Page images

cated from the power of Satan, “ into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.” For this reason our Saviour, a little before his passion, said, "Now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” By the cross he “ spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it,” to their extreme confusion, in the view of heaven and earth, Col. ii. 15. Although the resurrection and ascension of Christ are the proper acts of his triumph, yet his death is the sole cause and original of it. The nails and spear that pierced his body were his omnipotent arms, and the cross, the instrument of his sufferings, was the trophy of his victory. All our triumphant palms are gathered from that tree. It is there our Saviour bruised the head of the old serpent, and renewed his ancient victory over him.

And from hence it was, that upon the first preaching of Christ crucified, oracles were struck dumb and put to eternal silence; invisible powers were forced to do him visible honour. As the rising sun causes the night-birds to retire, so his name chased the rout of deities into darkness. They continue to be our enemies, but not our lords. Now where did the divine power ever appear more glorious than in our crucified Saviour ? He hath done greater things suffering as man than acting as God. The works of creation and providence are not equal to the effects of his death. In the creation a corruptible world was produced from nothing, which as it had no disposition, so no contrariety to receive the form the Creator gave it ; but the new world of grace that is immortal, was formed out of rebellious matter. The most eminent work of providence was the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea ; but the spiritual Pharaoh and all his hosts were drowned in his blood. In short, the cross hath opened heaven to us, and wrought a miraculous change on the earth. But this I shall more particularly consider under another head of discourse.

V. The divine power was eminently magnified in Christ's resurrection from the grave. This was foretold concerning the Messiah, by the prophet David speaking in the type ; “ My flesh shall rest in hope ; for thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption,” Psalm xvi. 9, 10. As it was ordained by God's counsel, so it was executed by his power. This is decisive, that he is the Messiah. His other miracles were performed by the prophets, but this was singular, and done only by the God of the prophets.

The reasons of it prove, that it was equally necessary for his glory and our salvation. The quality of his person required it ; for he was a heavenly man without guilt, therefore immortal by the original constitution of his nature. Death, that is the wages of sin, had no power over him. He was subject to it, not by the law of his conception, but the dispensation of his love: not to satisfy nature, but purchase our salvation : therefore the eternal law that annexes immortality to innocence, would not suffer that he should remain in the state of death. The nature of his office made it necessary. As the economy of our redemption required that he should descend from heaven, the seat of his glory, that by dying he might expiate our sins; so after his lying in the grave so long as to attest the reality of his death, it was necessary he should rise again in order to his dispensing the glorious benefits he had purchased. The apostle tells the Corinthians, “ If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching in vain, and your faith is also in vain,” 1 Cor. xv. 14. For the faith of Christians hath a threefold reference ;-to the person of Christ, that he is the Son of God ;-to his death, that it is an all-sufficient sacrifice for sin ;-to his promise, that he will raise believers at the last day. Now the resurrection of Christ is the foundation of faith in respect of all these.

1. He was declared “to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead," Rom. i. 4. He was the Son of God from eternity as the Word, and from the first moment of his incarnation as God-man; but the honour of this relation was much eclipsed in his poor life and ignominious death. And although his darkest night was enlightened with some discoveries of his deity, yet they were transient and soon vanished. But in his resurrection God did publicly own him in the face of the world ; therefore he is represented testifying from heaven, " Thou art my Son ; this day have I begotten thee;" according to the phrase of scripture, then things are said to be, when they conspicuously appear, Acts xiii. 33. All the miraculous proofs by which God acknowledged him for his Son during his life, had been ineffectual without this. If he had remained in the grave, it had been reasonable to believe him an ordinary person, and that his death had been

the punishment of his presumption; but his resurrection was the most illustrious and convincing evidence, that he was what he declared himself to be ; for it is not conceivable that God should put forth an almighty power to raise him, and thereby authorize his usurpation, if by robbery he had assumed that glorious title. He is therefore said to be “justified by the Spirit” which raised him, from all the accusations of his enemies, who charged him with blasphemy for making himself equal with God. Upon the evidence of it, Thomas adored him as his Lord and God.

