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refusing to commit himself-above all these, his annunciation to Nicodemus, that even the sons of Abraham were to be born again into his kingdom—and the final testimony of John, prove the very gradual manner in which our Lord proceeded to attract the attention of his people, and to appeal to their judgment—before he would offend the prejudices of those who expected a temporal Messiah. The first miracle of Christ induced me to draw a parallel between the miraculous evidences which confirm the truth of the Christian Religion; with those which demonstrate the divine legation of Moses. The conversation of our Lord with Nicodemus, did not appear to refer to that change of heart only, which is required by Christianity ; but to the establishment of a new dispensation, into which men should be admitted by another ceremony than that which was appointed to the Jews; which ceremony was to be accompanied in that new dispensation, by the same blessings and privileges, which had been imparted to the infants of the Jews. Neither did there appear to be any difficulty attendant on the opinion of the early Church respecting the baptismal blessing; when I remembered, that it is as difficult to understand how an unconscious infant can be sinful, as to understand in what manner it may be spiritual. If the power of an evil spirit extends to the soul of an unsinning child, it cannot be irrational to believe that the Spirit of God may extend there also.
III. Though the ejecting the buyers and sellers from the Temple may be considered as a public manifestation of our Lord's Messiahship, He did not verbally assert his claims, till the time when the last prophet of the Mosaic dispensation was prevented from appealing to the people. He then returned to his own province, and his own town, where He had been known from his infancy; and there openly declared that the time of the Messiah was at hand. I consider this more public declaration of his mission till the
time when the twelve apostles were sent forth to preach, as another stage in our Lord's ministry. On his way to Galilee he conversed with the woman of Samaria, and convinced her, and many of her countrymen, by his conversation and miracles, that he was the expected Messiah ; though he would not deviate from his design of first publicly asserting that fact, in his own town. After another miracle at Cana, he at length came to Nazareth. It was the custom of the Jews to invite any eminent teacher who might come into their synagogues, to speak to the people. Here, then, having received the book from the reader, he applied to himself a prophecy which predicted the appearance of Christ. He stopped before he came to that clause which denounced threatening and vengeance to the Jews; and confined himself to the beautiful description of the benevolent character of the Messiah. Having applied the prophecy to himself, he sate down. He refused to work a miracle among the people of Nazareth; he appeared to desire to shew to the world, that his usefulness must be founded on holiness, as well as on his preaching and miracles. They had known him thirty years. Of his manner of life, of his character and conversation during that period, the Evangelists are silent. The appeal of our Lord to the people of Nazareth, after living among them thirty years as a man, may account for their silence. No imperfection, no taint of sin, of weakness, or of folly, could be found through that whole period, to enable those among whom he would be in the least esteem, to invalidate his lofty claim to the rank of the divine Being, whom their prophets had announced. Their only exclamation arose from their ignorance or forgetfulness of the miraculous conception; or perhaps their murmur “is not this the carpenter's son?” might proceed from the suppressed indignation, which made them secretly refuse to acknowledge the infinite superiority of one, who had lived among them as an equal.
Galilee was wisely chosen as the scene of our Lord's ministry. It abounded with strangers, Phænicians, Arabians, and Egyptians. I have endeavoured to shew, in a note to the first section of this Chapter, the advantages of this intermixture to the future progress of the Gospel. I am confirmed in my opinion, that our Lord's more public ministry began with his application to himself of the
prophecy of Isaiah in Nazareth ; from the manner in which he then proceeds to announce the ultimate object of his coming. He declared, for the first time, that as Elijah had been sent to the Gentile of Sarepta, and to Naaman the Syrian; so also was he sent to those who would accept him, and who were not of his own country. Though they could not confute him, they could endeavour to destroy him. The first persecution of our Lord began upon his hinting to his proud and jealous countrymen, that he had other sheep which were not of this fold. The service of the synagogue was interrupted, and the peace of the town disturbed, This circumstance, as I have shewn, explains that part of our Lord's conduct, which many have considered inexplicable. He would not revive on other and similar occasions, the same scenes of tumult and exasperation. He proceeded, therefore, with the utmost caution .-refusing to call himself the Messiah-charging the persons who were healed to tell no man-and keeping back many things, even from the Apostles.
