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CHRIST A PROPHET.CONSEQUENCES OF HIS PREACHING.
JOAN vii. 46.—And the Officers answered, saying, Never man spake like this Man.'
IN the three preceding discourses, I have considered the Prophetical character of Christ, under these three heads: 1st. The Necessity of his assuming the office of a Prophet; 2dly. The Things which he taught; and, 3dly. T'he Manner in which he taught them.
I shall now proceed to the consideration of the 4th head, originally proposed concerning this subject, viz. The Consequences of his preaching; and, after a brief examination of these, shall conclude my observations on the Personal Preaching of Christ with a few Remarks.
The Preaching of Christ produced, 1st. A general astonishment in those who heard him. And it came to pass, says St. Matthew, that when Jesus had ended all these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine : For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes. Two things are here mentioned as causes of the astonishment, occasioned by Christ's Sermon on the Mount: The things which he taught, and the manner of teaching. The people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes. It cannot be thought strange, that a scheme of doctrine, so new; so solemn; so simple; so pure; so amply fraught with inherent evidence of its truth; and, in all these respects, so opposite to that, which they were accustomed to hear from their own teachers; should produce an unusual degree of wonder in the minds of this people. Nor is it any more strange, that such a manner of teaching, as that employed by Christ, should have its share in producing this effect, and enhance the surprise, occasioned by his instructions. We, who hear these instructions from the cradle, to whom they are presented weekly from the desk, and daily by the Bible, cannot easily conceive the degree, in which they could not fail to impress the minds of men, when they were first published in the world. They were then new, and strange; and, both in the matter and the manner, were in a great measure singular. They were employed on the most important of all subjects: the sin and holiness, the ruin and recovery of mankind. They professed to contain, and communicate the will of God concerning these subjects, and of course to be a message from heaven.
At the same time, they censured, both implicitly and explicitly, most of the doctrines, taught by the Pharisees and Sadducees, most of their precepts, and the general tenor of their lives. The doctrines they showed to be false; the precepts unsound, and immoral ; and the conduct of those, who taught them, to be unworthy of the profession, which they made, and contrary to the Scriptures, whích, in pretence at least, they believed. These men, either alternately or conjointly, had, for a long period, held an entire and commanding influence over the Jewish nation. Highly venerated for their wisdom, and in many instances for their appar. ent sanctity, their countrymen scarcely called in question their claims to this influence, or to the character, on which it was founded. But, when Christ entered on his ministry, he stripped off the mask, by which they had been so long concealed ; and left both their folly and their wickedness naked to every eye. The system, which they had so long taught without opposition, he showed, irresistibly, to be a strange compound of truths derived from the Scriptures; of falsehood and weakness, of superstitious scrupulosity and fanatical zeal, professedly drawn from the traditions of the elders; and of gross immorality and glaring hypocrisy, generated by their own minds. Their pretended sanctity both of doctrine and deportment he proved to be a mere veil, assumed to conceal their enormous avarice and ambition, pride and cruelty. As the means of future acceptance with God, he showed, that they could never avail; and that, therefore, they could only delude, and destroy, their credulous disciples. That such instructions as these, delivered by a person, whose whole life was a direct contrast to that of those, whom he thus censured, and refuted; who evidently appeared to be under the influence of no selfish passion, and no sinister motive; whose precepts required, and whose conduct exemplified, piety and benevolence without a mixture ; delivered too in a manner so clear, so direct, and solemn, so universally convincing and impressive, should astonish all, who heard them, cannot be thought strange, even by us. Such was, indeed, their effect; and to such a degree, as to induce those, who heard them, to pronounce the teache.', on different occasions, a Prophet, a great Prophet, the Prophet foretold by Moses, and the Messiah. When we remember, that this teacher appeared in the character and circumstances of a Jewish Peasant; without a name; without education ; without friends; we cannot but perceive, that the effect of his teaching was, in this respect, very great.
2dly. The preaching of Christ produced great Opposition both to himself and to his doctrines.
I have already recited many causes of this opposition. There were many more. But all of them may with propriety be reduced under these general heads. The novelty and excellency of his doctrines; the strictness and purity of his precepts; his birth; his character; the justice and pungency of his reproofs; the disap
pointment of the expectations of the Jews concerning the glory and splendour of his Messiahship; and the fears of the Pharisees and Sadducees, that he would destroy their influence and power. All these things thwarted some selfish passion, of his hearers; and many of them thwarted every such passion. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at, that they should oppose one, who taught, and lived, so as uniformly to reprove them for their whole moral character, and daily conduct.
This Opposition commenced, almost with his Ministry, and was carried on to its termination. It was, however, carried on with different degrees of vehenience by the different classes of Jews. The Great, that is, the Pharisees and Sadducees, hated Christ with far more uniformity and rancour, than the Common people. The reasons are obvious. He exposed their systems of doctrine, and modes of teaching; refuted their arguments; reproved their abominable conduct; displayed to the people at large their folly and wickedness; and threatened them with the total ruin of their repu. tation and authority. These were offences, not to be forgiven by proud, bigotted, unprincipled, and malignant men. They were not in fact forgiven. Throughout his whole public life, they exercised the most furious resentment against him, and hesitated not to adopt every measure to compass his destruction. All, that sagacity could devise, or art execute, was employed to ensnare, and enCrap, the Redeemer in his words and actions. When these measures failed, as they always did, resort was had to violence and power. These at length succeeded; and the most perfect human malignity was finally gratified by seeing the Saviour nailed to the Cross.