2. His resurrection is the most pregnant proof of the allsufficiency of his satisfaction. This was special in the death of Christ, that the curse of the law accompanied it, and seemed like an infinite weight to lie on his grave. But in rising again, the value and virtue of his sufferings was fully declared. Therefore the apostle tells us, that "he was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification," Rom. iv. 25. Although his death was sufficient to merit our pardon, yet since believers alone actually partake of the benefit, and none could believe, if he had not risen from the grave, it is clear his death had been ineffectual without it.

3. Our faith in his promises to give life and glory to his servants, is built on his resurrection ; for how could we believe him to be the author of life, who remained under the power of death ? How could he quicken and glorify us, who finally perished ? If he had been confined to the grave, all our hopes had been buried with him. But his resurrection is the cause, pattern, and argument of ours. He did not only raise his body from the grave, but his church with him. Now the effecting of this is attributed to the divine power, with a note of eminency; “ Christ was raised by the glory of the Father,” Rom. vi. 4; that is, by his power, which in that act was manifested in its full splendour; for what is stronger than death, and more inexorable than the grave ? Omnipotency alone can break its gates, and loose its bands.



[ocr errors]

VI. The divine power was glorified in the conversion of the world to Christianity.

The apostle tells us, that Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Gentiles foolishness.” The Jews expected the Messiah to deliver them from temporal servitude and establish a universal empire, either by the force of arms, or by the terror of signs and prodigies, as Moses did against the Egyptians : but when instead of power, they saw nothing but weakness, and instead of a glorious triumph, a disgraceful punishment, they despised his person and rejected his doctrine. But notwithstanding this imaginary infirmity in Christ crucified, yet “to those that are called” according to the divine purpose, he was the most excellent “power of God;" it being more glorious to subdue the world to the faith and obedience of a crucified person, than if he had appeared with all the powers of heaven, and princes of the earth as his attendants. For this reason the apostle declares, he was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” it being “the power of God to salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek,” Rom. i. 16. And he prays for the Ephesians, that “the eyes of their understandings being enlightened, they might know what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,” Ephes. i. 18—20. He uses various and lofty expressions, as if one had been insufficient to signify the extent and efficacy of that power which produced the faith of Christ in the heathens. And if we duly consider things, it will appear, that the terms of the apostle are not too strong and hyperbolical, but just and equal to the degree of power requisite for the accomplishment of that great work.

For the understanding of this, I will consider three things;

1. The numerous and great difficulties that obstructed the receiving of the gospel.

2. The quality of the means by which it was conveyed and became successful.

3. The eminent, sudden, universal, and lasting change made by it in the world.

1. The numerous and great difficulties that obstructed the receiving of the gospel. This will appear by representing the state and disposition of the world at that time when it was first preached.

(1.) Ignorance was universal ; a deep thick darkness covered the face of the earth. And the consequences of that gross palpable ignorance, were execrable idolatry, and the most notorious depravation of manners.

First ; execrable idolatry ; for as in the night, spectres walk ; so in the times of ignorance, the prince of darkness made his progress in the earth. He reigned in the hearts of men and in the places of their devotion. The whole world was filled with idols of several forms and mysteries, some amiable, others terrible, according to the humour of superstition. For many ages Satan had kept peaceable possession of his empire: for the ignorant world did not understand its misery, but willingly paid that honour to the cruel usurper, that was only due to the lawful Sovereign.

They were confirmed in their idolatry by several things.They were trained up in it from their infant state. Now the first persuasions of the mind though grossly false, and ill habits do strangely captivate, and are with difficulty remo

because the concurrence of those faculties is requisite, which are under the power of error and vice. No tyrant is so exactly obeyed as custom, especially in things esteemed sacred; for the conceit that the service is pleasing to the Deity, renders men incapable to believe any thing that contradicts it. It was as hard to make the Gentiles forsake the religion they received from their birth, and to lose the impressions made in their tender age, as to make the Africans change their skin and become fair, and the Europeans to turn black; for the tincture which the religion practised in each country conveys to the souls of men, is as deep and lasting, as that which the sun impresses upon their bodies, according to the diversity of its aspects.—The pagan religion was derived thr gh a long succession from their progenitors. Antiquity brings I know not what respect to things, but it is specially venerable in matters of religion. Therefore the heathens accused the Christian religion of

ved ;

« PreviousContinue »