Page images
PDF
EPUB

this conclusion, that Jesus is the Christ, taken in all its extent, is an abstract of the gospel revelation, and therefore is sometimes put for the whole of it*.

The Apostles, especially when disputing with the Jews, did frequently argue from " the prophecies of the Old Testament;" in which, they say, many things were expressly foretold, which were most literally and exactly fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth+Now, greatly to the evidence, confirmation, and advantage of christianity, so it is, that these prophecies are to this day extant in their original language; and this, in the hands of a people, most implacably averse to the gospel: So that, an attentive reader may still, in a great measure, satisfy himself, as to the validity of the argument drawn from them.

On searching these ancient and important records, we find, not only in the general, that God intended to raise up for his people an illustrious' deliverer, who amongst other glorious titles, is sometimes called the Messiah, or the anointed one‡: But we are more particularly told, that this great event should happen, before the government ceased in the tribe of Judah§; while the second temple was standing||; and a little before its destruction, about 490 years after a command given to rebuild Jerusalem¶; which was probably issued out in the seventh year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, or at least within a few years before, or after it. It is predicted, that he should be the seed of Abraham**, born of a virgin, of the house of David++, in the town of Bethlehem; that he should be anointed with an extraordinary effusion of the divine Spirit§§, in virtue of which, he should not only be a perfect and illustrious example of universal holiness and goodness, but should also perform many extraordinary and beneficial miracles¶¶; nevertheless, that, for want of external pomp and splendour, he should be rejected and insulted by the Jews***, and at length be cut off and slain by them++tt. It is added, that he should arise from the dead before his body should be corrupted in the grave‡‡‡ ; and should be received up to heaven, and there seated at the right hand of God§§§; from whence he should in a wonderful manner, pour out his Spirit on his followers; in consequence of which, though the

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

body of the Jewish people perished in their obstinate opposition to him*, yet, the Gentiles should be brought to the knowledge of the true God†, and a kingdom established amongst them, which from small beginnings should spread itself to the ends of the earth, and continue to the remotest ages‡.

Besides these most material circumstances, there were several others relating to him, which were either expressly foretold, or at least hinted at; all which, with those already mentioned, had so evident an accomplishment in Jesus, allowing the truth of the facts which the apostles testified concerning him, that we have no reason to wonder, that they should receive the word with all readiness, who searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so predicted there, as the apostles affirmed§. For I am persuaded, that no wise and religious person could imagine, that God would permit an impostor to arise, in whom so great a variety of predictions, delivered by so many different persons, and in so many distant ages, should have an exact accomplishment.

When the apostles were preaching to heathens, it is indeed true, that they generally waved the argument from prophecy, because they were not so capable judges of it: But then they insist on another, which might as soon captivate their belief, and as justly vindicate it, I mean, "the miracles performed by Christ, and those commissioned and influenced by him." Many of these were of such a nature, as not to admit of any artifice or deceit: Especially, that most signal one of his resurrection from the dead, which I may call a miracle performed by, as well as upon Christ; because he so expressly declares, that he had himself a power to resume his life at pleasure. The apostles well knew, this was a fact of such a nature, that they who believed this, would never doubt of the rest: They therefore often single this out, and lay the whole stress of their cause upon it¶. This they proved to be true, by their own testimony miraculously confirmed; and in proving this, they establish christianity on an impregnable rock. For I may safely refer it to any of you to judge, whether it is an imaginable thing, that God should raise the dead body of an impostor; especially when he had solemnly appealed to such a resurrection, as the

+ Psal. ii. 8.

Isa. vi. 9, 10. xxix. 10. xxii. 27. lxxxvi. 9. Isa. ii. xlix. 6-12. Mal. i. 11.

xlix. 4, 5. liii. 1. lxv. 2.
2, 3. xi. 10. xlii. 1, 4, 6, 7.
Dan. ii. 44. vii. 13, 14, 27.
Acts ii. 24-32. iii. 15. iv. 10. v. 30, 32.

xlv. 24. Acts xvii.

11.

John x. 18.

x. 40, 41, xiii. 30-39. xvii. 31. xxvi. 23. Rom. x. 9. 1 Cor. xv. 3—8, 12-29.

grand proof of his mission, and had expressly fixed the very day on which it was to happen*.

I persuade myself you are convinced by all this, that they who on the apostles' testimony believed, that the prophecies of the Old Testament were accomplished in Jesus, and that God bore witness to him by miracles, and raised him from the dead, had abundant reason to believe, that the doctrine which Christ taught was divine, and his gospel a revelation from heaven. And if they had reason to admit this conclusion, then it is plain, that we, who have such satisfactory evidence, on the one hand, that the testimony of the apostles was credible, and on the other, that this was the substance of it, have reason also to admit this grand inference from it, and to embrace the gospel as A faithful saying, and as well worthy of all acceptation. This is the thing I was attempting to prove; and here I should end the argument, were it not for the confirmation it may receive from some additional considerations, which could not properly be introduced under any of the preceding heads. I add, therefore,

7. In the last place," that the truth of the gospel has received farther, and very considerable confirmation, from what has happened in the world since it was first published."

