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lustrate the mercy, of a new and brighter dispensation. This will On 24
appcar upon a view of the state of the Geniile world at the birth of Christ. All the nations which occupied the vast extent of the Roman cmpire were degraded by the grossest superstitions and rices, varying according to the genius and circumstances of the respective people. Paganism had manifested itself to be so dreadfully vicious in its nature and tendency, that it was become the just object of contempt to the wiser part of mankind. It had been suffered to demonstrate its utter inefficacy to benefit man; yea, it had left him, and, in part, had led him, to debase himself lower than the very brutes. The Apostle draws an awful picture
of the immoralities of the Gentile world, in the latter part of the Crut first chapter of his epistie to the Romans. And all this was at a Esen period when
period when human genius shone with greater splendour than at any other; and when the most refined and sublime intellects were occupied in the investigation of truth! But, “ where," asks the apostle, " is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world" and hath he not demonstrated how despicable are genius, and acuteness, and almost intuition, when compared with “ soberness, righteousness, and godliness?” The apostle plainly tells us, that it was " in the wisdom of God,” for his own wise purposes, that “the world by wisdom knew not God.” (See 1 Cor. i. 18.
st? body of the na
We may trace the same design in the state of the Jewish naon at this period. Our Lord chose that period for his appearance upon earth, when his own people were brought to the lowest state of degradation. Subjected to the Roman authority, with scarcely the shadow of liberty under Herod, and reduced after
cath to the form of a province, they imbibed the worst vices heir masters. The priests and rulers were, in general, proflisace men; their religion had wholly degenerated from its primi
purity and simplicity; the multitude were grossly ignorant s superstitious; the learned were captious, disputatious, and ms, and split into various sects and parties; and the whole y of the nation, a very few persons excepted, had lost the true " their own Scriptures, misunderstood the character of the
ah, and, instead of a spiritual deliverer from sin, a mighty conqueror, who should free them from their i The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes disputed with ner, not only upon subordinate points, but even upon
is essential to salvation. The oriental philosophy had Hij by human inventi
their religious opinions. Their ritual was augmented was regrarded
inventions. The spiritual intention of it was lost. It ded as an external service, and their reliance upon it,
for acceptance with God, was a fatal delusion, and
of it was carried to a ridiculous pitch of extravaen was the state of the most highly favoured of nations
in appeared. That this picture is not overchar.
looked for a mighty conqu
one another, not only
Die in this view, for acceptanc
their practice of it was ca
gance. Such was the state o 102. When the Messiah appeared. _" Vol. I.-NO. I.
ged, the reader may satisfy himself, by turning to the account which St. Paul has given of his own nation in Rom. ii.
It is scarcely to be conceived, that the moral state of mankind could more loudly call for divine and peculiar aid. The civil state of the world too, was peculiarly favourable to the opening of a new dispensation. The Roman empire extended, at this period, over a great part of the known world; and, being under the control of a single man, and enjoying an uncommon state of tranquillity, these circumstances facilitated the propagation of the Gospel, in a manner that no former period could have done. At this juncture the Saviour appeared. The Life and Death of Christ demonstrate him to have been appointed to rescue wretchcd man from the bondage of darkness and sin. He came, indeed, in such a form, and taught such a doctrine, that he proved a “ stumbling-block” to the carnal apprehensions of his own nation, and “ foolishness” to the captious minds of the Greeks. But every circumstance attending his appearance upon earth was calculated to correct the false views and taste of mankind. Born in privacy, of humble parents, in circumstances of external meanness, and living retired and unknown, probably in the laborious occupation of his reputed father, but certainly in dutiful subjection to his parents, for by far the larger portion of his life, and proving hereby to a mind rightly instructed, that his “ kingdom was not of this world;" yet, born above the course of nature, by miraculous conception, he wanted not the acclamations of the heavenly host at his birth to reproach, as it were, the stupidity of his people, nor the homage of distant sages to reproach their ingratitude. He wanted not a harbinger to prepare his way, and make proclamation before the approaching king; but it was a proclamation of the true nature of his kingdom. He wanted not the clearest marks and evidences, that he was the very person who had been the object of the Church's expectation for several thousand years, and the subject of prophecies, types, and ritual institutions. And though the prophetical records of the nation pointed out the very spot, the minute circumstances, and almost the very moment of his birth, yet so infatuated and sensualized were the people, though there was among them at this very time a lively and eager expectation of their Messiah, that none were found to bid him welcome, to do him homage, or to bear testimony to him, but the few spiritual and heavenly persons, whose minds were raised by divine influence above the tone of their nation, who entered into the true intent of the Scriptures, and “ waited for redemption in Israel.”
