« PreviousContinue »
to be dazzled with the present, and employ ourselves about the future world: perhaps also we must make a sacrifice of some darling passion, abjure some old opinion; or restore some acquisition, which is dearer to us than the truths of religion, and the salvation of our souls. Wo be to us! Let us no more reproach the Jews; the causes of their indofence are the causes of ours. Ah! let us take care, lest, like them, we continue in ignorance, till the vengeance of God command death, and devils, and hell, to_awake us with them to everlasting shame,' Dan. xii. 2.
Jesus Christ, having heard from the mouths of his apostles what people thought of him, desired also to hear from their own mouths (we have assigned the reasons before) what they themselves thought of him. He saith unto them, but whom say ye that I am?' Peter instantly replied for himself, and for the whole apostolical college, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.'
Such were the various opinions of the Jews about Jesus Christ; and each continued in his own prejudice without giving himself any farther trouble about it. But how could they remain in a state of tranquillity, while questions of such importance remained in dispute? All their religion, all their hopes, and all their happiness, depended on the solution of this probfem: who is the man about whom the opinions of mankind are so divided? The questions, strictly speaking, were these: Is the Redeemer of Israel come? Are the prophecies accomplished? Is the Son of God among us, and has he brought with him peace, grace, and glory? What kind of beings were the Jews, who left these great questions undetermined, and lived without elucidating them? Are you surprised at these things, my brethren? Your indolence on questions of the same kind is equally astonishing to considerate men. The Jews had business, they must have neglected it; they loved pleasures and amusements, they must have suspended them; they were stricken with whatever concerned the present life, and they must have sought after the life to come, they must have shaken off that idleness in which they spent their lives, and have taken up the cross and followed Jesus Christ. These were the causes of that indolence which surprises you, and these were the causes of that ignorance which concealed Jesus Christ from them, till he made himself known to them by the just, though bloody calamities, which he inflicted on their nation. And these are also the causes of that ignorance, in which the greater part of you are involved, in regard to many quéstions as important as those which were agitated then. Will a few acts of faith in God, and of love to him, assure us of our sal-ed with a holy jealousy, in regard to them vation, or must these acts be continued, re- who partake with him the honour of apospeated, and established? Does faith consist in tleship, and it would mortify him, could he barely believing the merit of the Saviour, or think, that any one of the apostolical college does it include an entire obedience to his has more zeal for his master, to whom he has laws? Is the fortune, that I enjoy with so devoted his heart, and his life, all his faculty much pleasure, display with so much parade, of loving, and all the powers of his soul; or hide with so much niggardliness, really he looks, he sparkles, and he replies, "Thou mine, or does it belong to my country, to my art the Christ, the Son of the living God.' customers, to the poor, or to any others, Thou art the Christ,' or, thou art the whom my ancestors have deceived, from Messiah, the King promised to the church. whom they have obtained, and from whom I He calls this king the Son of God.' The withhold it? Does my course of life lead to Jews gave the Messiah this title, which was heaven, or to hell? Shall I be numbered an object of their hopes. Under this idea with the spirits of just men made perfect,' the prophecies had promised him, 'the Lord Heb. xii. 23, after I have finished my short hath said unto me, thou art my Son; this day life, or shall I be plunged with devils into have I begotten thee,' Ps. ii. 7. God himeternal flames? My God! how is it possible self conferred this title on Jesus Christ from for men quietly to eat, drink, sleep, and, as heaven, This is my beloved Son,' Matt. iii. they call it, amuse themselves, while these 17. Under this idea the angel promised him important questions remain unanswered! to his holy mother, Thou shalt bring forth But, as I said of the Jews, we must neglect a Son, he shall be great, and shall be called, our business; suspend our pleasures; cease the Son of the Highest,' Luke i. 31, 32.
