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phers; and of true philosophy the first business is to explore and to display the agency of a benevolent power. For instance, there exists not so decisive a proof of design, and of contrivance to accomplish it, as in the structure of the eye of animals; but this proof, and indeed, this contrivance entirely depends upon optical principles; which principles can only be known and explained by the application of a very subtle geometry. Observe, therefore, how we ascend from lines and angles to the most momentous and sublime truths. These enable us to trace the action of different surfaces and different media upon rays of light; which being ascertained, we discover in the organ of vision an apparatus, complex indeed, which increases the wonder, but accurately adapted to that action. What is this but to discover God? The same remark, if not more true, is perhaps still more striking, when applied to astronomy. Not the conjecture, for active imaginations can conjecture any thing, but the demonstration of that system, is justly ranked amongst the noblest efforts of the human intellect. Yet could it be conceived, unless we knew it to be so, that whilst Newton and his predecessors in the same studies were investigating the properties of a conic section, they were tracing the finger of the Almighty in the heavens? Nor let it be said that this is foreign from Christianity; for the presence in the universe of a supreme mind being once established upon these principles, the business of religion is half done. Of such a being we can never cease to think. We shall receive with readiness the history of his dispensations, and with deeper submission every intimation of his will. Of the several branches of natural history the application is more obvious. They all tend to the discovery or confirmation of a just theology; they inspire those sentiments which Christianity wishes to find in her disciples. But here we are met by a reflection more than sufficiently discouraging, arising from the imbecility of our faculties, and the frequent disappointment and unsatisfactoriness of our inquiries. Did learning, in the several subjects upon which it is employed, turn darkness into light, doubt into certainty, or always remove our difficulties, every step in its progress would be marked by pleasure and contentment; but a different representation is nearer to the truth. Some doubts will continue, some difficulties will remain, in a great degree such as they were, and new ones will spring up. Yet much, after all these deductions, will be gained; and for the rest, we have the consciousness to rely upon, that we have discharged our duty to the subject and the inquiry, according to the measure of our faculties and opportunities, and the assurance, that having done this, neither ignorance, nor doubt, nor error, will be imputed to us as voluntary offences; that although they may sometimes perplex, as they will do, or distress us here, we have nothing to fear from their consequences hereafter. Much, I say, will after all be gained; and in no article of satisfaction shall we perceive the advantage of a contemplative life more than in that fixedness of temper by which we shall be taught to view the changes and chances of a transitory world. Many secular studies have this tendency. When a philosopher surveys the magnificence and stability of nature, seen in regions of immeasurable space, worlds revolving round worlds with inconceivable rapidity, yet with such exactness as to be found to circumvolve at the point where they are expected; or when he sees upon the globe which he inhabits the same nature proceeding in her grand and beneficial operations with unconcerned regularity; when from these speculations his mind is carried to observe the strifes and contentions of men, the rise and decline of their institutions and establishments, what does he experience in the greatest of these changes but the little vicissitudes of little things? Again, when he advances his meditations from the works of nature to its Author, his attributes, his dispensations, his promises, his word, his will ; most especially, when he looks to the wonders and the mercies of a renovated existence, to the tutelary hand of his Creator conducting him safely through the different stages of his being, through the grave and gate of death to an order of things disposed and appointed for the reward of faith and virtue, as the present is for trial and improvement; when he reflects how entirely this change supersedes all others, how fast it approaches, and how soon it will take place, in what a state of inferiority, I had almost said of indifference, is every interest placed in which it is not included ? And if ever there was a time when that steadfastness of mind, which ought to result from the study and contemplation of divine subjects, is more wanted than at another, it is the present. It is our lot to live in a disturbed and eventful period. During the concussions which have shaken, and are yet shaking, the social edifice to its foundation; in the fate which we have seen of every thing man calls great, of power, of wealth, and splendor; where shall thought find refuge, except in the prospects which Christianity unfolds, and in a well grounded confidence that Christianity is true 2 And this support will not fail us. Erect amidst the ruins of a tottering age, the pilgrim proceeds in his course without perturbation or dismay; endeavouring, indeed, according to his power, and interceding earnestly for, the peace and welfare of a world through which he is but directing his constant eye to a more abiding city; to that country beyond the great river, to which the sojourning tribes are bound, and where there remaineth rest for the people of God.
MATTHEw XI. 3.
THE advent of Jesus Christ into the world, which the order of our public service proposes at this season to our thoughts, the appearance he made, and the character he assumed, compared with the circumstances and expectations of the age and country in which he lived, contain attestations to the truth of the evangelical history which I shall make it my business, as it will not be unsuitable to the occasion, to lay before you; and suggest reflections which will serve, both to confirm the truth of our religion, and to explain some points and passages of the New Testament which are well deserving of observation.
