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at the fame of one who wrought miracles in the country; he starts at the news, and cries out, This is John the Baptist, he is risen from the dead. This natural sense of good and evil, guarded against false interpretations by the power of conscience, is a great justification of God's goodness and equity in promulging his laws, and making our duty clear and evident.
Thirdly; we may observe what care the wise Author of our nature has taken, not only to manifest himself and his laws to us, but likewise to secure our obedience, and thereby our eternal welfare. It is thought a disadvantage to religion, that its hopes and fears are so distant, whilst the temptations to sin are so constantly present with us. To balance this, though the rewards and punishments of religion are at such a distance, yet its hopes and fears are always present, and influence our happiness even here, as much or more than any other good or evil that can befal us. As little as a man may think now of the consequence of his iniquity, a very short time, or a very trivial accident, may open a passage to other reflexions: this instanced in the case of Joseph's brethren, who sold him for a slave. Misfortunes may befal the good as well as the bad; but under the same circumstances there is a mighty difference in their sufferings, arising from their different reflexions: this topic enlarged on. So that, if we consider the case fairly, we shall find, that though the final rewards of virtue, and punishments of vice, are reserved to another time and place, yet there are such annexed to them here, in the very frame and constitution of our minds, as are sufficient to determine the choice of a reasonable man. Let those who pretend to doubts respecting a future state, consider whether that defect, which they suppose to be in the foundation of religion, is not supplied by what is now spoken of: for, were they ever so certain of a future state, their duty would consist in those very things which their own reason requires of them, and which are necessary to that peace of mind on which all their happiness depends. Concluding exhortation as we
SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE XXXI.
value reason, the comforts of this life, and the glories of the next, let us take heed to preserve innocence and virtue, or that godliness, which, as the Apostle tells us, is great gain, having the promise of this life, and of that which is to come.
MATTHEW, CHAP. XIV.-VERSES 1, 2.
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist: he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him.
WHETHER this thought was first started by Herod himself or no, is not very certain: the accounts given of it by St. Matthew and St. Mark make it probable that Herod was the first who supposed Jesus to be that John Baptist risen from the dead, whom he had cruelly and wantonly put to death in prison. St. Luke's account makes the case rather to be, that the several reports and opinions of others concerning Jesus, either that he was Elias, or one of the old prophets, or John the Baptist from the dead, were brought to Herod, and that he was in great perplexity and concern about them. But be this as it will, whether he imposed on himself, or was imposed on by others by this vain and improbable story, yet evident it is, how far his imagination was possessed, and his reason weighed down by guilty fear; and how easily he believed whatever seemed to threaten that punishment, which his conscience told him was his due. How came it to pass, that whilst others were blessing themselves with the hopes of having a great prophet among them, Herod alone was perplexed and dismayed? or when there were such various accounts of this person, some saying that he was Elias, others that he was one of the old prophets, and others that he was John the Baptist, how came Herod to take up with the most improbable account of all, and for which there was not the least foundation? The Jews had from ancient prophecies, however mistaken, an ex
pectation that Elias should come, or some of the old prophets; and those who were of that opinion were in the common error, which was countenanced by tradition, and the prevailing interpretation of the prophecies. To their expectation the character and person of our blessed Saviour did very well answer : he was a preacher of righteousness, and mighty in signs and wonders: such was Elias, such were the old prophets: they had read of them, what they now saw performed by Jesus; and their persuasion being allowed them, that Elias, or one of the old prophets should come, the words and works of Jesus tended extremely to confirm them in the opinion that he was the person whom they expected. But with respect to John the Baptist the case is quite otherwise; there was no ground to build this imagination on; there was neither tradition nor prophecy to support it: John indeed was a just man, and a preacher of righteousness, and had been barbarously murdered; and so had many before him, who never returned again from their graves and what better reason was there to expect that he should? Besides, suppose it probable that he was to come, yet still it was improbable that this was the person their characters and offices were very different: John went about baptizing; but we are told expressly that Jesus baptized no man. Jesus wrought many miracles; but of John it is recorded in holy writ that he wrought no miracle. But Herod minded none of these things; he had a motive that weighed more with him on the other side, a motive which shut out all reason and argument; it was his guilty conscience told him this was John the Baptist. He had murdered the holy man to please a lewd woman; and no sooner did he hear that there was one in the country who wrought miracles, but he concluded the Baptist was come from the grave, armed with power to take vengeance for his iniquities and his own wrongs. 6 This is John the Baptist,' says Herod: he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him.'
The use I intend to make of this passage of holy Scripture is to set before you such considerations as naturally arise from it, and are proper for the government and direction of ourselves. And,
First, you may observe from hence the great force and efficacy of conscience.
It is reasonable to suppose that, if God intended men for his own service, and designed them for another state of happiness and misery after this life, according to their good or ill behavior in it, that he should make himself known to them by some clear and plain manifestation; and promulge the laws which were to be the rule of their obedience, in such manner that all should know and acknowlege their duty. Were men left destitute of these necessary assistances, there could be no equity in requiring obedience, no justice in punishing disobedience. There are many demonstrations to be had of the existence of a Deity from the works of nature, and from the operations of our own minds; but the plainest of these proofs do sometimes escape the lower part of mankind, who, being constantly taken up in the servile employments of life, do not exercise their reason so far as to come to the conclusion, which is but one remove distant from the objects they every day converse with. And though, as the Psalmist speaks, the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handy work;' though 'day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowlege;' yet some there are, who, for want of attention, hear not this still voice of nature, and are slow to apprehend the glory which the heavens declare, or to discover the hand of the Creator in the works of the firmament which they every day behold. But then there is an internal proof of a Deity arising from conscience, and the reflexion of the mind on the good or evil we do, which amounts to the fullest declaration of the power of God, and is the completest promulgation of his law to mankind that can be desired or expected. In all civil cases a king is sufficiently proclaimed, and a law is sufficiently promulged, when either is done according to custom in some public and solemn manner; for it being impossible to give every man concerned particular notice, the necessity of the case requires that every man should at his peril take notice of the public declaration. But with respect to the authority of God, and the common laws of morality, such care is taken, that the promulgation is made at every man's own door, nay, in his very heart. The sense which men have of good and evil, the hopes and fears