The various sections of this Chapter fully display the wisdom which continued thus gradually to impress the people, with the conviction that their Messiah had arrived. The disciples who forsook John to follow Christ, and who had returned to their occupation as fishermen, were now commanded to attach themselves permanently to his service; with the prophetic annunciation, that they were in future to become fishers of men. The healing of the demoniac appears to me to prove his power over a world of invisible spirits. The cure of diseases demonstrated to the Jews that
he possessed the power to forgive the sin, which they believed to be the cause of physical evil. By healing the leprosy, a disease which was considered incurable, except by God alone; and by referring the leper who was cured to the priest, he communicated to the priests the secret of his divine character. Soon after this message had been sent to the priests, he openly asserted the power to forgive, which he had already demonstrated by his silent and eloquent miracles. Having attached to him St. Matthew, who was more learned, and better educated than the fishermen of Galilee, and whose presence therefore might be of more weight with the Jews, he publicly wrought a miracle at Jerusalem, and assured the Jews that he was ap. pointed of the Father to judge the world. By dispensing with the enactments of their traditional law, he declared himself the Lord of the Sabbath. By healing the withered hand, he condemned the superstition which preferred the useless observances of a supposed piety, to active and useful benevolence-and having now attracted around him great multitudes of people, and attached to himself twelve disciples, whom he intended to appoint to the apostolic office, he gave the new code to mankind. He embodied the spirit of the Mosaic law in the sermon on the mount; and annihilated for ever all other modes of pleasing God, than purity of mind, rectitude of principle, spirituality of soul, and holiness of life.
Having promulgated his new code of laws, our Saviour healed the servant of the centurion, who was probably a Gentile; and again hinted to the Jews the conversion of the Gentiles. By healing the widow's son, he proved his power over the laws of life and death, and again demonstrated to the Jews, upon their own principles ; that he was that Messiah whom they expected to raise the dead. The message of John, who was still in prison, enabled our Lord to point out the real Elias, who was to precede the Messiah ; it appears to have given occasion to his bitter reproach of the impenitent cities of Judea, which he concludes, however, with an invitation to all to receive his mission. Various miracles and instructions follow till the time arrived, when the foundation of the Christian Church should be laid, in the appointment of twelve apostles; with equal power and equal authority, to assert the present existence of the Messiah in Judea, and the spiritual nature of the kingdom which he had come to establish.
The principal notes in this Chapter, in addition to those on the history and dates, refer to the possible or probable existence of the types of the New Testament, a subject which has never, I believe, been sufficiently considered by theologians. To which must be added the notes on the demoniacs—the bearing of our sins by Christ—the conduct of our Lord respecting the Jewish Sabbath, the Jewish traditionary observances, and others of this nature.
IV. The fourth Chapter includes the time from the mission of the twelve apostles, to that of the seventy. In the note to the former of these events, I have entered at some length into the question of Church government. An opinion has very generally of late years prevailed in society, that all inquiries on this subject are useless, and that our conclusions are of no importance. It is said that sincerity is equally acceptable with the Deity, whatever be our form of worship; and as our opinions are out of our own power, we cannot be responsible for involuntary decisions. It has been said also, that the Deity has not preferred one form of discipline to another, or it would have been more plainly revealed.
Reasonings of this nature do not appear to me to be satisfactory. I would reply to them in their order by observing, that the peace and order of society have hitherto been dependant on the conclusions of the student in his closet. Armies are moved and states are shaken by the effects of the prevalence of opinions, which are proposed or defended, by the more retired and reflecting. Discus.