St. Peter was a man of great vivacity, and people of this cast are subject to great mistakes; as ready to speak as to think; they often fall into mistakes, through the same principle that inclines them to embrace the truth, and to maintain it. St. Peter's history often exemplifies this remark. Does he hear Jesus Christ speak of his approaching death?' Lord (says he), spare thyself, this shall not be to thee,' Matt. xvi. 22. Does he see a few rays of celestial glory on the holy mount! He is stricken with their splendour, and exclaims, Lord, it is good for us to be here,' chap. xvii. 4. Does he perceive Jesus Christ in the hands of his enemies? He draws a sword to deliver him, and cuts off the ear of Malchus. But, if this vivacity expose a man to great inconveniences, it is also accompanied with some fine advantages. When a man of this disposition attends to virtue, he makes infinitely greater proficiency in it than those slow men do, who pause, and weigh, and argue out all step by step: the zeal of the former is more ardent, their flames are more vehement, and after they are become wise by their mistakes, they are patterns of piety. St. Peter on this occasion, proves beforehand all we have advanced. He feels himself animat
will answer all questions, and solve all difficulties. It is Elias, who will obtain by his prayers the resurrection of the just. It is Elias, who will do for the dispersed Jews what Moses did for the Israelites enslaved in Egypt; he will march at their head, and conduct them to Canaan. All these expressions are taken from the Rabbins, whose names I omit, as well as the titles of the books from which I have quoted the passages now mentioned.
They are two very different questions, I grant, whether the Jewish church acknowTedged that the Messiah should be the Son of God;' and whether they knew all the import of this august title. It cannot, however, be reasonably doubted, I think, whether they discovered his dignity, although they might not know the doctrine of Christ's divinity so clearly, nor receive it with so much demonstration, as Christians have received it. I should digress too far from my subject, were I to quote all the passages from the writings of the Jews which learned men have collected on this article. Let it suffice to remark, that if it could be proved, that the Jewish church affixed only confused ideas to the title Son of God,' which is given to the Messiah, it is beyond a doubt, I think, that the apostles affixed clear ideas to the terms, and that in their style, God and Son of God are synonymous: witness, among many other passages, St. Thomas's adoration of Jesus Christ expressed in these words, 'My Lord and my God.'
Let us not engage any farther in this controversy now; let us improve the precious moments which remain to the principal design that we proposed in the choice of the subject, that is, to guard you against the temptations which arise from that variety of opinions which are received, both in the world and in the church, on the most important points of religion. The comparison we are going to make of St. Peter's confession of faith, with the judgment of Jesus Christ on it, will conduct us to this end.
1. Let us attend to the circumstances which providence had improved to the producing of St. Peter's faith. There are in the lives of Christians, certain signal circumstances, in which we cannot help perceiving a particular hand of Providence working for their salvation. Mistakes on this article may produce, and foment, superstitious sentiments. We have, in general, a secret bias to fanaticism. We often meet with people who imagine themselves the central points of all the designs of God; they think, he watches only over them, and that, in all the events in the universe, he has only their fe licity in view. Far from us be such extravagant notions. It is, however, strictly true, that there are in the lives of Christians some signal circumstances, in which we cannot help seeing a particular Providence working for their salvation. Of whom can this be affirmed more evidently than of the apostles? They by an inestimable privilege, were not only witnesses of the life of Jesus Christ, hearers of his doctrine, and spectators of his miracles: but they were admitted to an intimacy with him; they had liberty at all times, and in all places, to converse with him, to propose their doubts, and to ask for his instructions; they were at the source of wisdom, truth, and life. St. Peter had these advantages not only in common with the rest of the apostles: but he, with James and John, were chosen from the rest of the apos tles to accompany the Saviour, when, on particular occasions, he laid aside the veils which concealed him from the rest, and when he displayed his divinity in its greatest glory. A faith produced in such extraordinary circumstances, was not the work of flesh and blood, it was a production of that almighty grace, that ineffable love, which wrought the salvation of St. Peter.
