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practised, than any of those who make the loudest noise with them. She would not then have those accusations of imposture and design, laid at her door, which she herself hath so often and justly charged on the church of Rome; accusations stolen, by her adversaries, from her matchless writings against that church, and applied to her, without ground or colour, without sense
But our comfort is, that our case, in this respect, is like that of good David, when he appealed to God, and said, the reproaches of them that reproached thee, have fallen upon me, Psal. lxix. 9. These enemies of our
church are equally enemies of all other churches and all religions; only ours happens to be the fairest mark, because it is uppermost; for were any other set up in the room of it, still the same cry of holy frauds and priestcraft would be heard against that also from the mouths of profligate persons, in licentious times. To cut off all occasion, as much as can be, from those who seek occasion, let us be sure, all of us, who are members of this excellent church; let us be sure, I say, which is,
7. The last thing I have to recommend to you from the text, to make our practice of the Gospel, like the first proofs of it, conspicuous and plain; and endeavour, with all our power, to recommend the doctrine we embrace, to the hearts of men, as openly and powerfully by our good lives and actions, as the first planters of it did, by their miraculous performances. So shall we best put to silence the ignorance of foolish men; and be able, in the most convincing, and effectual manner, to make an answer to our blasphemers.
The profession of the true and pure doctrine of Christ, and a practice suitable to that profession, are both often, in the New Testament, compared to light. Like that, they display their bright beams, and diffuse their quickening influence; enlightening and enlivening all that is near, and far off; dissipating the mists of vice and ignorance, and discovering the hidden things of darkness. As to our profession of the pure doctrine of the Gospel, that it sufficiently resembles light, is manifest and notorious : let us resemble it also in as illustrious and distinguishing a practice, and by walking worthy, every way, of that vocation wherewith we are called, Eph. iv. 1. Let us resolve to be (as I trust we are) the purest church upon earth, for our manners, as well as for our doctrine; in one respect as well as the other, a light placed on a candlestick, and not under a bushel ; a city set upon an hill, that cannot be hid, Matt. v. 14. &c. In a word, Let our light so shine before men, that they seeing our good works, may glorify our Father, which is in heaven.
PREACHED AT THE ROLLS, DECEMBER 24, 1710.
THE BAPTIST'S MESSAGE TO JESUS, AND
JESUS'S ANSWER EXPLAINED.
Art thou he that should come? or do we look for another?
ST. MATT. xi. 3. AT this time of advent, particularly dedicated by the church to a devout commemoration of our Saviour's coming in the flesh, and set apart to prepare us for a worthy celebration of the approaching feast of his nativity; it may be no unsuitable entertainment to your thoughts, to suggest to you some reflections on this passage of Scripture, and those others which introduce, accompany and explain it.
When John had heard in prison (says the evangelist) the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come? or do we look for another ? That is, art thou the Messiah, the great Redeemer of Israel, whose coming was foretold by the prophets, and is now expected with great impatience by the whole body of the Jews, and before whom I am sent, as his forerunner and harbinger ? Jesus answered, and said unto them, Go, and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached unto them. And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me. As if he had said, “ Judge ye yourselves, by the works which I now perform, whether I am the Messiah, or not, or what reason there can be to doubt of my divine mission and authority.”
This transaction is extremely remarkable, and will afford much useful matter to our reflections, in relation both to the inquiry made by the Baptist, and the answer returned by our Lord to that inquiry.
I. And first, as to the inquiry itself, it may be matter of just surprise to us, that the Baptist should, so long after he had continued discharging the office of Christ's harbinger, put such a question as this to our Saviour, Art thou he that should come? or do we look for another? For could John be ignorant of our Saviour's character? Could he entertain the least doubt of it? he, who had formerly baptized Christ, had seen the Spirit descend on him in the form of a dove, and heard the voice from heaven thus testifying concerning him, This is my wellbeloved Son, in whom I am well pleased ? he, who had borne record of our Lord more than once, that he was the Son of God, John i. 34.? the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world, ver. 29.? Could he possibly afterwards be under any degree of hesitancy or doubt, in relation to our Saviour's character ? Certainly he could not; and therefore we must look out for some other reason of his sending this message, besides the desire of satisfying himself; and that plainly was the procuring satisfaction to those by whom the message was sent, his disciples and followers, who, notwithstanding all the asseverations of John to this purpose, continued still incredulous :-We may suppose for these reasons :
1. Because they saw their master imprisoned, and now likely to be put to death, for preaching up the kingdom of God, and the coming of the Messiah ; and could not apprehend, that, had Jesus been that Messiah, he should have wanted power, or will to employ that power, for the Baptist's deliverance. And yet so far was this from being the case, that our Saviour doth not appear once to have made an honourable mention of John, till after the disciples, who came upon this errand, had
left him. Then indeed, and not before, the evangelist tells us, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes, What went ye out into the wilderness to see ? Matt. ix. 7; and to take that occasion of enlarging on the Baptist's character, and the dignity of his office.
2. They might have observed, that our Saviour had not himself hitherto asserted his right to that title, but declined all occasions that had been given him, of directly and openly avowing himself to be the Messiah ; which conduct, though necessary, in order to carry on and complete his ministry, without interruption from the Roman powers, was yet what the disciples of John who had heard their inaster preaching up the kingdoin of the Messialı without any disguise, could not understand; nor account for any otherwise, than by supposing that Jesus arrogated not that honour to himself, as being conscious, that it did not belong to him. And these suspicions might be raised, by their observing,
3. The manner of our Saviour's life and conversation, which was so very different from that of their master's, and had so much less an outward appearance of sanctity in it. The one came neither eating nor drinking, Matt. xi. 18, delighted in solitude, and lived in the practice of the highest rigours and austerities; the other came eating and drinking, lived in the world, and according to all the innocent customs of it; conversing freely and promiscuously with all sorts of men, even with publicans and sinners. And therefore they were tempted to think, that he, who was so far beneath their master in what they called perfection and holiness, could not be so far above him in his character and office, as, if he were the Messiah, he must have been.
These doubts, it is probable that John had very often endeavoured to remove: but finding that they still stuck with his followers, he took the last and best way of satisfying them, by sending them on this message to Jesus him self, and giving them, by, that means, an opportunity of being eye and ear witnesses of his works and of his doctrine, which, he knew, would effectually convince them.