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The darkness which overspread the mystery of the cross, is passing away; the vails, which concealed the glory of Jesus Christ begin to withdraw; heaven, which seemed to have conspired with earth and with hell, to depress and overwhelm him, declares aloud in his favor ; his splendor bursts out of obscurity, and his glory from the very busom of shame : because he made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, because he humbled himself, because he became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross: therefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a nume which is above every name : that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth. : Phil. ij. 9, 10.
What circumstances more proper could we have selected, Christians, to induce you to seek your glory in the cross of your Saviour, than those which display it followed by so much pomp and magnificence? I am going to propose to you as a model, the man who, of all others, best understood the mystery of the cross : for my part, says he, in the words which I have read, God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, b: whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. Let us meditate on this subject, with all that application of thought which it so justly merits.
And thou, great High Priest, Minister of the true tabernacle ! thou holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens ; set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, Heb. vii. 26. viii. 2, 1. graciously look down on this people, now combating under the banners of the cross ! It is impossible for us to call to remembrance the great day of thy exaltation, without fixing our eyes upon thee, with those blessed disciples of thine who were the witnesses of it, without following thee, as they did, with the bodily organ, and witlı all the powers of thought, and without crying out, Draw us, Lord, we will run after thee : Cant. i. 4. Bat in giving way to such desires, we misunderstand the nature of our vocation. We must combat as thou hast done, in order to triumph with thee. Well, be it so ! Teach my hands to war, and my fingers to fight : Psal. cxliv. 1. Teach us to make thy cross a ladder, whereon to mount to thy throne. Amen.
The text which 'we have announced, is, as it were, a conclusion deduced from the chapters which precede it. We cannot possibly have a clear comprehension of it, without a general recollection of the whole Epistle from which it is taken. St. Paul, in writing to the Galatians, has this principally in view, to revive the spirit of Christianity, which he himself had diffused over the whole
province of Galatia. Never had preacher greater success, than the ministry of our apostle was attended with, in this city of the Lesser Asia. He himself gives this lionorable testimony in favor of the Galatians, in chap. iv. ver. 15. that they had received him as an angel of God, and which is saying still more, even as Christ Jesus. But the Gauls, of which this people was a colony, have, in all ages, been reproached with the faculty of easily taking impressions, and of losing them with equal facility. The sentiments with wbich St. Paul had inspired them, shared the fate of all violent sensations; that is, they were of no great duration. With this he upbraids them in the very be. ginning of the Epistle. I marvel, says he to them, chap. j. 6. 'I marvel, that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel. Mark the expression, removed unto another gospel.
We are not possessed of memoirs of the first ages of the church sufficiently ample, to enable us to determine with precision, who were the authors of a revolution so deplorable. But if we may give credit to two of the earliest historians, to whom we are indebted for the most complete accounts which we have of the first heresy, I mean Philostratus and St. Epiphanius; it was Cerinthus himself, in the first instance, and his disciples after- . wards, who marred the good seed which St. Paul had sown in the church of Galatia. One thing is certain, namely, that respect for the ceremonial observances which God himself had prescribed, in a manner so solemn, and particularly for the law of circumcision, was the reason, or rather the pretext, of which the adversaries of our apostle availed themselves, to destroy the fruits of his ministry, by exciting suspicions against the soundness of his doctrine. St. Paul goes to the root of the evil : he conveys just ideas of those ceremonial institutions : he demonstrates, that however venerable the origin of them might be, and whatever the wisdom displayed in their establishment, they had never been laid down as an essential part of religion, much less still, as the true means of reconciling men to God. We perceive, at first sight, this design of the apostle, in the words of my text, and through the whole Epistle, from which they are taken.
But what is, perhaps, not so easily discoverable in it, but which ought to be very carefully obseryed, is; that as St. Paul was maintaining his thesis against opponents of different sorts, so he likewise supports it on different principles. · Three
descriptions of persons argued in favor of the Levilicul observances. The first did so from a prejudice of birth and education. The second, from an excess of complaisance. The third, from a criminal policy.
1. A part of the Jews who had been converted to Christianity, could not help preserving a respect for the Levitical ceremonies, and wished to transmit the observance of them into the Christian church. These were the persons who acted from a prejudice of birth and education.
2. Some of them, more enlightened, out of complaisance to others, would have wished to retain the practice of those rites. In this class we find no less a person than St. Peter himself, as we learn from the second chapter of this Epistle, the eleventh and the following verses; and what is most, to be regretted in the case, this apostle fell into such an excess of compliance, that he not only authorised by his example that respect which the Jews had for the Levitical institutions, but, being at Antioch, when certain Jews were sent thither by St. James, he pretended to break off all intercourse with the Gentile converts to Christianity, because they had not submitted to the ordinance of circumcision : in this he acted from an excessive and timid complaisance. This weakness of St. Peter, to mention it by the way, has been laid hold of by one of the most declared enemies of Christianity, I mean the philosopher Porphyry. The reproaches which he vents against the Christians, on this ground, appeared so galling to them, that they had recourse to a pious fraud, to defend themselves. They alleged, nay, they perhaps seriously believed, that the person thus branded with timidity, was not Peter the apostle, but one Cephas, who, as they are pleased to give out, was of the number of
the seventy disciples of Jesus Christ, mentioned in the gospel. A most chimerical supposition ! which has been latterly adopted by a celebrated Jesuit *, and which has swelled the catalogue of his extravagances.
3. But if some, from prejudice, wished to transmit the Levitical ceremonies into Christianity, and others, from an excess of complaisance; there was still a third description of persons who did so, out of a criminal policy. Such were the pagan converts. Respecting which it is necessary to remark, that the Jewish religion was tolerated by the Roman laws; whereas the religion of Jesus Christ was prescribed by 'them; and Christians were thereby exposed to the most violent persécution. This it was which induced the pagan converts to conform to the Levitical ceremonies, that they might pass for Jews, under the veil of Judaism.
A passage of St. Jerome, to this purpose, deserves here to be inserted. “Caius Cæsar,” says he, “ Augustus, and Tiberius, enacted laws, by which the Jews dispersed over the Roman empire, were authorized to practice the rites of their religion, and the ceremonial institutions transmitted to them from their fathers. All those who were circumcised, though they had embraced Christianity, were considered, all over the pagan world, as Jews: but all those who remained in a state of uncircumcision, while they professedly received the gospel, were equally persecuted by Jews and pagans. There were teachers among them, therefore, who, in order to screen themselves from these persecutions, submitted to be circumcised, and recommended circumcision to their disciples.”
These are the words of St. Jerome, and they throw much light on what our apostle says in the
* Father Hardouin, in his Dissertation on Galatians ii. 10.