My brethren, although we have never enjoyed the same advantages with St. Peter: yet, it seems to me, those whom God has established in piety, may recollect the manner in which he has improved some circumstances to form the dispositions in them that constitute it. Let each turn his attention to the different conditions through which God has been pleased to conduct him. Here I was exposed to such or such a danger, and delivered from it by a kind of miracle; there, I fell into such or such a temptation, from which I was surprisingly recovered; in such a year I was connected with a baneful company, from which an unexpected event freed me at another time, I met with a faithful friend, the most valuable of all acquisitions, whose kind advice and assistance, recommended by his own example, were of infinite use to me: some of these dangerous states would have ruined me, if the projects, on which I was most passionately bent, had succeeded according to my wishes; for they were excited by worldly objects, and I was infatuated with their glory; and others would have produced the same effect, if my adverso circumstances had either increased or continued. I repeat, it again, my brethren, each of us may recollect circumstances in his life in which a kind Providence evidently interposed, and made use of them to tear him
Jesus Christ assured St Peter, that the confession of faith, which he then made, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,' was not a production of frail and corrupted nature, or, as he expresses it, That 'flesh and blood' hath not revealed these things unto him. Flesh and blood mean here, as in mamy passages we have quoted at other times, frail and corrupted nature. Jesus Christ assured St. Peter, that this confession was a production of grace, which had operated in him, and which would conduct him to the supreme good. This is the meaning of these words, My Father, who is in heaven, hath revealed these things unto thee.' What were the characters of the faith of St. Peter which occasioned the judgment that Jesus Christ made of it? and how may we know whether our faith be of the same divine original? Follow us in these reflections: 'Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, flesh and blood hath not produced the faith that thou hast professed, but my Father who is in heaven, hath revealed it to thee.' In order to convince thee of the truth of my assertions, consider first the circumstances which Providence has improved to produce thy faith: secondly, the efforts which preceded it: thirdly, the evidence that accompanies it: fourthly, the sacrifices which seal and crown it: and, lastly the nature of the very frailties which subsist with it.-Let us explain these five characters, and let us make an application of them. Let us know St. Peter; or, rather, let us learn to know ourselves. With this, the most important point, we will conIclude this discourse.
being forced by any superior power to turn my eyes toward one of these points, rather than towards the other: when I admit these propositions, I find myself guided by brightness of evidence, which it is impossible to find in the opposite propositions. A sophist may invent some objections, which I cannot answer; but he can never produce reasons, that coun
from the world, and thereby enabled him to adopt this comfortable declaration of Jesus Christ, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father, which is in heaven.' 2. Let us remark the efforts which preceded faith. God has been pleased to conceal the truth under veils, in order to excite our arduous industry to discover it. The obscuri-terbalance those which determine me; he may perplex, but he can never persuade me. In like manner, an infidel may unite every argument in favour of a system of infidelity; a Turk may accumulate all his imaginations in support of Mohammedism; a Jew may do the same for Judaism; and they may silence me, but they can never dissuade me from Christianity. The religion of Jesus Christ has peculiar proof. The brightness of that evidence, which guides the faith of a Christian, is a guarantee of the purity of the principle from which it proceeds.
ty that involves it for a time, is not only agreeable to the general plan of Providence, but it is one of the most singularly beautiful dispensations of it. If, then, you have attended to the truth only in a careless, indolent manner, instead of studying it with avidity, it is to be feared you have not obtained it; at least, it may be presumed, your attachment to it is less the work of Heaven than of the world. But if you can attest you have silenced prejudice to hear reason, you have consulted nature to know the God of nature; that, disgusted with the little progress you could make in that way, you have had recourse to revelation; that you have stretched your meditation, not only to ascertain the truth of the gospel, but to obtain a deep, thorough knowledge of it; that you have considered this as the most important work to which your attention could be directed; that you have sincerely and ardently implored the assistance of God to enable you to succeed in your endeavours; that you have often knocked at the door of mercy to obtain it; and that you have often adopted the sentiments, with the prayer of David, and said, Lord open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law!' Ps. cxix. 18. If you can appeal to Heaven for the truth of these practices, be you assured, your faith, like St. Peter's, is not a production of flesh and blood, but a work of that grace which never refuses itself to the sighs of a soul seeking it with so much vehement desire.