The people at large regarded him with far less bitterness, than their leaders. It is several times mentioned, that the efforts of the Sadducees and Pharisees to destroy Christ, were prevented of success by their fear of the people. It is frequently testified, in substance, that the common people heard him gladly. It is also evident, that, had not appeals been made to their doubts, fears and prejudices, with great art and perseverance, and on many occasions, their attachment both to him and his doctrines would have
sen still higher, and much more nearly accorded with their interest and duty:
On a number of occasions, however, they indulged the most violent animosity against him. Almost at the commencement of his preaching, the inhabitants of Nazareth attempted to put him to a violent death, by forcing him down the precipice of the hill, on which their city was built. Several times, afterwards, their Countrymen endeavoured to stone him; and in the end united, at the instigation of their Rulers, in accomplishing his death, with a fury approximating to madness.
3dly. The preaching of Christ produced the Conversion of a con. siderable number of his hearers.
The number of those, who were converted by the preaching of
Christ, cannot be estimated with any exactness. The eleven Apostles, the Seventy, the more than five hundred brethren, to whom at one time Christ appeared in Galilee, after his resurrection, are numbers mentioned in the Scriptures. The last not improbably included the two first. To these we ought, I think, to add a considerable number more, since it is often said, that some of the people, and many of the people, believed on him. No reason occurs to me, why we should not, generally at least, consider the faith, here spoken of, as Evangelical. If this be admitted, the number of converts, made by the preaching of Christ, must have greatly exceeded the largest number, specified in the Gospel.
Still it is, I suppose, generally believed, that the success, with which Christ preached the Gospel, was small, compared with that of the Apostles, and compared with that, which we should naturally expect to follow preaching, of such singular excellence: especially, when the perfection of his life, and the glory of his miracles, are connected with the nature of his preaching. The success, however, was upon the whole such as to enable the Gospel to take effectual root in this sinful world, and to provide the means of supplying preachers throughout all succeeding ages, and of spreading the Gospel, within a moderate period, over a great part of the earth.
I have now finished the observations, which I proposed to make concerning the personal preaching of Christ; and shall conclude this discourse with a few Remarks, naturally flowing from the considerations, suggested on this subject.
1st. These considerations call up to our view, in an interesting manner, the Glory and Excellency of Christ as a Teacher.
From the things, which have been said in these discourses, it is, if I mistake not, clearly manifest, that both the matter and manner of Christ's preaching were singularly important, and excellent. The errand, on which he came into the world, was the greatest, which ever entered into the conception of rational beings, or which was ever proposed in the Providence of God. Of this vast and sublime purpose the preaching of the Gospel was a primary and indispensable part. To this part he appeared perfectly equal. The will of God the Father, concerning the duty and Salvation of men, he entirely understood; and, together with it, the character, the sins, errors, ignorance, and wants, of those, to whom he was sent; their hatred of truth, their opposition to their duty, and their reluctance to be saved. The same perfect acquaintance he also possessed with the nature and import of the preceding Revelation ; its types, prophecies, and precepts; the false glosses, made on its various contents by the teachers, who went before him; and the miserable prejudices, imbibed by those whom he taught. These errors he detected and exposed: these sins he powerfully reproved: and the truth and duty, opposed to them, he enjoined with a force and evidence wholly irresistible. In this manner, he taught
the way of lfe with such clearness, that he who ran might read, and that way-faring men, though fools, could not, necessarily, err therein.
At the same time, he adorned these instructions with a candour, frankness, gentleness, and sweetness of demeanour, with a sincerity, boldness, and energy of character, immensely honourable to himself
, and supremely great and lovely in the view of every just and discerning mind. Over all, his daily example, as a moral being, cast a glorious lustre, at once transcendently beautiful in itself, and illuminating in the strongest manner the nature and excellence of all that he said. . If Christ had not come into the world; if he had not preached the Gospel; what would now have been the condition of mankind? The Mosaic system, of necessity confined almost entirely to the Jewish nation, had, before the advent of our Saviour, degenerated chiefly into a mere mass of externities. The moral part of this system was in a great measure neglected, or forgotten: the ceremonial had almost wholly occupied its place.
Even this, also, had lost its proper designation, and influence. The sacrifices, instead of being regarded as mere symbols of that real and great Atonement, which taketh away the sins of the world, and to typify which, they were originally instituted, seem to have been, at this time, considered as expiations in themselves. The ablutions, which were intended only to direct the eye to the cleansing of the Soul by the blood of Christ, and the affusion of the Spirit of grace, appear to have lost their typical character, and to have been exalted by a gross imagination into means of washing away the stains of the soul, and making it pure in the sight of God. The oblation of incense was apparently supposed by the suppliant to ascend with his prayers to the heavens, and to accompany them with a sweet odour to the throne of God. To wear long clothing; to make broad their phylacteries; to pray in the corners of the streets; to fast twice a week; to bow down the head like a bulrush; to sit in sackcloth and ashes; and to tithe mint, annise, and cummin; were considered as the price paid for heaven; the price, with which salvation might assuredly be purchased. In the mean time, piety to God, Justice, judgment, and mercy towards men, and that govern
, ment of our passions and appetites, without which neither can exist, were kept out of sight, and out of remembrance. Pride and avarice, cruelty and lust, reigned without control, and without opposition. Scarce an effort seems to have been made, or even thought of, to check the tide of declension. The progress was rapid, and unimpeded, till the measure of iniquity became full. About forty years after the crucifixion, the crimes of the Jewish řation, according to the testimony of Josephus, himself a Jew, rose to such a height, as to forbid the longer continuance of any civilized state, or social union, among this people. Furious aniinosity, unexampled pollution, civil war raging with singular