صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

he was to reveal things no less great and important than new and strange; since he was to assume a most high authority unto himself; since he was to speak and act all in the name of God; since also all men under great penalties were obliged to yield credit and obedience to him, there was great reason that God should appear to authorise him; that he should be able to produce God's hand and seal to his commission ; for that otherwise he might have been suspected of imposture ; his doctrine might have been rejected, his authority disclaimed, and his design frustrated, without great blame, or however without men's being convincible of blame: for well might the people suspect that person, who, professing to come in such a capacity an extraordinary agent from heaven, brought no credentials thence, (no evidence of God's especial favor and assistance ;) well might they reject that new doctrine, which God vouchsafed not by any signal testimony to countenance; well might they disclaim that authority, which offering to introduce so great innovations (to repeal old laws, to cancel settled obligations, to abolish ancient customs; to enact new laws and rules, exacting obedience to them from all men) should not be able to exhibit its warrant, and show its derivation from heaven : well might such peremptory assertions and so confident pretences, without confirmations answerable in weight, beget even in wise men distrust and aversation. The reasonableness and excellency of his doctrine, the innocence and sanctity of his life, the wisdom and persuasiveness of his discourse would not, if nothing more divine should attend them, be thoroughly able to procure faith and submission ; they would at best have made his precepts to pass for the devices of a wise man, or the dictates of a good philosopher. They were therefore po unreasonable desires or demands (if they had proceeded from a good meaning, and had been joined with a docile and tractable disposition) which the Jews did make to our Lord ;

Master, we would see a sign from thee ; what sign therefore dost thou do, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work ? what sign dost thou show to us, that thou doest these things ?' that is, how dost thou prove thy doctrine credible, or thy authority valid, by God's testimony and warrant ? This challenge our Lord himself acknowleged somewhat

6

reasonable ; for he not only asserts the truth of his doctrine and validity of his commission by divine attestation, (in words and works,) nor only exhorts them to credit him on that account, but he also plainly signifies that his bare affirmation did not require credit, and that if he could produce no better proof, they were excusable for disbelieving him : If,' saith he, 'I witness of myself, my witness is not true ;' not true, that is, not credible; or not so true, as to oblige to belief: and, 'If I do not the works of my Father, (that is, works only imputable to God's extraordinary power,) believe me not;' that is, I require no belief from you : yea, he farther adds, “If I had not done the works among them, which no man else had done, they (the incredulous people then) had not had any sin;' that is, had not been culpable for unbelief. It was then from the nature of the Messias's office and undertaking very necessary that he should have attestations of this kind ; and our Lord himself, we see, declines not, but aggravateth his pretences with this necessity.

2. The effects which the Messias was to produce did require extraordinary attestations and assistances from God. He was to achieve exploits of the greatest difficulty conceivable; far surpassing all that ever was by any person undertaken in the world before: he was to vanquish all the powers, and to confound all the policies of hell; he was to subdue and subjugate all the world ; to make the greatest princes to stoop, and to submit their sceptres to his will; to bring down the most haughty conceits, and to break down the most stubborn spirits, and to tame the wildest passions of men ; he was to expel from their minds most deeply rooted prejudices, to banish from their practice most inveterate customs, to cross their most violent humors, to thwart their interests, to bear down their ambitions, to restrain their covetous desires and their voluptuous appetites; he was to persuade a doctrine, and to impose a law, very oppo site to the natural inclinations, to the current notions, to the worldly advantages, the liberties, emoluments, and enjoyments of all, or of most, or of many people; he was, in short, so to reform the world, as in a manner quite to alter the whole frame of it, and all the course of affairs therein ; things which surely it were a madness to enterprise, and an impossibility to accom

plish, without remarkable testimonies of the divine presence, especial aids of the divine power, and large influences of the divine Spirit, communicated to him; without, as St. Peter phraseth it, God were with him ;' these things were not effectible by means natural and ordinary, by human wit or eloquence, by good behavior or example, by the bare reason or plausibility of doctrine, by the wise conduct or industrious management of the design ; no, such means have by many experiments appeared insufficient to bring about much lesser matters; nothing under the wisdom of God directing, the power of God assisting, the authority of God establishing and gracing his endeavors in an eminent and evident manner, could enable the Messias to bring these mighty things to pass. 3. We

