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were some who had reason to wish for their completion, there were others no less interested to oppose, and, if possible, prevent it; and that, in most instances, the opposers had all the advantages worldly power and policy could give them; while they, who wished well to the completion, were wholly destitute of both. This was seen remarkably in the case of Christ's resurrection. He was dead; his disciples were the simplest, the weakest, the most fearful, of mankind. They wished, indeed, to see him alive again ; but the stealing away of his dead body was a thing they neither could have desired, for to what end? nor have effected, because they had a military force to oppose, and, either by day or night, must have carried it away through crowds of Jews, attentive to the tomb, and watchful over an event the most awakening that had ever been foretold or promised to mankind. But ithat, notwithstanding all this, the prophecies were fulfilled by his actually coming to life again, these men, so fearful before, have fully proved to the whole world, by a testimony which all the severities of a sanguinary persecation could not frighten them from giving. The same thing is as remarkably evident in the history of the three succeeding centuries. Christ foretold great and terrible persecutions, and also universal success, to his followers. Now did not the refutation of his prophecy, as to the persecutions, lie in the hands of the Jews and Romans? Had they any thing more to do, in order to prove him a false prophet, and consequently an impostor, than only not to persecute? Yet they did persecute, and that most cruelly at times, for the space
of three hundred years; and, by that very means, not only verified this prophecy, but also thereby did more towards verifying the other, concerning the suceessful preaching of Christianity, than they could have done by any other possible expedient; for the wounds of the martyrs were infinitely more eloquent than their mouths.
The compass of a discourse like this will not suffer me to descend into a minute discussion of every thing the subject may seem to require; but I speak as to wise men,' who
may easily see, by what hath been said of miracles in general, and prophecies in particular, that God hath owned the Scriptures for his word and work; that he hath furnished reason with abundant proofs of this; and that, therefore, to believe rationally in religious matters, and to be a Christian, is one and the same thing.
. I know there are men who will find the way to make light of all this; and I know there were also men who firmly believed in the prophecies relating to the Messiah, and, at the very time prefixed by those prophecies for his appearance, saw Christ work the very miracles which it was foretold he should work, and yet considered, or would have had others consider him, as no better than the instrument of the devil. This their sin against reason, and the highest possible cause of conviction, Christ pronounced unpardonable. They, who in these times follow them in their infidel presumption, no doubt partake of their guilt; for, although they do not see the miracles of Christ, as they did, who ascribed them to the devil, yet there is no one thing in the world they have more reason to believe, especially as they have had all the other proofs afforded in favour of Christianity, since the first committal of the unpardonable crime, whether by miracles, by martyrdoms, or by prophecies fulfilled, from that day to this. Even the false prophets, the false teachers, the false miracles, the heresies, dissensions, schisms, among Christians, although seen through the telescope of infidel malice, as so many dark spots on the bright face of Christianity, do high honour, nevertheless, to its Author, who foretold them all, and, by that means, converted these instruments and efforts of his enemy into so many proofs of his own infinite wisdom and truth, for the full satisfaction of such as shall candidly inquire into the merits of his religion.
