Page images
PDF
EPUB

are free from all such yokes of bondage, or slavery, which are below ingenuous minds. And it certainly is no small advantage to be freed from burdensome impositions, and needless restraints of this kind; and to be able without scandal to partake of all the innocent enjoyments of life; provided men do not set up some other sort of orthodoxy, as vain and insignificant; equally unprofitable to those who pride themselves in it, and equally troublesome to the world around them.

6. Finally, let us exercise ourselves unto godliness. Bodily exercise profiteth little. It has no divine promise of any good thing whatever. But godliness is profitable unto all things: and bas promises of life and happiness hereafter, and of peace, joy, and comfort here. Let us exercise and improve ourselves in this true excellence, by meditation and prayer, watchfulness and circumspection ; restraining irregular appetites, purifying ourselves more and more, and adding one virtue to another, being ready to every good word and every good work, and growing daily more perfect in sobriety, meekness, patience, and every other part of true, real piety.

SERMON V.

INTERNAL MARKS OF CREDIBILITY IN THE NEW

TESTAMENT.

Moreover, I will endeavour that you may be able, after my

decease, to have these things always in remembrance. For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty.

2 Pet. i. 15, 16. WE are setting before you the grounds upon which we receive the christian religion as true and divine. No religion ean come from God which contains principles or rules of life unworthy of him; part of this design therefore is, to show the excellency of the principles of our religion, and the goodness of its precepts; that they are suitable to the divine perfections, and such as may proceed from him, without any derogation to him; if not such as could come

from none but God himself. Another part of the design is, to consider the miracles supposed to be wrought by our Saviour, and his apostles, and the predictions of uncertain events, as attestations of a divine commission for giving these religious instructions to mankind.

But it is needful we have some satisfactory proof of the truth and reality of these. They who were eye-witnesses of any

wonderful works, are satisfied by their own senses ; but for us, who live many ages after the promulgation, and supposed attestation of this religion, it is necessary we consider what evidence there is of the account we have of them. There being no miracles wrought before us for the confirmation of our religion, we ought to be convinced of the truth of those that were done in the first ages of it. If it be made appear that many extraordinary works were done as proofs of a commission from heaven, that predictions were made of distant and uncertain events, which were afterwards accomplished, this will prove the divine original of the christian religion. What lies before me there is to show, that the account we have of these things in the history of the gospel, and particularly in the books of the New Testament, is credible, and such as may be received by impartial and unprejudiced persons; that Jesus Christ dwelt in Judea, and, in the name of God, taught the most pure and excellent principles of religion, worked many miracles, healing all kinds of distempers by his word, raising the dead, and the like; that he foretold many uncertain events, which afterwards came to pass ;-his own death, resurrection, the pouring out of the Holy Ghost on his followers, with power to do the like, or greater works than he had done bimself; the conversion of the world to his doctrine, and the destruction of the Jewish state ; that he was eruci. fied, rose from the dead, and ascended up to heaven ; that his apostles and others, after this, did work many miracles by powers they received from him, and propagated in a great part of the world the doctrine he taught.

The particular consideration of the miracles and predice tions of our Saviour and his apostles is in other hands. What lies before us at present is, the credibility of the account we have of them, and of the rise of our religion. That it is not a forged and invented story, but a faithful narrative of matters of fact; for we have not followed cunningly devised fables, as the apostle here says, but have delivered to you only an account of what we saw done before our eyes; and he says it when he was in expectation of leaving this world in a very short time: “ Knowing that shortly I

must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me,” 2 Pet. i. 14. St. Luke likewise avers in the beginning of his gospel, that he had perfect understanding from the first, of the things concerning which he was about to write: and St. John says, in the beginning of his first epistle, 6 that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you," chap. i. 2, 3. I

propose to set before you the internal marks and characters there are of truth and probability in the account itself, the history of the New Testament.

1. I would just observe, that the books we receive this history from have the names of particular persons; and this is an argument they are genuine, when there is no particular reason to the contrary. The positive proofs which there are of their being really written by the persons whose names they bear, belong to another argument. All that I insist upon now is, that they were handed down to us in the names of the

persons
who take

upon

them this character of living at the time the things they relate were transacted.

As for the four gospels, the names of their several authors are not indeed inserted in them. Two of them, Matthew and John, were of the twelve disciples, and followers of Christ; Mark was a companion of Peter in his travels and preaching: and Luke was a companion of Paul. Some have supposed they were both of them of the seventy-two that were sent forth by our Saviour in his lifetime. In the epistles the name of the writer is inserted in the salutation of the person to whom they are sent, excepting that one of the epistle to the Hebrews, which, if written by Paul, as is generally supposed, might be onnitted for special reasons.

