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O God, are thy judgments, and thy ways past finding out!
1. In the first place, that universal expectation among the Jews of the appearance of their Messiah, was the very circumstance which led to his almost universal rejection by bis nation. Do you ask, how this could be ? I answer, because, with the earnest expectation of a great prophet and priest, who should appear among them, they had inseparably connected the idea of a temporal deliverer, a national bead, and the splendour of external royalty. Hence, whenever they began to collect around Jesus, and to show him marks of devotedness and attachment, it always happened that some proof of his humility, or of his peaceable and unwarlike character, appeared and disgusted them, and turned the whole current of their feel. ings. Hence, as soon as he was arrested, and their worldly hopes were blasted, tbe crowd, who followed him with acclamations into Jerusalem, were the very populace, who cried, crucify bim, crucify him, and followed bim to the mount of crucifixion with shouts of insult and disdain. Their rulers and priests were wise enough, from the first, to know, ibat so poor, humble and unresisting a character could never be tbe Messiah they had expected. Hence the inquiry, have any of the rulers or Pharisees believed on bim? But the common people, who had from time to time caught at the manifestation of miraculous power in Jesus, were indescribably vexed and disappointed when they found their expectations false, and Jesus quietly submitting to crucifixion. Nothing, you know, is so violent as the rage of a moh, when completely disappointed in a favourite project or channel. Hence we find, that the true and insuperable objection to the recept:: 3 of the gospel in the Jewish nation was the ignominious death of its author. The cross of Christ was their great stumbling block. “ This man cannot be the Messiah, for
he has died like a malefactor.” I may safely conclude, then, that the previous universal expectation of the Jews, which was so completely overthrown by the manner of our Lord's death, was the first obstacle to the reception of his religion, of which the first and fundamental article is, Jesus the Messiah.
2. In the second place, the prophecies, wbich appeared to have their completion in Jesus, did not probably lend any aid to bis claims, when they were announced to the Gentiles. For, as the Jews became more known in the world, and their sacred writings read by reading men, they were thought a credulous and superstitious race, and it could have been no recommendation to any personage, to pretend, that he was predicted in their prophecies. It appears to me, that no circumstance would have been more likely to excite a sneer in the wise men of Greece and Rome, than to be invited to embrace the religion of a man, who bad been pointed out in Jewish prophecy. They would have said, like Horace, Let ibe credulous Jew believe this. Their prophets are of no more autbority with us, than our own Sybilline books; and we all know that augur cannot look at augur without laughing. You will acknowledge, then, I think, with me, that to assert that Jesus was the consummation of Jewish prophecy, would have only excited a greater prejudice against him in the minds of the majority of Greeks and Romans. A A Jewish Messiah was the last whom they would bare chosen for the founder of a universal faith, after they bad beard of such men among themselves, as Numa, Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato.
3. In the third place, the very situation of the Jewish nation, wbicb rendered the necessity of a new dispensation most evident, presented the very circumstances most hostile to the propagation of christianity, The corruption of their religion inflamed them with a must bigoted attachment to it, because in that state it most favoured their prirate vices and national pride. Thus we find, that the contempt wbich Jesus discovered for their traditions, the generous views of God and virtue wbich be opened, and the internal purity which he recommended, were the very things which awakened their suspicions, and excited against him their most inveterate hostility. This single character of our Lord, without any other revolting circumstance, would have most effectually suppressed bis cause, if it had been the cause of man only.
Again, the circumstance of the very general dispersion of the Jews throughout the Roman empire, at this period, which, to a superficial observer, appears favourable to the propagation of christianity, presented on the whole a serious obstacle. It is true, the knowledge of our Saviour's life was thus sooner communicated and farther spread. But to counterbalance this, let it be remembered, that the same national prejudices, tbe same corruptions of principle and practice, whicb impelled the ruler and priesi at Jerusalem 10 reject and crucify Jesus, were diffused through the whole Jewish people in every part of the. world, and that they exerted every where the same malignity towards Jesus and his church. Wherever: Jews were found, there too were found enemies of the new religion. Had it not been for the tumults and opposition, wbich, as we learn from the Acts, they every where excited, the new doctrine might have been received among the Gentiles peaceably enough, though perhaps slowly, and not without contempt. But the apostles always and every where found among the Jews the indefatigable opponents of the great truth they preached; that Jesus was the promised Messiabi.
Still further; the Jews, wherever they were known, were odious to the Romans, and their more extensive intercourse with foreigners served only to increase the general contempt and hatred which existed
against their nation. Hence it was a prejudice, almost insurmountable in the mind of a Greek or a Roman, that the apostles, the first preachers of the new faith, were of so detestable an origin. “Are not these men that speak, Galileans, and can any good come out of such a country of rebels,"must have been the first thought in the mind of a listening heathen.' Can you imagine any thing, my friends; more unfavourable to the promulgation of christianity in the world, than this very state of the Jews at home and abroad, which seemed to you at first so favourable to its progress?
4. The corrupt morals of the pagan world, which demanded the introduction of a purer system, were also extremely unfavourable to the cordial reception of any thing so pure as the gospel. The apostles of Christ preached a purity of heart, of which ihe world had then bardly a faint conception. The new religion condemned, as odious in the sight of God, the vices to which the Gentiles were most enslaved, and threatened the punishment of hell to the very practices which they had consecrated, by making themia part of their worship, and the best recommendations to the favour of their deities. Wherever the gospel was received, it banished all their pompous sacrifices, their idol feasts, their dissolute worship; wherever it was received, their favourite fights of gladiators, their theatrical shows, and all the sanguinary amusements of the populace, which long habit bad made necessary, disappeared. In the midst of a luxurious, relaxed, selfish and sensual age, it demanded a degree of mortification and self denial, wbicb must at any time bave appeared intolerable ; and not only so, but it exposed its professors to contempt, persecution, the loss of former friends, the dissolution of established babits, to poverty, ignominy, and not seldom to death itself.
This was the prospect it opened to the mass of the Gentile world. 'And how, think you, was it likely to
be received among the luxurious senators, the vain literati, the tyrannical prefects, the military governors and generals, the consulars decked out with honours, the licentious favourites of the men of power-a religion which preached the vanity of temporal honours, the folly of pagan wisdom, the dangers of station and influence ; in one word, which preached a poverty of spirit, which must have appeared to men, whose sentiments were so depraved, the height of fanatic absurdity. If then the corruptions of the world called for the introduction of the gospel, as soon as it was preached, these very corruprions, from the emperour on his throne down to his dissolute slaves, were arrayed against it in all the hardihood of the grossest depravity:
5. Lastly, the intellectual refinement ofthat period, which may be thought to have prepared the minds of men for some of the sublime instructions of revelation, was perhaps still more unfavourable to its
progress. It enabled men indeed to understand the gospel, but it encouraged them at the same time to despise it. Do you ask, how was this? I will attempt to show you. The men of that age, who bad thought at all upon the subject of religion, had, as I before mentioned, proceeded far enough to know, that the established idolatry was nothing but a creature of the state, and therefore they easily consented to support, while they believed it uiterly false. They thought it the duty of every man not to neglect the religion of his country; and could see no possible barın in countenancing a system which they did not believe. How extraordinary, nay, how unacceptable must the new religion have appeared to these men, a religion which declared their indolatrous conformity a crime, which was utterly irreconcileable with the notion, that all religions were equally indifferent, or equally good, and which