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The History of the Life of Jefus Christ, taken from the New Testament; with Obfervations and Reflections proper to illuflrate the Excellence of his Character, and the Divinity of his Miffion and Religion. By the late Rev. George Benton, D. D. 4to. 17s. bound. Buckland, &c.
HE Rev. Mr. Amory, who has prefixed to this hiftory a short, but candid and judicious, account of the life, character, and writings of the Author, acquaints us, that it was Dr. Benson's ambition to close his learned labours for ferving the Christian cause, with his Hiftory of the Life of Chrift; that he applied to this work for fome years before his death; that it is published from his manufcript, which had undergone the correction of feveral of his friends, and which he himself bad transcribed for the prefs.-The work is not one continued narrative, but composed of distinct differtations, on the principal parts and circumftances of our Saviour's life and character. In thefe differtations, feveral of which might with more propriety be intitled Sermons, the Reader will find frequent repetitions, not a few things that are to be met with in the Doctor's other writings, and but little that is new. There are, indeed, many excellent obfervations in them, many paffages of Scripture well illuftrated, and abundant proofs of the Author's being well acquainted with his fubject, of his being a diligent Searcher after truth, and a fincere friend to freedom of enquiry. His manner of writing is far from being sprightly and animated: he feems, indeed, to have had little or no imagination; and he appears in this, as in all his other works, rather in the character of a judicious and laborious Compiler, than in that of a fagacious Critic, or original Writer.
As the candid Reader will not expect a regular abstract of so large a work, he will, perhaps, be fatisfied with a fhort view of its contents. It is divided into fifteen chapters; in the first of which the Doctor enquires into the nature, end, and design of our Saviour's baptifm, which Critics and Commentators have exercifed their talents upon, he fays, but have not elucidated so much as might be wifhed. He affigns the following reafons for Chrift's fubmitting to, and chufing this ceremony of initiation.
1. John the Baptift's miffion, miniftry, and baptifm, were of God. He was raifed up as a Prophet in Ifrael, to point out Jefus, as the Meffiah, or to introduce him into the world in that character. And Jefus defiring to be baptized by John, tended to give weight and confirmation to the miffion, ministry, and baptifm of John. John was, indeed, generally believed to be a Prophet; but he worked no miracles: now, the being owned by his principal, who worked many miracles, muft give weight to his character. John's miniftry was of God; and to comply with any, and every, thing of divine appointment, was to fulfill all righteoufnefs.
2. It is poffible that our bleffed Lord might be baptized, partly, with a view to fet an example to his followers, of the manner in which they were to be initiated into his church, or religion. And accordingly the Apoftles, and great numbers of the firft Chriftians, were firft baptized with water; and afterwards with the holy Spirit.-In like manner, fome Kings and Generals have entered themselves, or their own names, at the head of the mufter-roll, or lift of their own foldiers, or army.
3. The principal reafon for our Lord's being baptized, feems to have been, that he might be folemnly initiated into the high, facred, and important office of the Meffiah, or the great Teacher and Saviour of mankind.
. In the fecond chapter, the Doctor endeavours to explain the texts relating to our Lord's temptation, and makes remarks and obfervations upon it; he has advanced nothing, however, in our opinion, that tends to remove the difficulties which attend this fubject. In the third, he confiders the doctrine preached by Chrift; and obferves, that the promoting of piety and virtue, the giving men wife and ufeful inftructions, was the defign of all his miniftry, of all his preaching, and of all his doctrine; not only of his fet and folemn difcourfes, but of his occafional ones. The Gofpel, however, we are told, is not a mere republication of the law of nature. It contains the true doctrine, concerning the perfon, nature, and offices of our Lord Jefus; teaches us what we ought to believe concerning him, what relation we ftand in to him, and what duties he requires of us.
As there is only one God, the Father, fo there is only one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jefus: we are alfo taught to worship God, even the Father, through Jefus Christ our Lord. Chriftians are to be initiated into his religion by baptifm; whereby they are bound to all the obligations, (we ufe the Author's own words) and intitled to all the privileges, of his Difciples. They are alfo, afterwards, to obferve the Lord's fupper; and in that manner to fhew forth Chrift's death till he come. They are to look upon themfelyes always, as his fervants; uniformly to behave as the fubjects of his kingdom of righteoufnefs; and to make confcience of obferving whatever he has commanded. And in this way, they may look forward to the bleffed hope, the grand and glorious appearance of the Lord Jefus Chrift; when he comes to be glorified of his Saints, and to be honoured and adored by all thofe who have loved and obeyed him.
After confidering the example of Chrift, in the fourth chapter, our Author proceeds, in the fifth, to treat of his extenfive knowlege. And here the judicious Reader will be pleafed with the explication of feveral texts of Scripture, from the confideration, that Jefus knew the hearts of all men, and could talk to their thoughts, as we do to each other's words or actions. The Doctor produces many remarkable proofs of our Saviour's penetrating knowlege, and draws many juft inferences from it. He obferves, that it must have been of the greatest service, in the preaching of his doctrine. He knew every man; not only his outward appearance and profeffion, but his real views, and inward difpofition. He could, therefore, fuit his doctrine exactly to the characters of his hearers; could inftruct fuch as were really ignorant; folve the fcruples of the honeft enquirer; condemn criminal prejudices; patiently bear with fuch as were dull of apprehenfion, but prevailingly honeft; throw comfort into the minds of the difconfolate; unmask the hypocrite; preach repentance to fuch as were fecretly vicious, as well as to thofe who were openly fo; applaud and confirm the wife and good, and enable them to carry their piety and virtue to a much greater height; convey inftruction into the minds of unexperi enced youth, and add wildom to grey hairs.