Before his entrance upon his publick ministry, the divine wisdom that dwelt in him beamed forth with such clear indications, as to awaken surprise in the learned of his nation, and highwrought expectations in the breast of his mother and the faithful few. When he entered upon his ministry, it was upon a life of sorrow, of want, of poverty, of meanness, and of contempt. He had nothing of the greatness and bravery of the world. A voice
from heaven had uttered, “ This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him,” (Matt. xvii. 5.;) yet, though he acted upon this authority,“ he was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid, as it were, our faces from him: he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Is. liii. 3.)
The world has no notion of greatness and dignity, but as it is connected with noise and display; but it was foretold of him, “ He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the streets.” (Is. xlii. 2.) « He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” (Is. liii. 2.) « His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men.” (Is. lii. 14.) His life was a demonstration of the nature of the religion which he came to inculcate. It embodied it, and brought it out to the eye. His actions, more perhaps even than his teaching, were a reproach to the leaders of his nation. His modest character reproached their ostentation; his mildness, their severity; his holiness, their impurity; his spirituality of mind, their sensuality; his laboriousness, their love of ease; and the largeness of his charity, their narrow and selfish feelings. Indications these were of spiritual authority, before which the wordly, and the hardened, and the profane, and the covetous, hurried from the precincts of the Temple; the subtle reasonings of the captious were silenced, and the obstinate pride of the haughty was abashed.
His whole system of teaching was rather directed to a rectifi. cation of errour, by rescuing the Scriptures from the false interpretations put upon them, and to bringing men back to a discernment of true religion in its spiritual and vital nature, than to a full and explicit declaration of the nature of his kingdom, and the means of obtaining the divine favour. Much, indeed, he spake by way of anticipation, and which could not be fully understood till after his ascension, and that effusion of the Spirit which instructed the disciples in the true nature of his kingdom.
To pour further contempt upon the objects of human estimakon, and to evince without reasonable contradiction, the divinity of the Gospel, he chose his companions, the future instruments of propagating the faith, from the unlearned and the poor. These he sent forth to announce the glad tidings throughout the province of Judea, with a charge to seek “ the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Mat. x. 6.) To these he added seventy other disci. ples, whom he « sent, two and two, before his face, into every city and place, whither he himself would come.” (Luke x. 1.) To the Jews, the personal ministry of our Saviour was almost exclusively confined, his usual seat of abode being Galilee; and though his Ministry was comparatively unsuccessful, yet many, who ranked not openly in the number of his followers, yielded to the authority and power with which he spake. Five hundred brethren are mentioned as witnesses of his resurrection. (1 Cor. xv. 6.)
I de circumstances of his appearance were, like those of the whole dispensation of the Gospel, adapted to try the state of men's minds, he “ being set for a sign that should be spoken against that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed.” (Luke ii. 34, 35.) His glory was so veiled, that, while the believing eye could discern, and the humble heart receive hiin as " the Holy One and the Just,” yet the proud and the carnal could 16 desire a murderer to be granted to them, and kill the Prince of Life:" (Acts iii. 13, 14;) for “had they known,” says the apostle, i. e. with irresistible evidence, 6 they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.” (1 Cor. ii. 8.) And though his death was necessary for the salvation of his very murderers, and the Son of Man went as it was determined,” yet " wo to that man by whom he was betrayed.” (Luke xxii. 22.) He was betrayed by an apostate disciple, dragged to the tribunal of his own creatures, abandoned by his nearest friends, arraigned and condemned upon false accusations, mocked, and insulted, and spat upon, and scourged, and led away to consummate at once his sufferings and his sacrifice upon the cross, the bitterness of which hour he had already anticipated in his conflict in the garden, when his agonies had drawn from him as it were great drops of blood. But over him the grave had no power. As he died for our sins, he rose again for our justification; and, after giving sufficient evidence that he had raised out of the grave that very body with wbich he entered it, he ascended into heaven to assume his mediatorial throne, and exercise that office of intercessor for which he had been qualified by his own sufferings, and that dominion which was the reward of his obedience.