And here I must desire you, more particularly to consider, -on the one hand, what God has been doing to establish it; and on the other, the methods which its enemies have been taking to destroy it.

(1.) Consider "what God has been doing to confirm the gospel since its first publication," and you will find it a farther evidence of its divine original.

I might here argue at large, from its surprising propagation in the world;from the miraculous powers, with which not only the apostles, but succeeding preachers of the gospel, and other converts were endowed;from the accomplishment of prophecies recorded in the New Testament ;- -and from the preservation of the Jews as a distinct people, notwithstanding the various difficulties and persecutions through which they have passed.

I might particularly urge, in confirmation of the truth of christianity," the wonderful success with which it was

Mat. xxvii. 63. John ii. 19, 21.

+ 1 Tim. i. 15:

attended, and the surprising propagation of the gospel in the world."

I have before endeavoured under a former head to shew you, that the gospel met with so favourable a reception in the world, as evidently proved, that its first publishers were capable of producing such evidence of its truth, as an imposture could not admit. But now, I carry the remark farther, and assert, that considering the circumstances of the case, it is amazing that even truth itself, under so many disadvantages, should have so illustrious a triumph; and that its wonderful success does evidently argue such an extraordinary interposition of God in its favour, as may justly be called a miraculous attesta

tion to it.

There was not only one of a family, or two of a city taken, and brought to Zion*; but so did The Lord hasten it in its appointed time, that a little one became a thousand, and a small one a strong nationt. And as the apostles themselves were honoured with very remarkable success, so this divine seed was propagated so fast in the next age, that Pliny testifies, "he found the heathen temples in Achaia, almost desertedt:" And Tertullian afterwards boasts, "that all places but those temples were filled with christians; so that were they only to withdraw, cities and provinces would be depopulated." Nor did the gospel only triumph thus within the boundaries of the Roman empire; for long before Tertullian was born, Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, which seems to have been written not much above one hundred years after Christ's death, declares, "that there was no nation of men, whether Greeks or Barbarians, not excepting those savages, that wandered in clans from one region to another, and had no fixed habitation, who had not learnt to offer prayers and thanksgivings to the Father and Maker of all, in the name of Jesus who was crucified."

* Jer. iii. 14.

+ Isa. lx. 22.

Prope jam desolata Templa-& sacra Solennia diu intermissa.
Plin. Epist. x. 97.

§ Hesterni sumus, & vestra omnia implevimus, Urbes, Insulas, Castella, Municipia, Conciliabula, Castra ipsa, Tribus, Decurias, Palatium, Senatum, Forum; Sola vobis relinquimus Templa :-Potuimus & inermes, nec rebelles, sed tantummodo discordes, solius divortii invidià adversus vos dimicasse ;-suffudisset dominationem vestram tot amissio civium, & ipsa destitutione punisset.

Tertul. Apolog. Cap. xxxvii.

Η Ουδε εν γαρ ολές εςι το γενος ανθρωπων, είτε Βαρβαρων, είτε Ελλήνων, είτε απλώς μλινικών ονοματι προσαγορευομένων, η Αμαξοβίων, η Αρικών καλεμένων,

Now how can we account for such a scene as this, but by saying, that The hand of the Lord was with the first preachers of the gospel, and therefore such multitudes believed, and turned unto the Lord*? How had it been possible, that so small a fountain should presently have swelled into a mighty river, and even have covered the face of the earth, had it not sprung from the sanctuary of God, and been rendered thus triumphant by his almighty arm?

Had this new religion, so directly contrary to all the prejudices of education, been contrived to soothe men's vices, to assert their errors, to defend their superstitions, or to promote their secular interests, we might easily have accounted for its prevalence in the world. Had its preachers been very profound philosophers, or polite and fashionable orators, many might have been charmed, at least for a while, to follow them: Or had the princes and potentates of the earth declared themselves its patrons, and armed their legions for its defence and propagation, multitudes might have been terrified into the profession, though not a soul could by such means have been rationally persuaded to the belief of it. But without some such advantages as these we can hardly conceive, how any new religion should so strangely prevail; even though it had crept into the world in its darkest ages, and most barbarous countries, and though it had been gradually proposed in the most artful manner, with the finest veil industriously drawn over every part, which might at first have given disgust to the beholder.

But you well know, that the very reverse of all this was the case here. You know, from the apparent constitution of christianity, that the lusts and errors, the superstitions and interests of carnal men would immediately rise up against it as a most irreconcileable enemy. You know, that the learning and wit of the Greeks, and the Romans, were early employed to overbear and ridicule it. You know, that as all the herd of heathen deities were to be discarded, the priests, who subsisted on that craft, must in interest find themselves obliged to oppose it. You know, that the princes of the earth drew their swords against it, and armed torments and death for the destruction of its followers. And yet you see, that it triumphed over all, though published in ages, and places, of the greatest learning and refinement; and proposed, not in an ornamental and artificial

η εν σκηναις κτηνοτροφων, εν οις μη, δια το ονοματος τε σαυρωθενίος Ιησε ευχαι και ευχαριδικό το παίρι και ποιήτη των όλων γινονται.

Justin. Mart. pag. 388. Edit. Thirlb.
Acts xi. 21.

« PreviousContinue »