4. Observe the sacrifices that crown the faith of a Christian. There are two sorts of these: the one comprehends some valuable possessions; the other some tyrannical passions. Religion requires sacrifices of the first kind in times of persecution, when the most indispensable duties of a Christian are punished as atrocious crimes; when men, under pretence of religion, let loose their rage against them who sincerely love religion, and when, to use our Saviour's style, they think to do service to God,' John xvi. 2, by putting the disciples of Christ to death. Happy they! who, among you, my brethren, have been enabled to make sacrifices of this kind! You bear, I see, the marks of the disciples of a crucified Saviour; I respect the cross you carry, and I venerate your wounds. Yet these are doubtful evidences of that faith which the grace of our heavenly Father produces. Sometimes they even proceed from a disinclination to sacrifices of the second kind. Infatuation has made confessors; vain glory has produced martyrs; and there is a phenomenon in the church, the cross of casuists, and the most insuperable objection against the doctrine of assurance and perseverance; that is, there are men, who, after they have resisted the greatest trials, yield to the least; men who, having at first fought like heroes, at last fly like cowards; who, after they have prayed for their persecutors, for those who confined them in dungeons, who, to use the psalmist's language, ploughed upon their backs, and made long their furrows,' Ps. cxxix. 3, could not prevail with themselves on the eve of a Lord's supperday to forgive a small offence committed by a brother, by one of the household of faith. There have been men who, after they had resisted the tortures of the rack, fell into the silly snares of voluptuousness. There have been men who, after they had forsaken all their ample fortunes, and rich revenues, were condemned for invading the property of a neighbour, for the sake of a trifling sum, that bore no proportion to that which they had quitted for the sake of religion. O thou 'deceitful, and desperately wicked heart of man! O thou heart of man! who can know thee!' Jer. xvii. 9. Yet study thy heart, and thou wilt know it. Search out the principle from which thine actions flow, content not
3. The evidence that accompanies faith is our next article. People may sincerely deceive themselves; indeed erroneous opinions are generally received on account of some glimmerings that hover around them and dazzle the beholders. The belief of an error seems, in some cases, to be grounded on prin: ciples as clear as those of truth. It is certain, however, that truth has a brightness peculiar to itself; an evidence, that distinguishes it from whatever is not true. The persuasion of a man, who rests on demonstration, is altogether different from that of him who is seduced by sophisms. Evidence has its prerogatives and its rights. Maintain who will, not only with sincerity, but with all the positiveness and violence of which he is capable, that there is nothing certain; I am fully persuaded that I have evidence, incomparably clearer, of the opposite opinion. In like manner, when I affirm that I have an intelligent soul, and that I animate a material body; when I maintain that I am free, that the Creator has given me the power of turning my eyes to the east, or to the west; that while the Supreme Being, on whom I own I am entirely dependant, shall please to continue me in my present state, I may look to the east or to the west, as I choose, without Ꮓ
THE VARIETY OF OPINIONS ABOUT CHRIST.
(SER. XVII. Luke xxii. 31, 32. And Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona,' was not only true but infallible. The very nature of his fall proves it. Certain struggles, which precede the commission of sin; a certain infelicity, that is felt during the commission of it, above all, certain borrors which follow; an inward voice, that cries, Miserable wretch! what hast thou done? A certain hell, if I may venture so to express myself, a certain hell, the flames of which divine love alone can kindle, charac terize the falls of which I speak.
