate the minds of the people from acknowledging Jesus, was the convincing argument of violence and ill treatment. Having the power in their hands, they employed it against his followers, and made an agreement, that whoever confessed he was Christ, should be put out of the synagogue,† that is, excommunicated. This decree seems to have been made by the Sanhedrim, or great council, and to imply, not merely an exclusion from the rites of public worship, but likewise a positive punishment, equivalent to an outlawry with us. The fear of incurring this penalty restrained the parents of the man born blind, and prevented many others, who were in their hearts convinced that he was the Messiah, from owning him as such. They loved the world, they
‡ John, xii. 42.
* Matt. xii. 24.
† John, ix. 22.
preferred the praise of men to the praise of God, and therefore remained silent and neuter.
From such motives, and by such methods, our Lord was resisted and opposed by the heads of the Jewish nation. The scribes and teachers, to whom the key of knowledge was by authority committed, disdained to use it themselves, and those who were willing they hindered. Had they been wise and faithful, they would have directed the people to Christ; but, on the contrary, they darkened the plainest Scriptures, and perverted the clearest facts, to prevent, if possible, his reception. In vain "he spoke as never man spoke," and multiplied the wonders of his power and love in their presence. In vain to them. They pursued him with unwearied subtilty* and malice; traduced him to the people and to the government, and would be satisfied with nothing less than his death. So obstinate and wicked is the heart of man; so fatal are the prejudices of pride and worldly interest. For, as we observed before, these tempers were not peculiar to the Jews; they are essential to depraved nature, and operate universally, where the grace of God does not make a difference. To this hour the Gospel of Christ is opposed upon the same grounds, and by the like artifices, as were once employed against his person.
The doctrines which his faithful ministers deduce and enforce from the written word are no other than what he himself taught, namely, a declaration of his personal honours and authority, of the in
* Mark, xii. 13. They sent unto him certain of the Pharisees to catch him. Aypevw expresses the art and assiduity of sportsmen, in the various methods they use to ensnare, entangle, or destroy their game. It well suits the spirit and design of our Lord's enemies in the question proposed, and is finely contrasted by the meekness and wisdom of his answer.
sufficiency of formal worship, in which the heart is not concerned, of the extent and spirituality of the law of God, and of salvation, freely proclaimed to the miserable, through faith in his name. The self-righteous, the self-wise, and all who are devoted to the pleasures and honours of the world, have each their particular exceptions to these truths. The wisdom of God they account foolishness, and the language of their hearts is, "We will not have this man to reign over us." And the success of these doctrines, which is chiefly visible among such as they have been accustomed to despise, is equally offensive; yet so inconsistent are they, that if, here and there, a few persons, who were before eminent for their rank, attainments, or morality, are prevailed on to "account all things but "loss and dung for the excellency of the know"ledge of Christ Jesus their Lord;" this, instead of removing their first objection, excites their rage and contempt still more.
And as the motives of their hatred, so their methods of expressing it, are the same. They are not ashamed to adopt and exaggerate the most vulgar misconceptions: they set the Scripture at variance with itself; and, while they pass over the plainest and most important passages unnoticed, they dwell upon a few texts of more dubious import, and therefore more easily accommodated to their sense; with these they flourish and triumph, and affect a high zeal in defence of the word of God. They reproach the pure Gospel as licentious, because it exposes the vanity of their singularities and will-worship; and are desirous to bind heavier burdens upon men's shoulders, which few of themselves will touch with one of their fingers. They enlarge on the weakness and ignorance of those who mostly receive. the new
doctrine, and intrench themselves under the sanction of learned and dignified names. They even venture to explode and vilify the evident effects of God's grace, and ascribe the agency of his Spirit to enthusiasm, infatuation, and madness, if not expressly to diabolical influence. And, lastly, so far as Divine Providence permits, they show themselves actuated by the primitive spirit of oppression and violence, in pursuing the faithful followers of the truth with censures and penalties.
But let who will rage, and imagine vain things, Jesus is the King in Zion. He is "the same yes'terday, to-day, and for ever." There were a happy few in the days of his flesh who beheld his glory, trusted on him for salvation, and attended him amidst the many reproaches and sufferings he endured from sinners. Of these, his first witnesses, we are to speak in the following chapter. His Gospel likewise, though opposed by many, and slighted by more, is never preached in vain. To some, it will always be the power and wisdom of God; they know in whom they have believed, and therefore are not ashamed to appear in his cause against all disadvantages. Supported and encouraged by his Spirit, they go on from strength to strength, and are successively made more than conquerors, by his blood, and the word of his testimony.
Observations on the calling and characters of our Lord's Apostles and Disciples, previous to his Ascension.
FROM what has been observed in the preceding chapters, it is evident that those who assert a principle of free-will in man, sufficiently enabling him to choose and determine for himself when the truths of the Gospel are plainly laid before him, do thereby (so far as in them lies) render the salvation of mankind highly precarious, if not utterly hopeless and impracticable. Notwithstanding God was pleased to send his own Son with a gracious message; notwithstanding his whole life was a series of wonders, and all his actions discovered a wisdom, power, and goodness answerable to his high character; notwithstanding the time, manner, and design of his appearance and sufferings had been clearly foretold; yet, so far as a judgement can be made from the event, he would certainly have lived and died in vain, without influence or honour, without leaving a single disciple, if the same grace that provided the means of redemption had not engaged to make them effectual, by preparing and disposing the hearts of sinners to receive him.
In the account given us by the evangelists of those who professed themselves his disciples, we may discern, as in miniature, the general methods of his grace; and, comparing his personal ministry with the effects of his Gospel in all succeeding times, we may be assured that the work and the power are still the same. The choice he made of his disciples, the manner of their calling, their characters, and even their defects and failings, in