Page images

ed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed ?" The apostle Paul, speaking of the perverseness of the Jews under his preaching, and that of the other apostles, says, in the words of Isaiah, "How beautiful are the feet of them, who preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel; for the same prophet says, Lord, Who hath believed our report?"

The report here intended is the gospel. The complaint is, that few believe it. And this complaint is made by those, who preached in the most engaging manner, and with the highest tokens of their divine commission.

The text is not a lamentation over those who had never heard the gospel, but a reprehension of those who had heard, and yet would not believe. The prophet speaking of the Messiah, whom he calls God's servant,says, "He shall deal prudently, he shall sprinkle many nations, that which had not been told them, they shall see; and that which they had not heard, shall they consider." But he adds, "Who hath believed our report ?" John applies the proph ecy as fulfilled in those who had actually seen Christ's miracles. Paul, in like manner, applies it to those, who had seen the feet of the messen, gers, who brought glad tidings.

We will contemplate the gospel under this idea, that is, a Report. And then we will consider the complaint: Who hath believed it?

1. We will contemplate this report, and inquire whether it is not worthy of our attention and belief. 1. The report, which we hear, is a most instructive report.

It brings us information of many things, which were before unknown, and which, without this information, never could have been known to the sons of men. "That which had not been told us, we


The gospel, for this reason, is called a mes sage, good tidings, and tidings of great joy. The leading truths of natural religion, as the existence and providence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the obligations to virtue, are agreeable to the dictates of reason; and perhaps might be, in some measure, discovered without revelation. At least they were known among those, who had never enjoyed a written revelation, though, indeed, we cannot say, how far these might be indebted to traditional information. But certainly those truths, which immediately relate to the recovery and salvation of sinners, human reason could never investigate. Whether the guilty canbe pardoned, or, if there is pardon for them, in what way it will be granted, and on what terms it may be obtained, whether they may hope for God's assistance in complying with these terms, whether forgiveness will be repeated after new offences, whether there will be a resurrection of the body, and what is the nature of the life to come? These are questions to which reason can return no satisfac tory answer. Our knowledge in these interesting matters comes by the report of the gospel. And these are some of its principal subjects.

This leads me to say,

2. The gospel is a report from heaven. Jesus the son of God, and his inspired apostles, call it their report.

We often hear rumours, of one kind and another, of which we know not the original. Their sound, like that of the winds, strikes our ears, but we know not whence it comes, nor whither it goes. If we attempt to trace them, we cannot find the author or occasion. Before they have gone far, they appear to be substantially changed. And yet these precarious reports meet with many who will readily believe them, eagerly take them up, and industriously hand them round.

The report, which we have heard, is not like these. We know whence it is. It originated in heaven, and from thence is sent down to us. The apostle commends the Thessalonians, that when they heard the gospel preached, "they received it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God." He warns the Hebrews, that they refuse not him, who speaketh; for says he, "if they escaped not, who refused him that spoke on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him, that speaketh from heaven.""How shall we escape, if we neglect this great salvation, which, at the first, began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by them who heard him.?"


The gospel was, in some degree, made known to the patriarchs; and afterwards more fully to the prophets. But "God, who, at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake to the fathers by the prophets, has, in these last days, spoken to us by his son." The knowledge, communicated to the fathers was from heaven; for "holy men of God spake, as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." But the gospel revelation is, in a more eminent sense, from heaven, as it was spoken to men immediately by the mouth of a divine instructor. And his instructions have come to us, not as most other reports come, by uncertain traditionary conveyance from one to another; but in a way far more sure and satisfactory, by authentic records. This divine teacher chose a number of disciples, who, attended upon him, during his abode on earth, and received his doctrines immediately from his mouth. These doctrines they, in his name, preached to the world, for the benefit of that age; and committed to writing, for the use of succeeding ages. The report comes to us, not as a doubtful hearsay, but as a faithful record.



[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

Whatever evidence we might have, that the Son of God once appeared on earth, yet if we had no information concerning his doctrines, but what came by traditionary report, we must receive it with great diffidence; for, in passing through a succes. sion of many generations, it might be materially altered. Tradition, in the early ages of the world, when human life was extended to almost a thousand years, was a much safer mode of conveyance, than it can be now, since the great reduction of our mortal term. The great doctrines of revelation are not left in the precarious hands of tradition. Soon after Christ's ascension, they were, by his attendants, committed to writing. And copies of their writings were, in a short time, so multiplied and dis persed, as to stand secure against any attempts to corrupt them. Had the sacred records been altered, while the writers were alive, they would have detected and remedied the evil. By the time that they were gone off the stage, the copies were too numerous to admit of an alteration, which should be common to them all. If only a few copies had been mutilated and corrupted, these, by comparing them with other copies, might have been cor-rected. To introduce into them all, at the same time, any great and essential alterations, must have been so evidently impracticable, that we cannot suppose it would ever be attempted. If then the gospel was, at first, a report from heaven, we are still to regard it as such; for it has been conveyed to us in a way which secures it from all reasonable suspicion or essential corruption.

[ocr errors]

We may therefore add,

3. The gospel is a credible report.

Many reports come to us without evidence, we only hear them; but know not what is their foundation, or whether they have any. And yet even these reports pass not wholly unregarded.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

How readily do we give credit and circulation to ill reports concerning our neighbours ?-How easily are we alarmed at threatening reports concerning our persons and properties ?-How fondly do we embrace favourable reports concerning our particular friends? Such rumours as these we often believe, without waiting to examine their evidence or credibility. But if any important intelligence is brought to us, which is both rational in itself, and, at the same time, supported by a competent number of reputable witnesses, we may much rather judge it worthy of our attention and belief.

With this evidence the gospel comes.

It is credible in its own nature. It gives us the most noble and exalted ideas of the perfections and providence of God. It lays before us a system of moral duties fully corresponding with the divine character. That we should love God with all our hearts, and our neighbours as ourselves-that we should relieve the miseries, and promote the happiness of others, as we have opportunity-that we should govern our passions and restrain our appetites-that we should use the good things of the world without abusing them, are duties which the gospel inculcates and reason approves.

The doctrines of the gospel, though beyond the discovery, and above the comprehension of rcason, are, in no instance, contrary to its dictates. They are all adapted to promote real virtue and righteousness. The immortality of the soul; the resurrection of the body, a future judgment, and the equitable distribution of rewards and punishments, are motives of solemn importance, urging us to repentance of sin, and holiness of life. The discovery of God's mercy to forgive the penitent, and of his grace to assist the humble, is adapted to raise our drooping hopes, and animate us against all the difficulties, which may attend us in a course

« PreviousContinue »