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The Christian Monitor;
LECTURES ON THE BIBLE.
LECTURE IV.-New Testament-General View.
Behold I will send my Messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me, and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his Temple, even the Messenger of the Covenant, whom ye delight in. Behold he shall come, said the Lord of hosts. MALACHI iii. 1.
AGREEABLY to this prophecy, delivered 400 years before, St. Luke informs us, that in the reign of Tiberius, the Roman Emperor, when Pontius Pilate was Governor of Judea, there appeared a very remarkable person in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, who drew together a great number of people; declaring the immediate coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to save mankind from their sins, and to teach them the means of eternal salvation by his heavenly instructions. His preaching and his figure were equally uncommon he was clothed in skins, he fed upon the coarsest food, and exposed himself to every severity of the weather. He earnestly advised all who came near to repent of their sins, to prepare for the coming of their Lord and Saviour, to receive him with gratitude and reverence as their Prince and Deliverer, directing their attention to the old prophecies, which had for ages foretold this glorious event.
His appearance excited extraordinary curiosity. Multitudes thronged from all quarters to hear him; and some of the learned Jews questioned him whether he himself was the Messiah. He declared he was not; that he was only his forerunner, who had been long foretold to them; but that the great person they looked for was even then among them, though as yet they knew him not, and would shortly make himself known.
The person who thus excited the universal notice of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all the country round, was St. John the Baptist; who, in a wonderful manner, was born a few months before our blessed Saviour, and was appointed by God to give notice of his coming to the world. Those who were convinced by his preaching, and declared their readiness to become followers and believers F f
in Christ, he solemnly received as his disciples, baptizing them with water; by this sign enlisting them into the service of their future Saviour. The Jews had for a long time fixed their attention on their ancient prophecies; and about this time there was a general expectation among them that a great person would appear, who should restore their kingdom, with great splendour and dignity, and raise their nation to power and reputation far exceeding any they had before enjoyed. Their national vanity induced them to interpret literally those prophecies which described the promised Messiah as their Sovereign and Saviour; and the heavenly kingdom which he was to establish at a future time, as a promise that their own nation should be restored to the highest glory and independence in this world.
They had heated their minds to such a degree with these expectations of a great earthly prince, that when Christ did actually appear among them, in the humble condition in which he was born, they absolutely denied his divine authority. Their pride and obstinacy urged them to refuse the clearest proofs that he was the very person whom they expected. He assured them that his kingdom was not of this world; but that every prophecy should be exactly completed in his person. Their mistaken notions of the expected Saviour were too flattering to their excessive love of power and splendour to be given up; they could not bring themselves to acknowledge one as their Redeemer and Deliverer, who they saw had no earthly means of raising their nation to honour, or of restoring their conquered kingdom to independence.
This has ever since been the fatal mistake of the Jews. Though witnesses of the great wonders which Christ performed before them, as sure proofs of his high authority, they refused the evidence even of their senses; they wilfully shut their eyes against belief; they could not bear to give up their lofty notions of a great earthly Sovereign. Though Christ shewed them that he was the promised Saviour by such acts as they knew could not be performed by common means, still they refused to receive him as their Prince and Redeemer. They denied his authority; they mocked at his instructions; they treated him with disdain, with hatred, and persecution; and at length, having by treachery got him into their power, they procured him to be put to a most cruel and disgraceful death; so great was the hatred they bore against him.
In every particular of his life, his ministry, his sufferings, his death, and resurrection, Christ continually reminded them of their own ancient prophecies concerning him, which were thus gradually accomplishing. He declared that these events must take place, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. Nothing could overcome their obstinacy and disbelief. They paid no regard to the completion of these prophecies, or to the miracles he performed; which, being too open and notorious to be contradicted, they had the shocking wickedness to declare they were worked by the power of the Devil: thus charging their blessed Saviour with dealing in magic. They
persisted to the last in denying him; they treated him as an impostor aud as a criminal; and, after they had completed his destruction, when he was raised from the dead, according to his own prediction as well as that of their ancient prophets-when, by this glorious resurrection, he had given the last wonderful and convincing proof that he indeed was the Christ, the Son of God-they still persisted in their desperate unbelief.
Such continues the hardened obstinacy of the Jews to this day. They still look back with satisfaction upon the conduct of their forefathers in denying the Redeemer. They consider Christ to have been an impostor, and as such deserving of the cruel sufferings he underwent. Though visited with the heaviest punishments for their disobedience and ingratitude; though their city has been destroyed, and their nation dispersed; though driven from their own land, and become wanderers throughout the earth; though their own Book of the Law of Moses, which they still profess to believe, declares that these very things would exactly happen to them in consequence of their great obstinacy; still they wait the coming of the promised Christ: still, through all their misfortunes and disgrace, they have constantly expected that the time will one day arrive, when the Prince and Deliverer of Israel shall arise among them, with great earthly power and glory, who shall assemble their scattered nation together, place himself at their head, overcome all their enemies, and restore them to their own country of Judea; carrying their power and dignity to a height greater than any they ever enjoyed.
Prophecy has indeed declared that they shall be finally restored to their country;* that when they shall have returned to the true faith (and not before), they shall be gathered from all the nations whither the Lord hath scattered them;' that he will bring them ' into the land which their fathers possessed, and they shall be multiplied above their fathers.'
