Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

that the germ contained in the first notices of it has now developed itself, and yields fruit in abundance.

If you now ask, what Jesus Christ, as a prophet, has taught us? I might, in answer to the question, refer you to the Scriptures. These contain his instructions under both dispensations, and are the only rule of faith and obedience. I shall not attempt to give you a summary of his doctrine, which would occupy too much time; and, besides, would be improper, as it would necessarily lead to a repetition of topics, which have been already considered, and an anticipation of others, which will afterwards be discussed. I shall confine myself to a few general remarks.

First, He has illustrated certain truths of which men already possessed some knowledge, such as the existence of God, his providence and moral government, and the law which he has given for the regulation of our conduct. Of these, some notions were found among nations which had not been favoured with revelation ; but they were imperfect, and mingled with errors, as we have seen in a former part of this course. It was in consequence of his teaching by the prophets, that the Jews were so distinguished by their creed, that, in matters of religion, the wisest nations of antiquity, when compared with them, were as children and fools. No philosopher could ever venture to pronounce, with unhesitating confidence, the proposition which was in the mouth of every rustic in Canaan, that God is one. It is owing to his teaching by the Apostles, that the polytheism, the idolatry, the gross superstition, the licentious maxims and barbarous usuages of Greece and Rome, and other nations less civilized, have been supplanted by the pure and simple creed, which is adopted in Christian countries, or, at least, in such of them as acknowledge the Scripture alone as their standard. Those truths, which were once dimly seen, now shine with the light of day. The knowledge of them is facilitated, and is within the reach of the most common capacity, because they are not to be sought out by laborious investigation, but to be received upon authority. The voice of Jesus Christ has decided all controversies, and terminated all doubts respecting them. “ No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him."

Secondly, He has established as certain, some points which were the subject of conjecture, or of fluctuating opinion. I refer particularly to the immortality of the soul, and a future state of rewards and punishments. On these topics much was talked and written, and, perhaps, they were not called in question by the common people, who did not reason about them, but gave credit to tradition. That the belief of the wisest among the heathens rested upon no solid foundation, is evident from this fact, that when they proceed to bring arguments, some of them are inconclusive and fanciful'; and those which are of more weight, failed to produce conviction, as we see from the doubts expressed by the most eminent philosophers. If at one time they seem to have attained to certainty, at another they hesitated and wavered, and ended in leaving the matter to be determined by the event. “But Jesus Christ hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light by the gospel.” Coming from the invisible state, he has so far disclosed its secrets, as to assure us that the soul shall survive the death of the body, and will be consigned to bliss or woe by the sentence of its Judge. Although this truth may have little practical effect upon many of his followers; they never call it in question; and they alone doubt and disbelieve, who, having renounced him as their Teacher, commit themselves to the guidance of their erring reason, and the blinding influence of unholy passions. In the creed of his followers, it is a primary article, that the present is only the introductory stage of our existence;

* John i. 18.

that at death we shall enter upon a new state of being; and that, through him, they who believe, shall enjoy perpetual felicity in heaven.

Thirdly, He has made known truths of which men were completely ignorant. I refer to the scheme of redemption in all its parts, which, having its origin in the sovereign will of God, is a matter of pure revelation. Some notions were entertained by heathen nations of the placability of the divine nature, and sacrifices were offered to appease the anger of the gods, and to conciliate their favour. But they could assign no satisfactory reason for their opinion or their practice. Their fathers had believed and acted in this manner before them, and they followed them without being able to show that their hope had any solid foundation. The truth is, that it was not from reason that they derived their ideas of the mercy of the Supreme Being, and the efficacy of sacrifices, but from revelation, of which some fragments, encrusted with superstition, had been handed down to them by tradition.

Those faint rays, which glimmered amidst the darkness of heathenism, proceeded from the Sun of righteousness, but had been deprived of their splendor and their influence, by the grossness of the medium through which they were transmitted. All our knowledge of the gracious purposes of God, whether more or less extensive; whether consisting in hopes and conjectures, or in the full assurance of faith, must be traced to this source : “ For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor ?'* No one was present with him but his Son, when the plan was formed for the salvation of our guilty race. There is nothing in his external works to suggest the idea of it; there is no impression of heavenly mysteries upon visible objects. Providence displays his beneficence and his patience; but it gives no intimation of his purpose to bestow final felicity upon sinners, of an atonement to expiate their guilt, or of the communication of supernatural grace to purify their nature. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them to us by his spirit; for the spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”+ It is the glory of Jesus Christ as a prophet, that he has not only shed new light upon subjects of which men possessed some previous knowledge, but has disclosed a scene, in grandeur and interest, surpassing the won. ders of creation. It is chiefly on this account that there was a necessity for his prophetical office. It is chiefly on this account that he is the Light of the world. And, indeed, all the other knowledge which he has communicated to mankind would have been of no avail, if he had not revealed his Father to us as the God of love, and himself in the character of a Saviour.