Let a rational man now consider, first, the rapid propagation of Christianity, which, in less than half a century, had spread itself through all parts of the Roman empire ; had penetrated into the East Indies, Ethiopia, Italy, Spain, Gaul, and Scythia; and, in the space of two hundred years, had converted such numbers in all ranks and conditions of men, that its apologists could boldly tell the emperors, they could not suppress Christianity without subverting their own power. Secondly, Let him consider, that, as fast as this religion advanced, so fast superstition, idolatry, and wickedness, declined, particularly in the Roman empire, at that time remarkably prone, through infinite wealth, and insolence of power, to universal corruption. And then let him reflect a little, by what instruments it made this prodigious progress, and wrought these glorious effects. Were its preachers all profound philosophers ? No, there were few among them who knew more than barely how to read and write, Were they all eloquent orators ? No; except St. Paul, there were none of them, for a long time, who understood more of elocution than the plainest tradesman who heard them. Were they all profound politicians ? No; of all men they were the simplest, the most artless, the most destitute of address and skill in managing worldly affairs. What then? Did they proselyte the world, like Mahomet, by the sword, by power, and by the expectation of spoil and plunder ? No; they were among the very lowest and weakest of the people. The sword was so far from being with them, that, for three hundred years, it was almost continually employed against them; while they opposed it with nothing but patience and resignation. The empire found itself Christian, almost as soon as it ceased to persecute Christianity. And as to the hope of wealth, it was so far from being a temptation to any man to turn Christian, that every one who received baptism, foresaw he must surrender the little wealth he had, either to an imperial, or a voluntary confiscation. How then? Did the ignorant convince and teach the learned ? Did the uneloquent persuade the orator? Did the simple circumvent the artful? Did the weak subdue the strong ? No; to suppose this, is to suppose a thing in itself absurd and impossible. It was God, who, by the wisdom of his word, convinced and persuaded. It was God, who by the power of his miracles, caught and conquered. That all the world might know it was he alone, he chose men for preachers who had nothing to contribute to the work but a tongue; and, lest they should have any farther share in it, forbad them to study or prepare what they had to say: he chose them, in short, that he might, 'by the foolish things of the world, confound the wise ; that he might, by the weak things of the world, confound the things which are mighty; and by the base things of the world, and things that are despised, yea, and by things that are not, bring to nought things that are. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings he ordained strength,' sufficient to still the enemy and the avenger,' and perfected his own praise.'
While the true religion was as yet contending for superiority, and the prophetic promise made to it in that behalf was unaccomplished, some apology might be made for him who suspended his assent till he saw the issue, because the opposition was powerful, the end great, and the means apparently insufficient. But now that prophecies, so unlikely to be true, have been fulfilled; now that instruments, 80 utterly inefficacious in themselves, have prevailed ; all that which at first might have occasioned, or in any degree justified, suspense, serves only to enforce conviction and assent. This great event was not stolen upon the world. A full and timely warning was given of it by the promises and prophecies published in Scripture. The world, alarmed at these, and confiding in its own power, exerted its utmost efforts to prevent their taking place, and thereby to prove the book wherein they were contained was not the word of God. Little did it think it was doing all it could to prove the contrary, which undoubtedly it was ; for by what other means could the divinity of the prophecies, and the interposition of Almighty God in favour of his word and religion, have been so amply, so universally, demonstrated, as by an opposition, which must have proved successful, had it not been baffled by a power superior to that of all mankind?
To conclude ; if we have reason for believing any thing, it is this ; that Christianity is the true religion, and the Bible the word of God. Fully convinced of these great truths, let us now earnestly beseech the gracious Author to give us a right understanding of its necessary doctrines, å steady adherence to all its blessed truths, and a heart and will ever ready to regulate both our faith and practice by the same, through Jesus Christ our Saviour, to whom, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.
HOW THE SCRIPTURES ARE TO BE READ.
JOHN v. 39.
Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they
are they which testify of me.
HAVING, in the former Discourse, proved that the true religion is revealed to us in the books of the Old and New Testament, I intend, in this, to shew, how we ought to read these books, in order to answer the important ends for which they were written. If we consider either those ends, or the foreign and really sinister views, with which the sacred writings are perused by too many, we shall look on this as a subject of infinite consequence to us. May the Holy Spirit enable me to speak with that power, and you to listen with that attention, which the unspeakable dignity of the point demands!
When the words of my text were uttered by our blessed Saviour, the books of the Old Testament were the only Scriptures in being. In those the Jews 'thought they had eternal life;' and Christ neither commends nor censures their judgment. He does not commend it; because those books, considered in themselves, and without an eye to any farther dispensation, did not afford the means of eternal life : nor does he censure it; because those writings, rightly understood, did testify of him, who is the way, and the truth, and the life;' John xiv. 6. Now, if what is promised, concerning Christ, in the Old Testament, is, with equal authority, recorded in the New, as fully accomplished, we must look for the means of eternal life in the New, rather than in the Old. The search, however, recommended by Christ, must be made into both, that the whole scheme of our redemption, whether as prophetically promised, or as actually completed, may be understood and taken together.
And here it is necessary we should consider, what sort