Page images

less binding than the positive commands of God; they, by degress, attained to a pitch of impiety unknown to former times; and which was so much the more offensive and abominable, as it was covered with the mask of religion, and accompanied with a claim to superior sanctity.

Pride, hypocrisy, and interest, divided them into sects; and the contests of each party for superiority, threw the state into frequent commotions. Their intrigues at length brought upon them the Roman power. The city was taken by Pompey; and, though they afterwards retained a shadow of liberty, their government was determined, from that time, by the will of the conquerors. At length Herod, a foreigner, obtained it. In his reign Christ was born.

Thus the state of mankind, before the coming of Christ, proved, with the fullest evidence, the necessity of his interposition. And, in the mean time, the world had not been left utterly helpless and hopeless. His future advent had been revealed from the beginning; and, by faith in that revelation, a remnant had subsisted in every age, who had triumphed over the general evil, and maintained the cause of God and truth. It was not necessary to the salvation of these that he should have been manifested sooner; for they beheld his day afar off, and rejoiced in his name. With respect to others, destitute of divine faith, his incarnation would have had the same effect

66 me for your support, I have put out of my own power; it "is devoted to the service of God and the temple." And teachers allowed this to be a legal exemption. Any man who would pay handsomely to the priests and the temple might treat his parents as he pleased. Thus they set aside the express command of God, by their own authority, and for their own advantage. The same dispensing, commuting, engrossing spirit has too often appeared in the Christian church.

at any period, as it had on multitudes who actually saw him in the flesh, but, offended with the meanness of his circumstances, and the great honours he vindicated to himself, rejected him with disdain.

But farther. The late appearance of Christ in the world gave room for the full accomplishment of the prophecies concerning him, which had been repeated at different times with increasing clearness and precision; insomuch, that the time, place, and every circumstance of his birth, life, and death, had been distinctly foretold. Thus the truth and authority of the' Old Testament were confirmed; and the wisdom, power, and providence of God, over-ruling and directing the contingencies of human affairs to produce this grand event in its determinate period, were displayed to the highest advantage. And as the state of the moral world made his presence highly necessary, so God, in due time, disposed the political state of mankind in such a manner as to prepare the way for a speedy and general publication of the Gospel through the world.

It would be pleasing to consider how the rise, and fall, and change of empires, were made successively subservient to introduce the kingdom of Jesus. But this would lead me beyond my present bounds. I can only just hint at two or three events which bad a more general influence. The first is, the rapid progress of Alexander, whose extensive conquests, divided amongst his successors, laid the foundation of four powerful monarchies, and opened an intercourse between countries till then unknown to each other. By this means the Greek tongue became familiar and common to many nations; and soon after the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into that language, and the prophecies concerning the

To this

Messiah were laid open to the Gentiles. may be added the several dispersions of the Jews; who, upon various occasions, had been settled in almost every considerable city under the heathen governments. By their traditions and prophecies, imperfectly understood, a general expectation had been raised of some extraordinary deliverer, who would shortly appear. Lastly, by the growth of the Roman empire, many nations and people, who were before acquainted by means of one common language, became more closely united under one dominion. Every province had a necessary connexion with Rome and Rome was the centre and resort of the greatest part of the then habitable world.

As to the Jews, many things concurred to animate their wishes and expectations of the Messiah's approach. The prophecies were in their hands. Many of their wise men were apprised that the term of seventy weeks, spoken of by Daniel, was drawing to a period. The sceptre seemed departing from Judah; they groaned under a foreign yoke, from which, they vainly imagined, the Messiah would set them free, and give them, in their turn, a temporal dominion over the nations of the earth. Though this mistake prompted them to reject Christ when he preached a deliverance unsuitable to their worldly notions, yet it made them solicitous and eager for the appearance of the person on whom their hopes were fixed. A few amongst them, however, better instructed in the true meaning of the prophecies, were secretly waiting, in the exercises of faith and prayer, for the consolation of Israel."

From this general view of the moral and poli

n Luke, ii. 25.

tical state of mankind, and the leading designs of divine revelation and providence, previous to the birth of Christ, we may conclude, that the time fixed on from before the foundation of the world for his actual exhibition amongst men was not an arbitrary, but a wise and gracious appointment; a determination admirably suited to place the most important truths in the strongest light. In this way, the depravity, misery, and helplessness of man, the mercy of God, and the truth of the Scriptures, were unquestionably proved to all succeeding times. The necessity of a Saviour was felt and acknowledged; and the suitableness, all-sufficiency, and condescension of Jesus, when he undertook and accomplished the great designs in which his love engaged him, were more strongly illustrated by the preceding He knew the whole human race were sinners, rebels, enemies against God: he knew the terms, the price of our redemption; that he must obey, suffer, weep, and die. Yet he came. He emptied himself of his glory and honour, and took on him the form of a servant, to bring the glad tidings of salvation to men. In effect, the Gospel of Christ soon appeared to be the great desideratum, and completely redressed the evils. which philosophy had given up as desperate. The genius and characteristic marks of this Gospel will be considered in the following chapter.



The Character and Genius of the Gospel, as taught and exemplified by Christ.

A SUCCINCT history of the life of our Lord and Saviour is no part of our plan. This the inspired evangelists have performed with the highest advantage and authority; and their writings (through the mercy of God) are generally known and read in our own tongue. It will be sufficient for me to select a few passages from them, to explain and confirm the several points I have proposed to treat of in this book, as principles whereon to ground our observations on the spirit and conduct of after-times.

At present I propose to state the true character and genius of his doctrine. This may seem a digression from my main design; but, as I shall often have occasion to speak of the Gospel, and the opposition it has met with, it will not be improper, in the first place, to exhibit a general idea of what we mean by the Gospel; especially as the professed followers of Christ have been, and still are, not a little divided upon the point.

We may describe the Gospel to be-A divine revelation in the person of Jesus Christ, discovering the misery of fallen man by sin, and the means of his complete recovery by the free grace of God, through faith, unto holiness and happiness. The explication and proof of these particulars from our Lord's express declarations, and the tenour of his conduct, will sufficiently point out the principal marks and characters of his Gospel. But before we enter upon this, two things may be premised.

« PreviousContinue »