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With this first and general feature of the spiritual jubilee, the other parts of the description entirely agree-indeed they are details and effects of it; opening further the peculiar tenderness of the gospel; “He hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised;” and in this way to“ preach the acceptable year"-the jubilee" of the Lord.”
This graphically paints the condition of the poor already spoken of as those who have “ the gospel preached to them.”
The allusion probably is to the captive Jew released by the trump of jubilee. There he lay in prison ; his poverty his greatest source of woe ; his heart dejected and broken with his melancholy situation ; his dark prison-house depriving him of the blessings of sight; his fetters grinding and bruising his limbs; and no hope distinct enough before him to cheer his aching heart.
Or we may apply the language more generally to any captive-such as poor king Zedekiah, who was first cast into prison, then his sons were slain in his sight, his eyes were next put out, after this, fetters and chains were thrown upon him, and lastly he was carried captive to Babylon.
A lively, though mournful, picture this of the spiritual state of mankind, and especially of the mass of the poor, at the coming of Christ; and of its state now, so far as the gospel has not been duly received.
The effects and tendencies of idolatry and false religions are before us. Ignorance, vice, oppression, fraud, misery are openly generated by them.“ The earth,” so far as their influence extends, is still
filled," as it was of old, “ with violence.” The corruption of man, unchecked by the light of truth and the stern rules of distributive justice, yea aggravated by the examples of false deities, flows on in a turbid stream, overwhelming all the barriers of truth, and equity ; exalting violence and power into the seat of right; extenuating the grossest sensuality; and making a selfishness and cunning, too debasing to be conceived, the principles of human conduct: whilst the mass of men are trodden upon, despised ; the unnatural division of castes exclude from social advantages nine-tenths of the population; the one half of the human family are degraded to be the slaves, instead of the gentle companions, of the other; and cruelty and lust scatter their victims all around.
6 2 Kings xxv. 2 Chron. xxxvi.
Rome and Greece of old, in their most polished periods, were no exemptions from this description. St. Paul's Epistles to the Romans and Ephesians were written at the zenith of their elegance, refinement, success in the arts. Nor are any of the nations, who are still without Christianity, in a better state at this moment, No rules of virtue, no doctrine of forgiveness, no teachers to guide into the way of peace, no order of men for the instruction and comfort of the poor, no sacred interval after each six days' toil for religious worship and repose, no symptoms apparent in any quarter of recovery. Men lay at the coming of Christ, and they lie now, captives, so to speak, broken hearted, blind, bruised, miserable, forgotten.
But in Christ is deliverance. The jubilee of the world, with all its consequent blessings, was proclaimed at his birth. He himself first placed the silver trumpet, as it were, to his mouth, in the synagogue of Galilee, when he cited the prophecy of the text, and declared, “ This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”
The poor thus first heard the gospel from the lips of Christ. The apostles followed with the same tidings. The captives of Satan and lust, who lay dejected and bruised and wounded, as in misery and iron; and who groaned in vain for a jubilee of which the distant rumors in the tradition of Natural Religion scarcely fell upon their ear, started at the voice of mercy and came forth; the power and bondage of sin were broken ; the current of evil passions and habits, whether of heathenism or a pharisaical form of the Jewish religion, was stemmed ; a new heart was given to man, and a new spirit was put within him;" he began to walk in moral liberty ; his broken spirit, now awakened to a perception of internal miseries, was healed and pacified by the virtue of the blood of Christ and of the consoling grace of the Holy Ghost. By the same act of mercy, the recovery of sight was vouchsafed to him, blind and ignorant of spiritual things ; he saw the light of Christ; the wounds and bruises of his imprisoned state were assuaged ; a balm was poured into his wounds; the goadings of passion ceased ; the miseries of disappointed lust, the fretfulness of discontent-the galling agitations of the soul unpardoned and unreconciled to God--the fretting, carking corrodings of a disturbed conscience were all mollified ; and consolation followed the acceptable year of the Lord.”
With the general communication of these blessings to different nations, the jubilee of the world began. The tendencies of the gospel soon appeared; the great period of restoration evidently commenced ; the time was fulfilled so long foretold and prefigured by the Mosaical law. Twelve, humble, unlettered apostles (with no powers but truth and the miraculous aids of their master) received the trumpet from the hands of Christ, and blew it with holy intrepidity in the hearing of their fellow creatures all over the world.
Thousands welcomed the glad tidings. anointing of the Spirit” flowed down from “ Christ the Head," to the members of his mystical body; his miraculous and sanctifying influences were vouchsafed ;
repentance unto life” was bestowed ; the new religion spread far and wide. Persecutions arose from those who obstinately adhered, whether Jews or Gentiles, to their superstitions and idolatries; but greater and greater multitudes embraced the doctrine. In three centuries the aspect of the moral world was changed. “ The gods of the heathen were famished out of their places.” Many thousands even of the Jews welcomed “the acceptable year.” The idolatry of the masters of the world was abolished. A Christian emperor, avowed on the throne of the Cæsars, the doctrine of the cross; and Christ was every where acknowledged as “all in all.”
In the meantime, the moral elevation of the converts, their holy lives, their purity, their meekness, their humbleness of mind, their love to each other, their cheerfulness under persecutions, their peaceful carriage, their loyalty to their civil rulers, their forgiveness of injuries, their love to their enemies, were confessed by all; and the apostate emperor of the fourth century acknowledged the beneficial character of the religion, by enjoining on his gentile priests the imitation of the despised Christians.
Let us proceed to consider,
II. The character of Christianity in its progress, since the time of its first establishment.
For its beneficial tendency has been gradually unfolding itself ever since, amidst all the impediments and interruptions which it has had to encounter. Like a peaceful river, it has flowed with a copious, though gentle stream, which sufficiently marks its course amidst the wickedness and vice of men and the consequent judgments from time to time inflicted
by Almighty God: just as the science of medicine displays a tendency to the universal health of mankind, though disease and death, partly from human vices and partly from Divine punishments, continue their triumphs.
This innate virtue of Christianity has been, and is, derived from the matchless character of the blessed Savior who founded it in his death and sacrifice, from the grace of God's Holy Spirit attending its administration, and from the whole tenor and bearings of its blessings, duties and effects.
For four or five centuries the gospel followed the progress of population throughout the known world, and raised the heathen nations, as they received it, in the scale of knowledge, peace, prosperity, the arts, riches, power, happiness, influence.
Wherever Christianity reached, it put forth its effects both direct and remote.
The individuals delivered by its direct effects from guilt, misery and bondage, and brought into the moral light and liberty of the gospel, were almost unnumbered. These shed a salutary influence around them far beyond the circle of their immediate action. Remote effects were thus produced. Christianity by these means imperceptibly set at work in the mass of society, new principles, which have ever since been extending themselves. It began to mollify, and has gone on mollifying the hardened features of human society. It has abolished at once, wherever it has come, the more cruel and disgusting habits of heathenism; and it has waged war with every other evil which it could not immediately dislodge.
Its holy Sabbath is set up in every Christian community-the most beneficial, as the most ancient, of all institutions. This one feature speaks its benignant character. Man released for a seventh portion of his time from the yoke of labor; man