Page images
PDF
EPUB

and the cumbersome apparatus of the ceremonial institutions superseded? different answers might be returned; and the preference of the actual period might be justified on various grounds: but after the general consideration, that it was so determined by him who sees all things in their connections and consequences, and has reserved the times and the seasons in his own power, it is the most satisfactory answer, that, by this delay, an opportunity was given fully to demonstrate the necessity of his interposition. Had he appeared immediately after the fall, it might have been said, that the case did not require such extraordinary means, that the evil might have been remedied by a less costly expedient, that no time had been given to try what man could do to extricate himself from sin and its effects. But when ages after ages had rolled on, and no relief was found; when the human race, instead of growing wiser, sunk deeper and deeper in ignorance, and crimes multiplied as the world advanced; when philosophy had discovered nothing of any value, and religion had provided no atonement; when even the sacrifices of divine institution had failed to take away the conscience of sin, and the ceremonial law was proved to be only a shadow; a conviction was produced on every reflecting mind, that some more effectual method was necessary to restore sinners to the favour of God; and the mission of Christ was seen to be at once a display of his love, and a demonstration of his wisdom.

There have been different opinions respecting the time which our Lord spent in his public ministry, some reducing it to a year, and others extending it to three years and a half. The first is too short, and cannot be reconciled to the evangelical history. Whatever was its duration, he employed it in preaching the gospel of the kingdom, or the good news of the reign of grace, in performing miracles to attest his mission, and in making preparation for his death, in which its design would be fulfilled. In one view, the old dispensation may be considered as having terminated when his ministry commenced, or rather at the commencement of the ministry of his forerunner: and this seems to be the meaning of the following words: "The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of heaven is preached, and every man presseth into it."* The law, indeed, had not yet lost its authority, nor were the prophecies fully accomplished; but a new state of things then began, which would issue in the establishment of a new mode of administering religion. In another view, the beginning of the new dispensation may be dated from the death and resurrection of Christ, when the sacrifice and oblation legally ceased, although for reasons which will be afterwards mentioned, they were permitted to continue for a time, and when the Apostles were sent forth to erect a church distinct from that of the Jews, observing new ordinances, and governed by new laws. This change was announced by the prophets, sometimes in highly figurative language, and at other times in plainer terms. It was foretold as the abolition of the old covenant which God had made with the Israelites, and as the making of a new one. "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more." It was predicted as a state of things, under which the Gentiles should be associated in the church with the Jews, should partake of the same spiritual privileges, and should be admitted to the holy offices which had exclusively belonged to

*Luke xvi. 16.

+ Jer. xxxi. 31-34.

the priests and the Levites. "And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow; to Tubal and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles. And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the Lord, out of all nations, upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the Lord, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the Lord. And I will also take of them for priests, and for Levites, saith the Lord."* Once more it is represented under an image which is not uncommon in the prophetical writings, namely, that of a new creation, which implies an exertion of almighty power similar to that by which the universe was produced. “Behold, I create new heavens, and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come unto mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy."+

In the Christian dispensation, there are four particulars by which it is characterized; a greater degree of light; a new system of worship; a more abundant effusion of the Spirit; and its universality.

First, under the Christian dispensation, the light is greater, because the Sun of righteousness has arisen upon us, with healing in his wings. One important part of the office of the Messiah, was to make known the will and counsels of God; and how he was qualified for this duty, we learn from these words of Isaiah, which are applied to him in the New Testament. "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek." If it should be asked, what qualification he could need, who, being the Son of God, was possessed of every possible perfection? I answer, that, in the passage quoted, he is spoken of as incarnate, and as receiving in our nature which he had assumed, a more ample measure of gifts and graces than was ever conferred upon the most eminent prophet or apostle. A child may know, although some men seem to have considered, that what is said concerning his unction and the communication of the Spirit, refers to his human nature alone, because it was equally impossible that his Divine nature should receive, as that it should lose any perfection. It was the Messiah who was anointed, but he was anointed in his human nature; as the Messiah died, but suffered death only as a man. God had promised to raise up to his people a prophet from among their brethren, or a prophet who should be one of themselves; and every created nature, angelical or human, whether it subsists by itself, or is mysteriously related to the Deity, derives all from the Creator. Its existence and its endowments emanate from the Source of life and intelligence; its talents and virtues are inspired by that omnipresent and beneficent Being who pervades, and sustains, and animates the natural, and moral, and spiritual world. It was thus, according to the Baptist, that our Saviour was furnished with all necessary knowledge, and fitted to reveal the counsels of his Father to mankind. “He whom God hath sent, speaketh the words of God; for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him."S

Our Lord grew in wisdom as well as in stature; but when he entered upon his public ministry, he was fully prepared for all the duties of his office. He understood, in its whole extent, the scheme of redemption, which is the subject of inquiry and profound meditation to angels and men. How pure was the light which irradiated his mind! It not only excluded the slightest error, but gave a full manifestation of truth in its most sublime mysteries and most minute details; so that the gospel preached by himself and by the Apostles with his assistance, is a system in which nothing is wanting to perfect the knowledge, and support the faith, and promote the consolation of the church in its militant state, and Is. lxi. 1. Luke iv. 18. (John iii. 34.

