« IndietroContinua »
which he has most at heart, which is the advancement of the interests of piety and virtue in every human breast, and, as the means of accomplishing it, the diffusion of Christian knowledge. Our attention to these objects will afford him more pleasure, and do more to secure his favour, than any professions of attachment, however warm. If we have fallen into errors or miscarriages ourselves, the best atonement which we can now make is to endeavour to guard or recover others from the like faults. Let every disciple of Christ, then, who has acquired superior knowledge, or made superior attainments in virtue, labour to communicate the benefit of his knowledge and his virtues to others. Let him remove the misconceptions of the ignorant, and satisfy the doubts of the serious inquirer after truth. Where the dawnings of virtue in the mind have made their appearance, let their progress be aided; where the resolution to pursue the right path is formed, but weak and wavering, let it be confirmed and strengthened. Let no one complain of the want of objects for such labours; they are to be found wherever there is error, weakness or ignorance, in every rank and condition of life, but more especially among young persons. Let none be neglected as beneath notice, however young in age, however mean in condition, however ignorant and uninformed: the more wretched their condition, the more deserving are they of pity: or, if you feel not yourselves inclined to help them from motives of benevolence, remember that they are the sheep and lambs of Christ, and that he requires attention to them as proofs of regard to himself. How indefatigable Peter was in obeying this command of his master we know from the histo ory of his life; and he exhorts all Christian elders to imitate his example: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind, neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock; and when the chief shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. 1 Pet. ï. 3, 4.
2. Let the view here given us of martyrdom, as glorifying God and following Christ, reconcile our minds to that, or like painful events, if we should be ever called to them. To suffer in the cause of Christian truth, shows the deep sense which we entertain of its importance and value, and cannot fail to make a strong impression in its favour upon the minds of spectators. By this means we may more effectually recommend it to their regard than by the best instructions and the most laborious exertions, continued through a long life. Why, therefore, if our object be to glorify God, should we decline that way of doing it which is most speedy and efficacious? It is also treading in the steps of our master, the Son of God, the favorite of Heaven, by which he rose still higher in the divine favour. We are hereby rendered like him, and may look for the like reward. Let us follow the Lamb, therefore, whithersoever he may go, although he lead us to sufferings and death; for it is the road to glory.
3. Let the severe reproof given to Peter, for desiring to know what would become of his fellow disciple, teach us to check curious inquiries respecting future events and the decrees of Providence such inquiries, if not positively criminal, are at least ime pertinent and useless: they discover a mind more concerned about what will happen to others than about what we should do ourselves. At the proper season, the designs of Providence will be unfolded: to endeavour to anticipate them, would only fill our minds with much useless anxiety. It is our place faithfully to discharge our duty, and to leave future events, whether they respect the church or individuals, to the disposal of Providence, who will, no doubt, order them for the best.
We are now come to the end of John's history, and to the close of the four evangelists, which contain an account of the mission, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. I have taken no notice of Mark, because his history corresponds almost entirely with that of Matthew, but have expounded such parts of Luke as are not to be found in the other evangelists. Matthew and John have been taken throughout, and in this manner an exposition has been given of every material transaction or discourse in the four gospels. Such reflections as each part suggested I have endeavoured to state as we proceeded. But I cannot leave this part of the New Testament, without mentioning one or two, which appear to me to result from the whole.
The first inference which I shall make is that the history of Jesus, as contained in the evangelists, is founded upon facts, and therefore a true history, The character of Jesus here exhibited is so new and extraordinary, so different from and superior to what is given of any of the ancient prophets, or to what the Jews expected in their Messiah; so full of piety and benevolence, but so free froin austerity and superstition; such a happy union of meekness and digo nity, maintained throughout with so much propriety and consistency, as to be far above the invention of illiterate fishermen, and clearly to prove that they only copied some great original. The exhibition of such a character, by such men, is itself a proof of the truth of their history. The minute detail of particulars which they have given us, the unreserved disa closure of all kinds of circumstances, without concealing such as might be deemed unfavourable to their own characters, or that of their master, is a plain mark of men writing from a real train of events,
and not from imagination; who wished to communicats nothing but the truth. The variations which are to be found in the different evangelists, in regard to less matters in the life of Christ, while there is a general agreement in respect to the main circumstances, although it destroy all claim to inspiration in their writings, yet, instead of lessening their credibility, serves to increase it; for it shows that in these cases they did not borrow from each other, but each wrote from his own knowledge. Hence, instead of having the testimony of one evangelist only to the principal facts in the life of Christ, which must have been the case if they had exactly agreed, we have the testimony of three, if not four, independent evidences.
But I add, secondly, that, however highly the evangelists have taught us to think of the character of Jesus, it is still the character of A MAN. Nothing occurs in the course of the history which would lead one to suppose that he was God in human shape, an angel, or a superangelic being; but many things are mentioned which prove that he was one of the human race; for he is described as having the same appetites with other men, as being subject to the same infirmities, as hungry and thirsty, faint and weary, sensible of pain and liable to death. We find him enlivened with joy, oppressed with sorrow, alarmed with fears, and melting into sympathy like other men, and only distinguished from them by the excellence of his character and his miraculous powers.
The former they teach us to consider as the result of his own endeavours, and of the extraordinary circumstances in which he was placed; nor have we reason to suppose that it was beyond the attainment of other men, with the like extraordinary advantages. The latter he plainly and repeatedly ascribes entirely to God.
Respecting his supposed pre-existence, the three first evangelists are observed to maintain a profound silence, a circumstance which of itself amounts to a demonstration that he was not understood to claim such dignity; for if he had, it could not have failed to be recorded by those who professed to write a complete history of his life.
Not a word has escaped from them which can be supposed to allude to such a doctrine: it is only inferred from obscure hints in the discourses of Jesus, as communicated by John, by whom his language is
, however, uniformly represented as highly figurative. On this subject, nevertheless, his figures are easily interpreted without having recourse to any such supposition. By the phrases,
coming forth from God," " being sent by God into the world,” “coming from above," “ coming down from heaven," with others of a like nature, we have seen that nothing more was intended by Jesus than his having a commission from God, to instruct mankind and to work miracles. In this sense they seem to have been understood by his own disciples, who never give any intimation that they considered themselves as conversing with an angel, or with any thing different from a human being. His enemies, indeed, who always sought to pervert his words, did sometimes endeavour to affix à ditferent construction to his language, as well as some sensual Jews, who followed him for the sake of the loaves and fishes : but those who were best acquainted with his language, and most likely to allow it a fair and candid interpretation, give it no such meaning. Yet upon the slight foundation of these few figurative passages in an evangelist, has been built the 'stupendous doctrine that a great pre-existent spirit, the Creator of the world and the governor of the universe, left . this state of super-eminent glory, to come into our world, to form an incongruous union with a human body, to appear as an intant, to grow up, as a man, in short, to live and die here; a fact which at first view must appear highly improbable, as having nothing like it in the past dispensations of Providence, where men were always employed to deliver divine messages, and which, therefore, ought not, cer