2. These books are written in a language and in a style suitable to the character of the persons whose names they bear. The language is Greek, which obtained very much in that country, in Syria and Judea, and in Egypt, after the conquest of Alexander, and the division of the countries he had subdued amongst his generals. The language is Greek, but some words are used in a different sense from what they have in the ancient writers that dwelt in Greece and its colonies, and there are some few Syriac words, and some borrowed from the Roman language, and there are phrases that have somewhat of the Syriac or Chaldee idiom.

3. Here are many characters of time inserted, which are arguments that it is a real history of facts. There was, saith St. Luke, “ In the days of Herod the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia,” Luke i. 5. The time of our Saviour's birth is set down with par

ticular characters by the same evangelist. “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed ;” not only the city of Rome, but all the provinces of the empire: “ and this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria,” Luke ii. 1, 2. or, as the words ought to be rendered, according to the judgment of the best critics; • this taxing was before that made when Cyrenius was go• vernor of Syria,' to distinguish it from that which was really made ten years after, and which proved very fatal to the Jewish nation, by the sedition raised upon the occasion of it by Judas Gaulonites, and which gave rise to the troubles that lasted a long time. St. Matthew says likewise, “ Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king,” Matt. ii. 1. The first preaching of John the Baptist has likewise very particular characters of time specified. “ Now in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Cæsar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea, and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests; the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness," Luke ii. 1, 2. “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus," Matt. xiv. 1. And in the Acts of the Apostles we have an account of the opposition raised by the Jews against Paul at Jerusalem: of his being taken out of their hands by Claudius Lysias the chief captain; of his being sent by him to Felix at Cesarea; and of his being delivered up by him to Portius Festus bis successor. All these are such marks of time, as give some appearance of a true history of facts.—But to proceed.

4. The great design of this bistory, and of the first preaching of the gospel, bas nothing in it that should tempt men to forgery and invention. The design evidently pursued the rectifying the conceptions of men relating to the nature of God, and the way of worshipping him; to convince them of their sins, and to turn them from them. Men are informed of their duty, exhorted to repentance. The Jews are admonished not to depend upon external priviJeges, but to bring forth fruits meet for repentance. "Gentiles are exhorted to turn from idols, and all abominable vices. The strictest regimen of thoughts and affections, of words and actions, is enjoined upon the sole consideration of a regard to God and a future account. Had it been an attempt to erect a civil government, or an ecclesiastical polity, there might have been some ground of suspicion of

the miracles urged in its favour; though a bare suspicion must have given way to plain proofs. And, indeed, the gospel has this advantage of the Mosaic dispensation. His commission was manifestly proved by the wonderful things he wrought. But he formed a numerous people into political government, and settled an honourable priesthood in his family, upon his brother and his descendants. But the gospel design, as represented in the New Testament, will not suggest any suspicions to them that observe it. This is all I urge at present, that the great design promoted in this bistory, does not seem to carry in it any temptation to forgery and invention.

5. We have in this history, in the books of the New Tes. tament, a very natural representation of things, with all the appearances of likelihood and probability. The chief subject of the four gospels are our Saviour's discourses and miracles, his history and resurrection, the reception he met with, the reflections the people made upon him, the exceptions of the people and pharisees against him, all which are suitable to the character of the persons, and the principles that obtained among them. When they had heard some of his discourses, the people soon apprehended a difference between his doctrine, and that they had been wont to hear from their Rabbies. “When Jesus had ended these say. ings, the people were astonished at his doctrine; for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes," Matt. vii. 28, 29. After he is said to have cured divers infirmities, restored sight to the blind, and speech to the dumb, and delivered some that were possessed with evil spirits. After he had wrought some cures, it is highly reasonable to suppose he should have a concourse of people flock to him, to reap benefit from his hands. multitudes came unto bim, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet, and he healed them; insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see : and they glorified the God of Israel,” Matt. xv. 30, 31. “ The multitude marvelled, saying, it was never so seen in Israel : but the pharisees said, he casteth out the devils through the prince of the devils,” Matt. ix. 33, 34. Some were offended at the meanness of his.parentage and educa. tion. “ Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son ? is not his mother called Mary ? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas ? and his sisters, are they not all with

“ And great

« PreviousContinue »