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NEW AND COMPLETE
CONTAINING THE HISTORY OF THE
FROM THE BIRTH OF CHRIST, TO HIS ASCENSION
Containing, by way of Introduction, a summary View of the
great difference between the law as delivered by Moses and the Prophets, and the Gospel under Christ and his Apostles.
THE historical part of the New Testament is contained in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and, in a very particular manner, claims the most serious attention of every Christian, as it conveys to us the blessed tidings of our recovering that happy state which our first parents forfeited in paradise.
All those excellencies, which in general belong to the Old Testament, may, in a more peculiar manner, be claimed by the New; for (as St. Augustine says) “ What “ the law and the prophets only foretold, the Gospel “ plainly demonstrates to have been completed.” If, therefore, the good and holy men under the dispensation of the law (which was but a shadow of what hath since come to pass) were encouraged to undergo the severest persecutions in hopes of a reward to come, how much greater encouragement had the saints under the Gospel to suffer extremity, when the reward was gone before them? From hence the church, in all ages, hath received the most distinguished benefits; hence the martyrs, in the midst of their agonies, took magnanimity, looking up with confidence to the great Author of their reward. Thus the proto-martyr St. Stephen, in the midst of a shower of stones, was comforted with the sight of the Son of God. Hence the Holy Apostles, and the rest of our Saviour's followers, enforced the doctrines of their Lord, not from the distant relations of others, but from the more imme. diate dictates of his mouth, whence, by a sacred and certain tradition, they have been handed down to the present time.
It is from our Blessed Saviour's more immediate example that we are made properly acquainted with humility and meekness, he having been pleased, though the Son of God, to condescend to take upon him the vile condition of sinful man. From him we learn patience in adversity, and equanimity in the most elevated state of life; and whatever blemishes, by the corruptions of nature, may stain our profession, his word is our rule and guide to set us right again, and restore religion to its primitive purity. For this reason our Blessed Lord calls himself the light of the world; of which his holy gospel is the happy instrument of conveying it to mankind, who, till his incarnation, sat in darkness. And hence the prophet Isaiah, foretelling the coming of our Saviour, says, The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined, ls. ix. 2.
From the pre-excellence of the Gospel conveying this light to us, the scriptures of the New Testament have acquired such reverence and veneration, that some of the greatest people of the world, and in the earliest ages of the church, have thought them worthy their highest esteem and regard. Constantine the Great had the gospels bound up in a cover of gold set with most valuable jewels. Theodosius the emperor transcribed the gospels with his own hand, and spent great part of every night in reading them. The general councils of Nice, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, placed the book of the gospels in the midst of their assemblies, that the holy fathers might have respect to them as to the person of Christ. In short, the theologists of all ages have deservedly, and with a general consent, stiled this part of holy scripture most necessary and useful; and, indeed, if we pay a proper attention to the subject-matter, Author and method, or manner of them, we shall see those epithets justly appropriated to the writings of the New Testament.
With respect to the subject-matter of the Gospels, it is of God himself, whether we consider him either as God or man. The Gospels describe to us the words and actions of our Blessed Redeemer, by which he taught us to believe and do our duty, as also what methods we ought to take to obtain eternal happiness, plentifully furnishing us, from his own mouth, with Divine precepts and counsel, instructing us in the perfection of a Christian life, explaining to us Faith, Hope, Charity, the Doctrine of the Trinity, Institution of the Sacraments, and, in general, all theological subjects; painting Virtue to us in its most amiable aspect, and describing Vice in its most horrid appearance, with the dreadful consequences which must naturally follow such a course of life.
As to the Author himself, he is no less than the Divine Wisdom, who chiefly both speaks and acts in the most material and grand occurrences related in the Gospels; for before (as the apostle to the Hebrew says) “ God formerly spake to our fathers by the prophets, but in these later days by his son, whom he hath made heir of all things, and by whom he made the world.” So that not Moses, or the prophets, but the only begotten Son of God, hath, by
the Divine will of the Father, discovered to us the secrets of the Divine Wisdom, and communicated them to us in the holy gospels; in which those sacred mysteries, concealed from ancient times, and barely shadowed out in the typical expressions of the law and the prophets, are plainly discovered, and made intelligible to the weakest of human beings.
The method or manner of speaking and reasoning in the Holy Gospels is particularly to be admired, more especially in those parts wherein it is symbolical. The elegancy of the metaphors, the aptness of the similitudes, and significancy of the parables, were truly delightful and instructing. One time the Son of God compares himself to a king celebrating the nuptials of his son; another time, to a great man calling his son to account for his conduct; now, to a general waging war; then to a master of a family, an husbandman, a shepherd, a fisherman, &c. In all which the comparisons are so proper, that he represents himself to our capacities, not so much by words as by the things themselves; so that in the Gospel we may be said to be instructed as much by the actions, as the words of Christ; and truly, as St. Gregory says, every action of Christ is our instruction.
But the method of the Evangelical Wisdom claims another excellency; for it is so disposed by the Holy Ghost, that the most simple and ignorant are not destitute of advantage in the reading it; and at the same time there are sufficient difficulties and obscurities to exercise the genius of the most sublime wit. It is, indeed, plain and easy, to the sincere, humble and willing; but to the confident, proud and indolent, difficult and obscure. I thank thee (says our Blessed Lord) O Father, Lord of heaven an earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise, and hast revealed them unto babes, Matt. xi. 25. In short, the Gospel, with respect to the rest of the Scriptures, is like the sun that communicates light to the planets, which, at their best, shine but with borrowed rays.
But the excellence of the Gospel will yet appear more conspicuous, if we draw a parallel between that and the law.
The author of the law was Moses, mere man; but the author of the Gospel was Jesus Christ, both God and man. The law, indeed, was ordained by the ministry of angels in the hand of a mediator, who was Moses, the mediator between God and the Israelites; but Christ, the Son of God, first promulged the Gospel with his own mouth. The apostle to the Hebrews points out the great disparity between Moses and Christ in the most elegant and expressive words: Christ (says he) being the brightness of his glory, (meaning the glory of God) and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of Majesty on high; being made so much better than the angels as he hath, by inheritance, obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? Heb. i. 3, &c.
The angels, indeed, as ministering spirits, were the first pablishers of the Gospel, as in the messages of Gabriel the archangel to the Virgin Mary, and to Zacharias the father of St. John the Baptist; but Christ himself was the founder of it, and clothed his divinity with our flesh, through which he dictated to us the words of his Gospel. The law (says St. John) was given by Moses, but Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ. All the authorities, both of the Old and New Testament, do agree, that Christ, being the Author of the Gospel, it is justly called His Gospel, and not improperly termed, The Book, Philosophy and Theology of Christ, in which, with his own mouth, he declared much more noble and sublime things than were delivered by Moses and the prophets : wherefore, when we read or hear the Holy Gospel, we may be said to read or hear the very express words of the Son of God himself.
Upon a farther examination we shall find many other striking particulars in which the doctrine of the Gospel greatly exceeds what we find in Moses and the law. The law fixes one God to be believed and worshipped by us; but the Gospel, one God in essence, and three in