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BUT WHEN THE FULNESS OF TIME WAS COME, GOD SENT FORTH HIS SON.
More than eighteen centuries ago, there appeared in Judea an extraordinary personage, called Jesus of Nazareth. The consequences of bis life, death, resurrection and ascension have been such as no human foresight could anticipate, no buman power control; and it is not now in man's imagination to trace them through the range of future generations. Even if it should be maintained, that there was nothing supernatural in this character, or these consequences, yet the event and its influences must for ever remain stupendous. The appearance of such a person in the world, and at such a period, with the consequent change in so large a portion of society, ought always to arrest the consideration of every thinking mind. It has made an era in the history of mankind, which must be eternally memorable. We, who believe that the birth of Christ was the birth of a Saviour for the world, who see in him the Son of the omnipotent God; we,—who believe ibat the purposes of bis in
carnation were such as eye had not seen, nor ear heard, nor has any mind yet perfectly explored, and who rest all our peace and hopes on bim, and bim alone, as the vicegerent of Jehovah,-cannot be surprised at the long established celebration of the supposed day of his birth, or withhold our concurrence from the honours, which so large a portion of the christian world are disposed to pay it, especially when it coincides, as at present, with our customary day of worship. And at other times also we are disposed to say with the apostle, He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord, and be that regardeth not the day, to tbe Lord he doth not regard it. Let every man be fully persuaded in bis own mind.
It is certain that about eighteen hundred years ago, Jesus, this extraordinary person, appeared; wbose birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension completed a series of astonishing and, as we believe, miraculous events. This Jesus claimed the character of the long expected Messiah, the light and salvation of the world; and under this character be is received by all who embrace his religion and acknowledge his divine authority.' It will be our object in this dis course to show, that the time in wbich he appeared was, in every respect, the most proper for his appearance,—this is tbe first head of discourse,-yet that this fitness of the period lent no aid to the propagation of his religion, and diminished not in the least the necessity of miraculous interposition for its suppori, -Ibis is our second division. In other words, ibe state of the world, when Christ was born, was such as to constitute, at the same moment, the most proper time for bis appearance, and the greatest impediment to the success of bis religion.
1. When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth bis Son. The fitness of the moment appears, in the first place, from this undeniable fact, that there was, at that time, a general expectation throughout
the world of the advent of some illustrious prophet and deliverer, who should change the aspect of human affairs. The rumour seems to have advanced from the east, and to have even reached the ears of the Roman emperour. We shall omit the scriptural proofs of this general expectation, till we bave produced some remarkable passages from three independent and unbiassed authors of that age.
The first is from Josephus, the Jewish annalist of that tremendous war, which ended in the destruction of his nation ; a man, all whose prejudices were against the Messiahship and religion of Jesus. He is speaking of the causes, which stimulated the Jews to revolt from the authority of the Romans. " But that which principally encouraged them to the war,” says he,
was an ambiguous oracle, found also in our sacred writings, that about that time some one from Judea should obtain the empire of the world. This they understood to belong to themselves, and many of their wise men were mistaken in their judgment; for this oracle referred to the government of Vespasian, who was proclaimed emperor in Judea.”* This, you observe, is the explanation of Josepbus, in compliment to his imperial master. The second is from Suetonius, a Roman historian, who wrote, about the same time, the biography of the emperours. His words are these ; “ There had been for a long time all over the east, a notion firmly believed, that it was in the books of the fates, that some one from Judea was destined, about that time, to obtain the empire of the world.”+ The third passage is from Tacitus, an historian of veracity and universal credit. He bas been relating the calamities of the Jews, which preceded the destruction of their city, and then observes: “ The mass of the people entertained a strong persuasion, that it was mentioned in the ancient writings of the priests, that at that very time
* Lardner i. p. 132.
† Saet. Vesp. cap. ir.
the east should prevail, and some one from Judea obtain the empire of the world. These ambiguities, says Tacitus, like the rest,“ predicted Vespasian and Titus; but the common people, according to the usual influence of human passions, having once appropriated to themselves this destined greatness, could not be brought to understand the true meaning by all their adversities.”* There are other passages in beathen authors, which I think it unnecessary to mention, which prove that this expectation was prevalent at this time in the oriental world, and especially in Judea. These surely are remarkable attestations; and the many instances of persons, who appeared in Judea about this time, pretending to be the Messiah, and collecting vast numbers of deluded Jews around them-facts repeatedly mentioned by the historians of that day-are additional proofs of this general persuasion.
If we turn now to the New Testament, we shall find this state of things corroborated there by many incidental circumstances. The state of the publick mind in Judea is indicated, by the anxiety of Herod upon bearing of the birth of a remarkable child in Bethlehem, and by the visit of the eastern Magi. Still more illustrative is the thronging of the multitude to John upon his first appearance, and the message of the Pharisees and priests to inquire, if he were the Christ. “ And all the people mused in their hearts,” says the evangelist, “wheiber he were the Christ, or not.” We discover the same eager expec. tation of the Messiah, as a prophet as well as prince, in the conversation of the Samaritan woman, who belonged, you will observe, to a different and hostile nation. Observe too how the people pressed around Jesus, demanding the sign from heaven which they expected of the Messiah ; observe how they caught at every appearance of extraordinary power; how,
* Tacit. Hist. I. v. c. 13.
after his performance of a miracle, they were ready to take him by force and make him a king; and with wbat acclamations and reyal honours the multitude accompanied him into Jerusalem. His bumble condition and ignominious death alone restrained and extinguished their enthusiasm. In a word, every thing in profane history and in the evangelical narrative proves, that the minds of the men of that age were wrought to a high pitch of expectation, that the great prophet and king would soon come into the world.
2. But what was the source of this universal expectation at this moment ? I answer, that I can discover or imagine nothing, except what these bistorians themselves assign as the authority,—the oracles of the Jewish scriptures. This was the fulness of time for the advent of the Messiah, because it was the time predicted in prophecy. To the prophets Christ and bis apostles repeatedly refer, and 10 me it appears, that if every other prediction of a Messiah in the Old Testament were allowed to be ambiguous, the single prophecy in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah would be sufficient to mark out the person we have acknowledged. It'is too long to be quoted here, but it may safely be asserted that the description contained in it applies, in the most remarkable manner, to Jesus of Nazareth, and to no other person within our knowledge, who ever lived. It is ihe prophecy, wbich engaged the attention of the Ethiopian eunuch, and which Philip explained to him in ihe only manner in which it can be appropriated by any ingenuous man, who bas read the bistory of Jesus of Nazareth. But you will inquire, perhaps, what prediction so accurately marks the time of the Messiab's advent, as to have excited this extraordinary expectation at this precise period. I must acknowledge, that some of those pas. sages which are commonly alleged, particularly the mention of Shiloh, in Genesis, and ibe desire of all nations, in Haggai, do not appear to me sufficiently