may

farther consider that the Christ was designed to present himself first to the Jews, (in the first place impart: ing the declarations of God's will and gracious intentions to them, his ancient friends and favorites ;) that is, to a people wholly addicted to this sort of proof, and uncapable of conviction by any other: they did not, as did the Greeks, seek wisdom,' but required a sign,' as St. Paul observed of them ; they were not so apt to inquire after the intrinsic reasons of things, as to expect testimonies from heaven ; nothing else was able to persuade them; so our Lord expressly saith ; • Jesus said unto them, If you do not see signs and prodigies, you will nowise believe :' in consequence of which disposition in them, we see by passages in the New Testament that they expected and believed the Messias should come with such attestations and performances ; so their importunate demanding of signs on all occasions from our Lord doth signify, and so those words in St. John do imply; 'And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these, which this man doeth ? where we may observe both their expectation of miraculous works from the Messias, and the efficacy which such works had on them. The condition also of the Gentiles, unto whom his design in the next place did extend, seemed to require the same proceedings : for all other methods of instruction and persuasion had before often been applied to them by philosophers and by politicians, for instilling their notions and recommending their laws; they

had been so inured to subtile argumentations and plausible discourses, that the bare use of them was not likely to have any extraordinary effect on them : if the Messias therefore should bring no other confirmation with him unto them, he would seem to deserve no higher regard or credit than other doctors or lawgivers, which had appeared among them; and as easily would he be declined, and put off by them : whence reasonably it may be supposed that for accommodation to the genius and the capacities of those on whose hearts he was to make impression, the Messias should come furnished with such special testimonials and powers from God. Especially considering that,

4. It was agreeable to God's usual method of proceeding in cases resembling this, although much unequal thereto in weight and consequence. There was never any more than ordinary discovery made to men by God, never any very considerable business managed by divine providence, never hardly any eminent person appeared with a pretence of coming from God for the prosecution of such purposes, without God's visible interposal and abetment. This hath always been the authentic seal, whereby he hath wonted to authorise the messengers sent from himself for transacting affairs of an unusual and very weighty nature ; whereby his true ambassadors have been distinguishable from ordinary persons, or from deceitful pretenders, who have offered to impose their own devices on men: to a person bringing with him this sort of assurance (except when his tale is evidently false and vain, or his design notoriously wicked and mischievous) God hath always required that a ready credence and obedience should be yielded ; taking it for a high affront to himself (no less, as St. John says, than giving him the lie') to disbelieve such a person, and for a heinous contumacy to disobey him : that it hath been God's ordinary method, the course of divine history shows. When God separated the patriarchs for the preservation and propagation of his true religion, he manifested an especial presence with them, frequently appearing to them, visibly assisting and blessing them in a more than ordinary manner, enduing them with a prophetical discretion and foresight of things : when he would rescue the seed of those his friends from cruel oppression and hard slavery, (de

signing also by them to maintain and convey down the sincere way of piety,) he imparted also unto Moses, the especial instrument of those purposes, a power of doing wonders, thereby procuring authority to his person, and credit to his pretences. Moses did well perceive, and judge, that had he come without such attestation he should not have been received or regarded :

But, behold,' said he, they will not believe me, nor hearken to my voice; for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee :' wherefore God furnished him with such a power of doing such things as should assure the truth of his message ; the effect whereof is thus expressed ; • Israel saw that great work, which the Lord did on the Egyptians; and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses :' to the promulgation of the law, and establishment of that particular covenant with the Israelites, God did also exhibit significations of his presence in a most evident and affecting manner : • Lo,' said God to Moses, expressing that matter and its design, 'I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever.' And in the whole conduct of that people toward Canaan, God for those ends vouchsafed by Moses to perform very great and prodigious things; which we may see reckoned up in the 78th and 105th Psalms, and in the 9th of Nehemiah. So also when God employed Elias to sustain the remainders of de cayed piety in Israel against the countenance of power given to wickedness, and against the stream of popular use, he endued him with a liberal measure of his Spirit, and a power of doing great miracles: the like may be observed of all the prophets, judges, and princes, who on special occasions were raised to perform considerable services for the glory of God and the good of his people. This therefore being God's constant practice, it cannot but be well supposed that in this case he would not withhold his attestation, but would afford it in a most plentiful measure to that person who was in dignity so far to excel all other his envoys and agents; whose undertaking should in importance so vastly transcend all others, that ever were set on foot in the world ; to him, who was to free, not one small people only, but all mankind, not from a temporal slavery in Egypt, but from eternal misery in hell; to promulge,

« السابقةمتابعة »