thyself with a superficial self-examination; and thou wilt find, that want of courage to make a sacrifice of the last kind is sometimes that which produces a sacrifice of the first. One passion indemnifies us for the sacrifice of another. But to resign a passion, the resignation of which no other passion requires; to become humble without indemnifying pride by courting the applause that men sometimes give to humility; to renounce pleasure without any other pleasure than that of pleasing the Creator; to make it our meat and drink, according to the language of Scrip- This article is for you, poor sinners! who ture, to do the will of God; to deny one's are so hard to be persuaded of the mercy of self; to crucify the flesh with the affections God towards you; who imagine the Deity and lusts; to present the body a living sacri- sits on a tribunal of vengeance, surrounded fice, holy, acceptable to God,' John iv. 34; with thunder and lightning, ready to strike Matt. xvii. 24; Gal. v. 24; Rom. xii. 1, these your guilty heads. Such a faith as St. Peter's are the characters of that faith which flesh never fails. When by examining your own cannot produce; that which is born of the hearts, and the histories of your own lives, flesh is flesh,' John iii. 6, but a faith which you discover the characters which we have sacrifices the flesh itself, is a production of described, you may assure yourselves, that all the grace of the Father which is in heaven.' the powers of hell united against your salva5. To conclude, St. Peter's faith has a fifth tion can never prevent it. Cursed be the man character, which he could not well discover who abuses this doctrine! Cursed be the man in himself, before he had experienced his own who poisons this part of Christian divinity! frailty, but which we, who have a complete Cursed be the man who reasons in this exebistory of his life, may very clearly discern. I crable manner! St. Peter committed an atroground the happiness of St. Peter, and the cious crime, in an unguarded moment, when idea I form of his faith, on the very nature of reason, troubled by a revolution of the senses, his fall. Not that we ought to consider sin had lost the power of reflection: I therefore as an advantage, nor that we adopt the max- risk nothing by committing sin coolly and deim of those who put sin among the all things liberately. St. Peter disguised his Christianwhich work together for good to them that ity for a moment, when the danger of losing love God,' Rom. viii. 28. Ah! if sin be an his life made him lose sight of the reasons advantage, may I be for ever deprived of such that induce people to confess their Christianan advantage? May a constant peace between ity, then I may disguise mine for thirty or my Creator and me for ever place me in a hap- forty years together, and teach my family to py incapacity of knowing the pleasure of re- act the same hypocritical part; then I may conciliation with him! It is true, however, live thirty or forty years, without a church, that we may judge by the nature of the falls without sacraments, without public worship; of good men of the sincerity of their faith, when I have an opportunity, I may loudly and that the very obstacles which the remain-exclaim, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the der of corruption in them opposes to their living God;' and when that confession would happiness, are, properly understood, proofs of injure my interest, or hazard my fortune, or the unchangeableness of their felicity. my life, I may hold myself always in readi St. Peter fell into great sin after he had ness to cry as loudly, I know not the man;' made the noble confession in the text. He I may abjure that religion which Jesus Christ committed one of those atrocious crimes preached, which my fathers sealed with their which terrify the conscience, trouble the joy blood, and for which a 'cloud of witnesses," of salvation, and which sometimes, confound Heb, xii. 1, my contemporaries, and my brethe elect with the reprobate. Of the same Je-thren, went, some into banishment, others sus, to whom St. Peter said in the text, Thou into dungeons, some to the galleys, and others art the Christ, the Son of the living God; to the stake. Cursed be the man who reasons and elsewhere, we believe, and are sure, that in this execrable manner. Ah! how shall I thou art that Christ,the Son of the living God;' bless whom God hath not blessed.' of the same Jesus he afterward said, 'I know not the man,' John vi. 69; Matt. xxvi. 72. Ye know not the man! And who, then, did you say, had the words of eternal life? Ye know not the man! And with whom, then, did you promise to go to prison and to death?' Ye know not the man! And whom have you followed, and whom did you declare to be the Son of the living God? Notwithstanding this flagrant crime; notwithstanding this denial, the scandal of all ages, and an eternal monument of human weakness; in spite of this crime, the salvation of St. Peter was sure; he was the object of the promise, Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not,'
I repeat it again, such a faith as St. Peter's never fails, and the very nature of the falls of such a believer proves the sincerity and the excellence of his faith. We would not wish to have him banish entirely from his soul that fear which the Scriptures praise, and to which they attribute grand effects. A Christian, an established Christian I mean, ought to live in perpetual vigilance, he ought always to have these passages in his mind, Be not highminded, but fear. Hold that fast which thou hast that no man take thy crown. When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned, in his sin he shall die,' Rom. xii. 20; Rev. iii. 11. and Ezek. xviii. 24. From these Scriptures,