The Doctor obferves farther, that our Saviour, by his extenfive knowlege of men, and their characters, knew perfectly well when, where, upon whom, and in what circumftances, to work any of his miracles; that he could eafily tell, whom to receive as faithful Difciples, and whom to reject, as unfaithful ;—that he knew, from among the multitude of his difciples, whom to felet for Apoftles, how to train them up for that high and ufeG 2
ful office, and likewife when they were thoroughly prepared, and fit to be sent out.
The choice of Judas Iscariot to be one of the twelve Apoftles, and our Lord's treatment of him, is not only capable, we are told, of a just defence, but is one of the ftrongest and most ftriking proofs of Chrift's extenfive knowlege, fpotlefs innocence, high dignity, and confummate character. The clear and full teftimony of fuch a determined villain, as Judas Ifcariot was in reality, our Author fays, the teftimony of an enemy, who proclaimed our Lord's innocence, even after he had betrayed him, and had the moft preffing occafion, to have cleared himself, and condemned Jesus, if he had known any thing criminal in his conduct.
Our Author obferves ftill farther, that our Saviour, by his clear and comprehenfive knowlege, was conftantly aware of the fecret views of his enemies, faw through all their dark designs and pretences; was always able to avoid the fnares laid for him; had a proper answer ready for every queftion; confounded all their devices, expofed their ignorance, weakness, hypocrify, and malice; rendered them contemptible in the eyes of the multitude; and gave them the most faithful admonitions, and kindeft advice.
Of the feveral paffages which the Doctor explains from the confideration of our Saviour's amazing knowlege, there is one that appears to receive a remarkable illuftration from it, viz. the converfation with Nicodemus. By bearing in our minds what is intimated, in the conclufion of the second chapter of St. John's Gofpel, namely, that Jefus knew every man's heart, and most secret thoughts; and fuppofing that he talked to Nicodemus's thoughts, the third chapter, we are told, will contain a perfect dialogue, between Nicodemus and our Lord. But, upon any other fuppofition, the whole converfation will appear like cross questions, or like two perfons talking to one another, upon different fubjects, and, by no means, attending and replying to one another.-The whole of what our Author advances upon this fubject deferves attention, and is, indeed, in our opinion, the most valuable part of his performance.
After treating of our Saviour's miracles and parables, in the fixth and seventh chapters, the Doctor proceeds, in the eighth, to confider the nature of his Kingdom, and beftows a long fection on his Transfiguration. He obferves, that in our common English verfion, the Scriptures are, in feveral places, injudicioufly divided into chapters and verfes, and that the connection is thereby greatly obfcured. The chapters which give an account of the Transfiguration of our Lord, ought to have begun, he
fays, Matth. xvi. 13. &c. Mark viii. 27. &c. Luke ix. 18. &c. and then every one might more eafily have perceived the
Our Lord's Transfiguration, we are told, was promised, and given, moft evidently, as an emblem of that power and glory in which he is to appear, when he comes to judge the world, at the last day. The two illuftrious perfonages who appeared with our Lord at his glorious Transfiguration, to do him honour, and to bear teftimony to his high character, and transcendent dignity, were the most proper of all perfons whatever.
Mofes had been the greatest Prophet that ever God had raised up, till Jefus came. He had led the nation of Ifrael out of Egypt; at his command the Red-fea had divided, and a wide paffage opened in its waves, till above two millions of Ifraelite's had paffed through the channel, as on dry land. He had, by divine direction, formed Ifrael into a nation, and given them the Law. He had worked many miracles, in proof of his divine miffion. He had alfo prophefied, of God's raifing up a Prophet from among the Jews, who should also be a Lawgiver, like unto himself. And now, he appeared to manifeft, or confirm it, that that was the very prophet of whom he had formerly prophefied.
Elijah also was raised up by God, as a most eminent Prophet, next in dignity to Mofes; when God's peculiar people were degenerated into idolatry and vice. He had borne his teftimony for God against Baal; and amidst many difficulties and difcou ragements, had recalled Ifrael to the obfervation of the Law given by Moses.
Mofes, with great propriety, reprefented the Law; and Elijah the Prophets. And those two moft illuftrious perfonages appearing together, to do honour to Jefus, were an emblematic declaration, that unto him did Mofes and the Prophets bear witnefs; and confirmed the three leading Apoftles, that Jefus was certainly the Meffiah, or the well-beloved Son of God.
When Mofes and Elias, or the Law and the Prophets vanished, then came there a voice from God, out of the midst of the cloud of glory, faying unto the Apoftles, This is my beloved Son, bear ye him. In other words, As you have hitherto regarded the Law and the Prophets, for the rule of your religion, do you, for the future, attend to the Gospel of my dear Son, for the rule of your religion, and diligently obey him.'-In this connection the Apostles were directed to hear and regard our bleffed Lord, as the great Prophet and Lawgiver of the Church, prophefied of by Mofes and the fucceeding Prophets. His doctrine, as laid down in the New Teftament, is to be the rule of our faith, G 3