That Prince and Deliverer whom they have denied, and still expect, will indeed appear on earth; for, as his own awful words have declared, they shall see him sitting on the right hand of Power, and coming in the clouds of Heaven, and all the host of angels with him.' He will descend in all the majesty of heavenly authority: but when he thus appears a second time on earth, it will be to judge the world in righteousness; and at his coming, all the nations of the earth shall arise to endless life, and receive his eternal sentence, according to their works done in the body.
In considering the object of our blessed Saviour's life and ministry, we must notice the great wisdom of the Almighty, shewn in the manner this wonderful knowledge was delivered to mankind. We perceive the great precaution which Providence had taken, lest the future success of the Christian Religion might be ascribed to human means. Christ came with no worldly power or superiority whatever; he was supported by no such pretensions. He was neither protected
* Deuteronomy xxx.
+ Matthew xxv.
by powerful friends, nor assisted by the wealth of his relations. He pursued his holy ministry in the meekest, most unassuming manner; no force, no contrivance was employed to obtain followers. He was born of mean parents; he is represented to have been endowed with no form nor comeliness ;'* he received no education to give him claims to superior learning or accomplishments; nor did he seek to gain authority or influence by courting the society of the rich and powerful on the contrary, he lived almost wholly with persons of the lowest situation in life, and chose out from among them his most intimate companions and friends, and such he afterwards appointed to be public teachers of his Religion.
The truth of Christ's Religion was to be established by proofs quite distinct from each other.
First, by the completion of all the prophecies of former ages concerning him, which were most exactly fulfilled.
Secondly, The miracles which he performed in proof of his divine powers; above fifty of which are particularly described in the New Testament, though many more are generally mentioned. Thirdly, The purity and excellence of his instructions, which were allowed to be superior to all that mankind had before received, and which were backed by authorities, and supported by promises of future rewards, till then untaught and unknown. Lastly, By the completion of many prophecies which Christ himself delivered, concerning events which have since happened exactly as he foretold.
We will now very shortly notice the circumstances of our Saviour's
God having graciously resolved to send down from Heaven his only Son to become a sacrifice for his creatures, Jesus Christ consented for a time to lay aside his divine character. He came down upon earth, and taking upon him our form and nature, (that is, a soul as well as a body like our own), he completed the great design of his Almighty Father.
That such an inestimable blessing should be given them, God had already been pleased to inform mankind by prophecy; and David, Isaiah, and others had declared, that at the time appointed the Saviour of the world should be born of a pure Virgin, as a proof of his heavenly nature.
Accordingly, at the exact time which had been thus foretold many ages before, the Virgin Mary, a person of humble condition, gave birth to our blessed Lord at Bethlehem, a city of Judea; having been before informed by a solemn message from God, that the child should be the future Saviour of mankind.
The Virgin had been already betrothed in marriage to Joseph, a poor carpenter of Nazareth, her native city; from whence they had come up to be numbered by order of the Emperor, at Bethlehem, the city of David; both of them, as was prophesied, being descended from the royal line, though themselves of mean condition.
* Isaiah liii. 2.
Notice of the birth of Christ was miraculously given by a glorious vision seen by the shepherds, who fed their flocks by night near the city; and also by the appearance of a wonderful star, in the country east of Judea, by which certain persons were led to the spot where the holy child was laid, to whom they made offerings, in token of their reverence, after the manner of the East. Thus were the glad tidings given both to Jews and Gentiles, shewing that the Christian Religion was to be bestowed alike upon all mankind, and not confined to the Jews alone, like the religion of Moses.
When the child was presented in the Temple, according to the Hebrew law, Simeon and Anna, two devout persons of great age, publicly prophesied, by Divine authority, that the infant would become the Saviour of the world.
Herod, who at that time governed Judea, on hearing of the birth of a person of whom it was declared that he should be the Deliverer of Israel, was alarmed for the security of his own power; and sending for the Jewish priests, inquired of them where it was foretold he should be born. They pointed out to him the prophecy contained in the fourth chapter of Micah, who had stated, 750 years before, in exact words, that Bethlehem would be the place of his nativity. Resolved, if possible, to destroy the holy child, he gave orders to put to death every infant in that city under the age of two years; but the danger being made known to Joseph in a dream, he escaped, with his family, into Egypt; where they continued to reside till the death of Herod : and then, returning into Galilee, fixed their abode again at Nazareth. Thus was another of the ancient prophecies fulfilled, which says, Out of Egypt have I called my Son' ;* which could not have been understood till after it was accomplished, from this unexpected train of events.
The Gospel history gives us scarce any account of the early life of our Saviour. We learn that, being at Jerusalem with his parents during the feast of the Passover, at the age of twelve years, he confounded the learned Doctors by his early wisdom. St. Luke informs us, that from that time he was obedient to his parents; that he increased in wisdom and stature, and the Spirit of God was upon him.' St. Mark seems to intimate, that during this period he assisted Joseph, the husband of his mother, in his business. ‡ But even at this time the public attention was very generally fixed upon him.
When arrived at the mature age of thirty, Jesus prepared to enter upon his holy ministry. We are informed by all the Evangelists, that being baptized at his own desire by St. John, the glory of the Lord shone upon him, and a voice from Heaven proclaimed his divine nature. Having submitted to the temptations of the evil spirit, to prove the firmness of his human resolution, and fasted forty days in the desert during that time, he began to preach in public, commencing his instructions with a solemn command to repent, for the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He declared that he was about to
Mark vi. 3.
*Matthew ii. 15.
+ Luke ii. 40.