such a Christian as I have described will not infer consequences against the certainty of his salvation; but consequences directly contrary; and there is a degree of perfection which enables a Christian soldier even in spite of some momentary repulses in war, to sing this triumphant song, Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? In all things I am more than conqueror, through him that loved me! Thanks be unto God, who always causeth me to triumph in Christ!' Rom. viii. 35. 37, and 2 Cor. ii. 14,
peatedly been fearful and unclean! perhaps I may be so again! Perhaps I may forget all the resolutions I have made to devote myself for ever to God! Perhaps I may violate my solemn oaths to my sovereign Lord! Perhaps I may again deny my Redeemer! Perhaps, should I be again tried with the sight of scaffolds and stakes, I might again say, I know not the man! But yet, I know I love him! Nothing, I am sure, will ever be able to eradicate my love to him! I know, if I love him,' it is 'because he first loved me,'1 John iv. 19; and I know, that he, having loved his own who are in the world, loved them unto the end,' John xiii. 1. O my God! What would become of us without a religion that preached such comforttruths to us? Let us devote ourselves for ever to this religion, my brethren. The more it strengthens us against the horrors which sin inspires, the more let us endeavour to surmount them by resisting sin. May you be adorned with these holy dispositions, my brethren! May you be admitted to the eternal pleasures which they procure, and may each of you be able to apply to himself the declaration of Jesus Christ to St. Peter, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father, who is in heaven.' God grant you these blessings! To him be honour and
O! how amiable, my brethren, is Christianity! How proportional to the wants of men! O! how delightful to recollect its comfortable doctrines, in those sad moments, in which sin appears,after we have fallen into it, in all its black-able ness and horror! How delightful to recollect its comfortable doctrines in those distressing periods, in which a guilty conscience drives us to the verge of hell, holds us on the brink of the precipice, and obliges us to hear those terrify ing exclamations which arise from the bottom of the abyss: The fearful, the unbelieving, the abominable, whoremongers, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone! Rev. xxi. 8. How happy then to be able to say, I have sinned indeed! I have repeatedly committed the crimes which plunge men into the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone! I have re-glory for ever. Amen.
THE LITTLE SUCCESS OF CHRIST'S MINISTRY."
ROMANS X. 21.
All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsay
THE object that St. Paul presents to our view in the text, makes very different impressions on the mind, according to the different sides on which it is viewed. If we consider it in itself, it is a prodigy, a prodigy which confounds reason, and shakes faith. Yes, when we read the history of Christ's ministry; when the truth of the narrations of the evangelists is proved beyond a doubt; when we transport ourselves back to the primitive ages of the church, and see, with our own eyes, the virtues and the miracles of Jesus Christ; we cannot believe that the Holy Spirit put the words of the text into the mouth of the Saviour of the world: All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.' It should seem, if Jesus Christ had displayed so many virtues, and operated so many miracles, there could not have been one infidel; not one Jew, who could have refused to embrace Christianity, nor one libertine, who could have refused to have become a good man: one would
The style of reasoning which runs through this ermon, and the whole of its moral character, must place the author among the first of preachers, and the
best of men. J. S.
think, all the synagogue must have fallen at the feet of Jesus Christ, and desired an admission into his church.
But when, after we have considered the unsuccessfulness of Christ's ministry in itself, we consider it in relation to the ordinary con duct of mankind, we find nothing striking, nothing astonishing, nothing contrary to the common course of events. An obstinate resistance of the strongest motives, the tenderest invitations, interests the most impor tant, and demonstrations the most evident, is not, we perceive, an unheard-of thing and instead of breaking out into vain exclamations, and crying, Ŏ times! O manners! we say with the wise man, 'That which is done, is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun,' Eccles. i. 9.
I have insensibly laid out, my brethren, the plan of this discourse. I design, first, to show you the unsuccessfulness of Christ's ministry as a prodigy, as an eternal opprobrium to that nation in which he exercised it. And I intend, secondly, to remove your astonishment, after I have excited it; and, by making a few reflections on you yourselves, to produce in you a conviction, yea, perhaps a preservation, of a certain uniformity of corruption, which