It is clearly to be collected from scripture, that about the time of our Lord’s coming, some great person, who was to be called Messiah or Christ, by the Jews, was expected to appear amongst them, who also would prove a mighty chief and conqueror, and by the aid, it should seem, of supernatural powers, not only deliver the Jewish nation from the subjection into which they had been brought to the Roman government, but place that nation and himself at the head of them, in the highest condition of prosperity, and in possession of the universal empire of the world. Traces of this opinion, both of the coming of this extraordinary person, and of what he was to do when he did come, are dispersed in various parts of the New Testament. ‘Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” “When Christ cometh, will he do more,” or do
more miracles, ‘than this man doeth?’ ‘I know,” saith the woman of Samaria, ‘that Messias cometh; when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is ; tell us whether thou be Christ or no.” Herod demanded of the wise men where Christ should be born. It was revealed to Simeon that he should not die before he had seen Christ. ‘Shall Christ come out of Galilee?” ‘Hath not the scripture said that Christ cometh of the seed of David P’ ‘We know that Christ abideth for ever.” “Men mused in their hearts of John, whether he was the Christ.’ From these, and some other similar expressions, it is manifest that there was a previous and prevailing expectation that an extraordinary person, who was to be called Christ, or the Messiah, was at that time to appear. Then as to the second point, what he was to do when he came ; “We trusted it had been he,” said his two disciples, ‘who should have saved Israel.” And again, upon his appearance to them after his resurrection, ‘Wilt thou at this time,’ they asked him, ‘restore again the kingdom to Israel 2’ And this notion of theirs, that he was to set up a kingdom upon earth, and become a mighty prince and conqueror in the world, is proved by, and accounts for, a great number of incidents recorded in the gospels. It was this that alarmed Herod so much when he heard reports of the miraculous birth. Herod then possessed the kingdom of Judea. Now, he, together with the other Jews, expected the Christ which should appear would become a king, by conquering and taking Herod’s kingdom from him ; and this apprehension urged him to the desperate expedient of destroying all the children in Bethlehem who were about the age that agreed with the supernatural circumstances that had been talked of. Had Herod looked for no more than a teacher, a spiritual ruler, he would have had nothing to fear. This opinion likewise accounts for their attempting to make him a king, when they were convinced by the miracle of the loaves and fishes, ‘that he was, of a truth, that prophet that should come into the world,” John vi. 15. and also for their receiving him with the pomp and ceremony of an earthly prince when he entered into Jerusalem, cutting down branches, and spreading their garments upon the road, and crying, “Blessed be the king that cometh in the name of the Lord.” The same reason also accounts for the sudden and seemingly strange revolution in the sentiments of the people concerning him. Those who received him with much acclamation, and would not be restrained by the rulers from paying him the greatest honors, in a few days afterwards we find crying out that he should be crucified. The case was, when they introduced him to Jerusalem, they supposed that he would forthwith show and make himself, what they had no doubt Christ was to be, a great and mighty conqueror; conquering, probably, by some supernatural assistance, all who opposed him, and delivering his own nation from servitude and subjection, to power and glory. When nothing of this came to pass, the disappointment provoked them, and they were as eager to punish him as they were before to acknowledge him for their deliverer. This earthly kingdom was what the two sons of Zebedee had in view when they prevailed upon their mother to ask him that they might sit, one at his right hand and the other at his left; that is, be both chief men under him in his kingdom. And this we see was also the source of the frequent strifes and disputings amongst them, who should be greatest in that expected promotion to power and glory. Lastly, this was the cause that they could never believe, nor so much as comprehend, the many notices he gave them of his approaching crucifixion, because all idea of his being put to death like a malefactor was absolutely inconsistent with the notions which they and all the Jews firmly maintained, that he was to be king himself, and a deliv erer of the Jewish nation. * When he told them, upon their going up to Jerusalem, that he should be delivered unto the Gentiles, mocked, spitefully intreated, spitted on, and that they should scourge him and put him to death ; we read that they understood none of these things, and the saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. And in confirmation of what has been said, I have only to remark, that the Jews at that day expected both a Messiah to appear, and that, when he should appear, he would make them masters of their own land again, and of the world. Such, therefore, were the opinions and expectations then actually prevailing amongst the Jewish people. Now what I contend for is, that had Jesus, in professing himself, as he did, to be the king of the Jews, been either an impostor or enthusiast, or any other, which he must have been, if the christian religion be not true, he might have founded his pretensions on any other thing than truth ; he would necessarily have fallen in with the established opinion of the country, and produced himself in the character which they expected. Suppose he was an impostor, and had a scheme of taking advantage of the popular expectation, to impose himself upon the Jews for the