« VorigeDoorgaan »
period or crisis in the Gospel-economy, for a more remarkable and final Coming in of " the Fulness of the Gentiles," even to the ends of the Earth; and that it is the great and gracious purpose of God, in that day, to manifest himself to the " Heathen around us, and bring them to the knowledge of his blessed Gospel, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ;" which was the first thing I proposed to shew.
But here infidelity usually urges the following questions, viz.
If such be the intention of God, and so great the efficacy of his Gospel; what must become of those who have sat so long in darkness and the shadow of Death? And why does he so long delay the accom. plishment of his own eternal promises?
Reverence to the Supreme Lord of heaven and earth, it might have been hoped, would have secured the advocates of the Christian Revelation against questions of such high presumption. For who shall say unto the Almighty, what dost thou? Or what man, of mortal descent, shall hope to unfold those secret reasons of Divine conduct, which eternal wisdom hath not thought fit to reveal?
As for us, we shall only reply in general that as "Those who have sinned without Law shall also perish without Law; so those who have sinned in the Law [if they perish] shall be judged by the Law." As the Spirit of God hath not thought fit to declare how far the Satisfaction of Christ will be applied to those who never heard of his name, we must not presume to be wise above what is written. The nations
† Rom. ii. 12.
Rom. xi. 25.
that sit in darkness and the shadow of death must be left to God's uncovenanted Mercies, to judge them according to the measure of Knowledge and Light which they have received. The Tribunal of the Almighty is erected upon infinite Wisdom, Justice and Goodness-and infinite Wisdom, Justice and Goodness cannot commit Error or Wrong!
With respect to the second question—“ Why doth the Almighty so long delay the accomplishment of his own gracious promises?" We must answer much in the same general manner. Known unto God, and Him alone, are all His councils from the foundation of the world. Some conjectures, however, we may humbly offer on this head, without incurring the charge of presumption.
Except in extraordinary cases, the supreme Being seems to conduct all his operations by general laws; and, both in the Natural and Moral world, the advances to Perfection are gradual and progressive. The Law and the Prophets, which were of old, were but a faint and mysterious Revelation of the Will of God, compared to the full blaze of the Gospel, whereby His "Whole* Council" shone forth at last to mankind. The Lord spoke once in thunders and lightnings from Mount Sinait, but now leaves the conversion of nations to the ordinary methods of His providence. God did not give the Christian Revelation itself, till the Roman‡ ambition had brought
• Acts xx. 27.
† Exodus xix. 19.
See some fine remarks on this head by Dr. Robertson, the celebrated author of the History of Scotland, in his sermon before the society in Scotland for propagating Christian knowledge.
almost the whole world to a kind of similarity of language and manners, and had opened such an intercourse between distant nations, as made that one of the most favourable periods for spreading a new religion. Countries were now accessible that had before been unknown; and universal peace, added to universal subjection to one common empire, gave the disciples of Christ and first preachers of the Gospel a great advantage in travelling from clime to clime.
Now, who knows but Almighty Wisdom may have predetermined a period similar to this, in the situation of affairs in this new world, for spreading His glorious Gospel to the remotest parts of it?
And the consideration of this leads me to the second head of my discourse; which was "to make some remarks on the situation of things on this continent, with respect to the Gospel economy, and the probability of a speedy accomplishment of the Prophecies which relate to the Coming in of the Fulness of the Gentiles, and final conversion of the nations."
And here what a series of remarkable circumstances claim our most devout attention? Reasoning upon moral as upon natural things, what a beautiful analogy shall we find among all the operations of Divine Providence?
The Sun, the glorious Luminary of day, comes forth from his chambers of the east, and, rejoicing to run his course, carries Light and Heat and Joy through the nations to the remotest parts of the west, and returns to the place from whence he came. In like manner it doth appear that the Light of the glorious Gospel is to proceed, till it hath carried one bright
day over all the habitable world; and then will come the end of things. The inspired writers, we have already seen, love to speak of the propagation of Christianity, under this figure; as proceeding from the Rising to the Setting of the Sun; and this course we find it has pursued.
In the primitive ages of simplicity, the first indications of Divine Will were given to the Patriarchs of mankind in the Eastern parts of the world, by God himself, conversing with them face to face, as they tended their flocks, or journeyed on from pasture to pasture. This was the Dawn of things. Soon afterwards followed the Law, and then the Prophets, advancing nearer and nearer to a full and perfect Revelation; till at last it broke forth in its Meridian Glory, by the coming of the son of God, at that period already referred to, when the situation of the world had prepared the way for its more effectual reception. The wisdom of God was visible in all this; and soon did the Christian Religion spread itself Westward, till it reached the vast Atlantic ocean and the Isles of the Gentiles, where the posterity of Japhet dwelt.
Now among these Isles, or places on the ocean, or western parts, as they are indifferently phrased, Great-Britain, our mother-country, that ultima Thule of the ancients, bore a principal figure. Early was the Gospel preached there, if not by the Apostles themselves, yet certainly by some of their followers, in their days, and before the destruction of Jerusalem*.
• There is some probability that the Gospel was preached in GreatBritain by St. Simon the apostle, there is much greater probability that it VOL. II. Tt
Here the matter rested. This was the first stage of the Gospel-progress. To the westward of Britain, the ancients seem to have known nothing. They considered these islands as the ends of the world; and extensive as the Roman empire was at our Saviour's coming; this American continent, more extensive than it all, lay entirely hid from their knowledge, and seems to have been reserved as the stage of a second remarkable period in the Gospel-progress.
Not a vestige, therefore, of Christianity was propagated hither, till after it had kept possession of the Old World, in various forms and under various corruptions, for at least fifteen centuries. But, at the expiration of that period, it pleased God to open the way to the discovery of new countries, which likewise opened the way to the establishment of the Gospel in them. For it is obvious to remark, that the nations, which were raised up for this purpose, were those among whom Christianity was openly professed; and consequently they carried their religion along with them. Being likewise superior to all the rest of the world in the arts of commerce and every improvement of civil life, they were the fittest to explore new settlements, conciliate the affections of the natives, and push their discoveries to the greatest ex
was preached there by St. Paul; and there is absolute certainty that it was planted there in their days. Eusebius says that the apostles preached in all the world, and some of them passed beyond the ocean, even to the Britannic isles;-trans Oceanum evasisse, ad eas insulas quæ Britannicæ vocantur. Demons. Evang. lib. 3.
And Theodoret, among the nations converted by the apostles, reckons particularly the Britons:-neque solum Romanos, sed et Britannos, atque, ut semel dicam, omne bominum genus. Serm. 9. See Bishop Newton, Dissertation XVIII.