What we wanted to know, was not merely that there is one God, but that he is propitious to his fallen creatures ; not merely that we should worship him, but that our services shall be acceptable to him; not merely that there is a state beyond the grave, but by. what means we shall obtain possession of its blessedness. On these important subjects, he has given us full satisfaction. How welcome to us should be a teacher, who speaks the words of truth and grace, and in the execution of his office, has realized the following interesting description : " The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek: he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn ; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

• Rom. xi. 34.

ti Cor. ii. 9—10.

# Is. lxi. 1-3.

N

be glorified.” This is the jubilee of the human race, and the Messiah, in the character of our prophet, has announced it by the Gospel.

I shall resume the subject in the next Lecture.

LECTURE LV.

ON THE PROPHETICAL OFFICE OF CHRIST.

View of Christ's instructions as a Prophet continued-Superiority of Christ to all other

Teachers, in the completeness, perspicuity, authority, and efficacy of his instructionsAgency of the Holy Ghost in the execution of Christ's Prophetical office; its necessity and effects.

In the preceding Lecture, I pointed out the qualifications of Jesus Christ for the prophetical office, the time during which it is executed, and the subjects of his instructions, of which only a very general account was attempted. You would observe, that the subjects to which I referred were all of a religious nature, and to these his instructions were confined

Jesus Christ has said nothing concerning some topics to which the attention of men is earnestly directed, and which are intimately connected with their temporal interests; as science, politics, and the various arts by which life is sustained and adorned. Of these he took no notice; not because they are unimportant; for, in their own sphere, they are of great utility; but because they bore no relation to the purpose of his mission. In the business of the present life, reason and experience are sufficient guides. We needed no revelation to assist us in the study of nature, in the operations of husbandry and commerce, in the constitution of civil government, and the enactment of laws for the security of our persons and property. The degree of knowledge which is necessary for purposes of practical use, may be obtained on these subjects by the exercise of the faculties with which our Creator has endowed us. There was no reason, therefore, why Jesus should have interrupted his more important labours to descend to details about these inferior matters. He was something higher than a philosopher or statesman ; he was a teachar of subline mysteries, which it had not entered into the mind of man to conceive.

He has not given us so full and particular an account of a future state as some men may deem desirable, and they may, therefore, look upon the want of it as a defect. Curiosity is a very powerful principle, and every thing which promises to gratify it meets with eager attention. How welcome to some persons would be graphical descriptions of heaven, and such a detail of the state of the inhabitants and their employments, as we receive, of the places which they have visited, from travellers on their return from a foreign country! Enthusiasts indulge in such descriptions. Mistaking the visions of fancy for realities, they retail them as authentic, and sometimes obtain for their fables the credit which is due only to truth. You might imagine that one of them had been in the celestial paradise, and had lately descended to the earth with the impressions of its scenes of magnificence and felicity fresh in his memory; while, in fact, he is the dupe of his own sleeping or waking dreams. Mahomet has portrayed his paradise with the bright colours of oriental imagery ; and while it rises to the view of his deluded followers, with its groves of perpetual verdure, and its cooling streams, and its houris, and all its other sensual delights, they feel their hearts glow with augmented zeal for his religion, and new fervour of desire. Our Prophet, who alone could have given a faithful the eye.

description of the invisible state, has abstained from it. He has contented himself with informing us, that there is a place of rest for his followers beyond the limits of this visible diurnal sphere, and with a general account of the exercises and enjoyments of those who are admitted into it. There is nothing to please the imagination ; but there is enough to support faith, and animate hope, and minister consolation amidst the ills of life ; and if these purposes are accomplished, his end is gained. If men will not be excited to a life of piety and holiness, by the simple knowledge that there is another world in which the followers of Christ shall receive a recompence of incalculable value and everlasting duration, they would have continued equally insensible, and as much attached to earthly vanities, although by the particularity of the description, the veil had been drawn aside, and it had stood disclosed, as it were, to

Having taken a general view of the instructions of Christ, I proceed to lay before you some characters or properties by which they are distinguished, and he is proved to be superior to all other teachers.