The nature and ends of their Lord's death, and the divine purpose in the separation of their nation, were very imperfectly understood by the disciples themselves; much less had they any notion of the extent of that commission which they had received, though it was expressed in such general terins, “ Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.” (Mark xvi. 15.) But their prejudices as Jews were to be removed gradually. Many things, our Lord told them, he had to say to them, but they could not bear them then. For wise reasons it had seemed good to the great Head of the Church to separate the Jewish nation from the rest of mankind, by a peculiar hedge of distinction; not, as was repeatedly declared, for their own deservings, for, to illustrate the freedom of his acting and its independence of any merit in the creature, he chose for this end a nation remarkably obstinate and rebellious; but to preserve upon earth, till the coming of the Messiah, some traces of true religion, and to be a picture and shadow of his especial favour to his spiritual Israel. In common with the rest of the nation, the disciples had imbibed the prejudice that peculiar privileges were attached to the Jews, and admitted with great difficulty the disagreeable truth, that this peculiarity of privilege was to be annihilated, the wall thrown down, and the Gentiles received into a full participation of Christian
a blessings. This discovery is spoken of in the Epistles, as “ the
mystery hid from ages and generations."
Previously, however, to their being enlightened in this mysteze te ry, they were to receive a preparation for their mission by the ef
fusion of the Holy Spirit. It seems that their first apprehensions of the extent of their commission were, that, after beginning at Jerusalem, they should go into all nations, but confine their ministry to the Jews dispersed in these nations. Christ had promised his disciples the presence of the Holy Spirit under the appel. lation of The Comforter, or, as the word imports, an inward monitor or invigorater; and his influence upon them on the memorable day of Pentecost was not only of that extraordinary kind, which was peculiar to the first preaching of the Gospel, and whereby he endued them with the knowledge of tongues, which they had never learned, and with the occasional power of discerning spirits and of working miracles, but it partook also of that ordinary in
fluence which is common to all Christians, though carried, in the - case of the apostles, to a higher degree than common, because
their circumstances required it. Light burst in upon their minds, in the Scriptures of the Old Testament were seen to bear one uni.
om testimony to the spirit, the character, and the kingdom of wel ascended Master; his own words, which were forgotten or wunderstood, or not comprehended at all, were called to mind, Ali, in general, fully apprehended; fears, and doubts, and reluc.
ces were removed, and fortitude, boldness, love, and an ardent zeal for the interests of Christ and the salvation of their brethren,
their breasts. They lost their prejudices respecting a tem
ngdom; they acquired a deep sense of their own depravity eplessness, and of their infinite obligations to redeeming Y and, with affections set on things above, and an ardent deollow their Master to a better world, they went forth to pattern of simplicity and godly zeal to all their followers ristian ministry to the latest age. Little had they un.
of the expected influence of the Holy Spirit. Some inmulct ideas they had, no doubt, by this time acquired, of the true sta nature and intent of his effusion; but it is highly probable that wiss worldly hopes and expectations still occupied their minds; but, as stinebune, hey continued in prayer and supplication" for the promised -s, foi pressing, it was not long withheld.
The progress of the Gospel in Jerusalem, after this effusion of 1 me Spirit, was great and rapid. Such were the effects of this ex
altinary effusion upon the apostles, that, while some wondered the miracle, others mocked them as intoxicated with wine. But P eter directed them to the prophet Joel for an explanation of
they saw and heard. In his interesting discourse upon this occas I on, which is recorded in Acts ii. he labours to convince his heare s of sin, and, the divine blessing accompanying the word, multit u des being pricked in their hearts cried out, in the spirit of Ime p i tents, “ Men and brethren, what shall we do?” The aposMerci ties as a minister of reconciliation, in fulfilment of what