The first particular to which I request your attention, is their fulness or completeness ; for, although there are some points, as we have shown, which he has passed over in silence, there is nothing wanting in his instructions as a system of religious truth. To be convinced of this fact, we must take into consideration the Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament as constituting a whole ; for such they are, having been dictated by one Spirit, and intended to promote one design. When we call them two revelations, we express ourselves inaccurately if we mean that they are different in the subject of which they treat; for it is one religion, varying only in its external form, which is taught from the beginning to the end of the Bible. Were we to separate the Old and the New Testament, and to examine them as distinct and independent revelations, we might find defects in the former ; but what is wanting in the one is supplied in the other, and both taken together constitute the word of Christ. In like manner, if we were to consider by itself the revelation made by our Saviour in person, it also might appear to us deficient, for he had many things to say to his disciples which they were not then able to bear, of which, however, they were afterwards informed when the Spirit came and led them into all the truth. I have no doubt that the New Testament alone is sufficient for salvation, as it contains the whole gospel, or all that can be known concerning the gracious purposes of God; but when I speak of the fulness of our Sariour's instructions, I refer also to the Old Testament, of which the histories and prophecies and devotional compositions are so useful and edifying to the church. What I affirm is, that he has made a perfect revelation of the will of God, using the term perfect in a relative sense, as importing that it is fully adapted to its design. As much light is let in upon the mind as is suited to its present capacity and circumstances. We may learn from the Scriptures all the truths which we ought to know, and all the duties which we are bound to perform ; we may find the way to heaven, and receive all the directions and assistance which we need in pursuing our journey to it. While vain curiosity is checked, humble inquiries are encouraged, and the means of satisfying them are provided. Whosoever sits down at the feet of Christ and receives his law, shall be made wise unto salvation.

“I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ; when he is come, he will tell us all things.' These words have no authority in themselves, as they were spoken by an ignorant, heretical woman ; but they prove the state of opinion among the Samaritans, and no doubt also of the Jews. There was a general expectation that the Messiah would solve all questions in religion,

John iv. 25,

D

a

and make a clearer and more perfect revelation than was then enjoyed. When Moses, by the order of God, had given laws and ordinances to his countrymen to regulate their worship and obedience, he added, “ The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me. Whether we conceive Jesus Christ alone to be meant, or the words to have a double sense, and to refer, in the first instance to a succession of prophets, and ultimately to him, they manifestly implied, that new communications of the Divine will would be made. When the ministry of the prophets came to a close, the Jews received a commandment to adhere steadfastly to the law which was published from Sinai, but at the same time were directed to look for a dispensation of greater light. Hence the last of them closes his book with a prediction of the appearance of the Sun of Righteousness, and of

a his forerunner who would prepare the people for the day of the Lord. When the Baptist came, and the eyes of all men were turned to him, he told them of another, whose shoes he was not worthy to unloose, and who would excel him in doctrine, as well as in dignity of person. “ He that cometh from above, is above all; he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth.”+ But there is no intimation of another divine messenger after Jesus Christ, to supply what may be wanting, or to illuminate what may be dark in his revelation. By the books of the New Testament the canon is completed. God, when he spoke to us by his Son, spoke for the last time. The spirit of inspiration is withdrawn from the church, and men must henceforth walk by the rule of the written word. This is a proof of the fulness of revelation. It is not because God is less attentive than in former times to the interests of mankind, that he no longer sends extraordinary messengers, but because the revelation which he has already given is sufficient. The Scriptures are “ profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” and are able to make us “perfect, and thoroughly to furnish us unto all good works.”'I

It is on the ground of the fulness or perfection of the instructions of Jesus Christ as prophet, that we are commanded to hear him alone, and to call no man master or teacher. If there were any defect in revelation, it would not be a crime to endeavour to supply it by the efforts of our own reason, or by having recourse to the superior wisdom of others. The undue stress which is sometimes laid upon human authority in religien, betrays the want of proper respect for the claims of our Saviour to the implicit and unreserved confidence of his professed disciples. The church of Rome, by admitting traditions as a part of the rule of faith, and placing them on a level with the dictates of inspiration, pronounces the Scriptures to be imperfect, and is as manifestly guilty of setting aside the prophetical office of Christ, as she is of setting aside his priestly office when she exalts the glorified saints to the rank of intercessors with God.

The second particular which is worthy of attention, is the perspicuity of his instructions. In ascribing this property to them, I wish it to be understood that I do not apply it to every part of them, but to the Scriptures considered 'as a whole. The reve’ation of Jesus Christ, taken as a whole, is perspicuous; that is, it communicates distinct and satisfactory information respecting all the subjects which it interests us to know. Some parts of it, when viewed by themselves, are obscure. This is the general character of the Old Testament, so far as it speaks of future things, whether they relate to Christ himself and his work, or to the events which were to befal his church to the end of the world. This obscurity may be said to have been intentional, it being the de

а

Deut. xviii. 15.

† John üïï. 31, 32,

+ 2 Tim. iii, 16, 17.

« VorigeDoorgaan »