*Is. lxvi. 19 21. + Is. lxv. 17, 18.

discoveries are made which intelligences of the highest order admire, and those who are savingly enlightened prize above all the wisdom of the world. To him the most obscure subjects were clear, the most profound were of easy apprehension, the most magnificent and awful were familiar, so that he spoke of them with all the calmness which we feel in talking of common objects, and the daily occurrences of life. That his mind was richly furnished, we learn from many circumstances in his history. When a question was proposed, he was always ready to return an appropriate answer; when an objection was started, it was repelled by a few words in reply; when information was humbly asked, it was immediately given. Ideas and words were at command; he could discourse upon any subject without premeditation; and from his lips there flowed, without an effort, a stream of heavenly eloquence, which delighted his friends and confounded his enemies. Never man spake like this man."* This is the Wisdom of God; this is the Teacher in comparison of whom philosophers are fools, and the ancient prophets were children. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him."t

66

In the preceding lecture, something was said concerning the obscurity of the former dispensation. To the increasing clearness of revelation, we may apply the words of Isaiah: "The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be seven-fold, as the light of seven days."‡ The discoveries of divine things were gradual and progressive. We must suppose revelation in every age to have been sufficient to guide men into the way of salvation, or it would have been given in vain. Under the Mosaic economy, it was clearer than under the patriarchal ; but the law and the writings of the prophets must yield in perspicuity and fulness to the gospel of Christ. Typical institutions, as we have seen, were delineations, more or less distinct, of future transactions and events; but it requires little reflection to perceive, that in themselves they could convey no information, and that their significance depended solely upon the explanation which accompanied them. This was, in part at least, given by prophecy; but however plain particular predictions may now appear to us, they did not afford an equal degree of light in ancient times; and those who then lived must have felt the same difficulty in discovering their meaning, which we experience in the interpretation of prophecies which are not yet fulfilled. How little we know of them, it is unnecessary to say. But now the means of instruction are different; the events prefigured by the institutions of the law have been accomplished; prophecy has been turned into history; the Messiah is not exhibited under the vague notion of a mighty deliverer, but as the incarnate Son of God, who was born in Bethlehem, and died on Calvary; and the spiritual nature of his salvation is distinctly understood. The views of the untutored Christian, who reads his Bible with humble prayer for divine teaching, are much more enlarged than those of the most eminent Jewish sages. In consequence of the greater clearness and fulness of the revelation, the abundance of the means of instruction, the facility of access to them, and the mission of the Spirit, of which we shall afterwards speak, the prediction is now fulfilled, "they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they all shall know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them."S

When we speak of the perfection of the Christian revelation, we must be understood to refer to it, as completed by the ministry of the apostles. The whole is the revelation of Christ, because it was delivered either by himself in person, or by others whom he had commissioned and inspired. It is the word "which began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him." During his lifetime upon earth, he announced himself as the Messiah, and preached the gospel in Judea and Galilee; but even to + John i. 18. +Is. xxx. 26. Jer. xxxi. 34. || Heb. ii. 3.

John vii. 46.

his own disciples, to whom it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, he did not make a full disclosure of the counsels of his Father. He adapted his instruction to the time and to their capacity, and reserved much to be communicated by the Holy Ghost, whom he would send after he had ascended to heaven. "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." 99 He is commonly supposed to refer to the change which he intended to make in the constitution of the church, for which they were not prepared while their Jewish prejudices continued; but I apprehend that he meant also the nature of his salvation, of which they entertained erroneous notions, which nothing would correct but his death and resurrection, and the coming of the Spirit to enable them to understand the true meaning of the prophecies. The revelation which God has given to the church as the rule of faith and obedience, is contained in the gospels and the epistles. It is a most unfounded distinction which some make between these writings, when they ascribe greater authority and importance to the former, as if our ideas of christianity were to be derived exclusively from them; and there is not the slightest pretext for it, unless it could be proved that the gospels were inspired, but the epistles are only human compositions. The truth is, that those who insist upon this distinction, call in question the inspiration of both Apostles and Evangelists; and, assuming a right to themselves to determine the comparative merits of the different portions of the New Testament, they wish to lower the authority of the epistles, because they teach so clearly the doctrines which they are unwilling to admit, among which the vi arious death and propitiatory sacrifice of Christ hold a prominent place. Paul is particularly obnoxious to them; and in a bold tone of impiety, he has been charged with mysticism, false reasoning, and inextricable confusion. The New Testament is a whole: and while the gospels relate the history, and discourses, and miracles of our Saviour, the epistles unfold, under the guidance of the Spirit, the nature of the religion which he died to establish.

The revelation of Jesus Christ being perfect, is consequently final; nothing will be added to it, for nothing is wanting to its integrity. It is the only plan according to which God will ever deal with the human race. Moses foretold a prophet who should arise after him, and commanded the people to hear him; but Christ gave no intimation of any successor. The Spirit would come, but he would come in his name, to take of his things, and show them to his followers.

The second particular, which characterizes the new dispensation, is the introduction of a new system of worship. "The priesthood being changed," as Paul observes," there is made of necessity a change also of the law." The ceremonial law was connected with the ministry of Aaron and his sons, and prescribed the mode in which they were to conduct the service of the sanctuary; but as soon as they were superseded by a new priest, it became obsolete, and circumstances demanded a different ritual. The very design of the ceremonial law is a proof, that although it was sometimes spoken of as a statute for ever, nothing more could be intended than that it was to last till the advent of the Messiah; and that then, like every other thing which has fulfilled its purpose, it would be abolished. As a shadow it was of no value to those who possessed the substance; as a notification of good things to come, had it been retained in the worship of God, it would have proclaimed a falsehood, signifying that the events predicted were still to be expected, although they had been fully accomplished. As soon as our Saviour died upon the cross, the sacrifice and oblation legally ceased; the temple of Jerusalem was no longer the habitation of God; the priests had no right to minister in it; the covenant of peculiarity was disannulled, and the privileges of the people of God were extended to men of every nation under heaven. The temple, indeed, stood almost for forty years, and the priests performed the service after the usual manner; but the John xvi. 12.

† Heb. vii. 12.

sanctity of the place, and of the ministrations, had passed away. God did not any more require the fat of rams and sacrifices of fed beasts; a sacrifice of a different kind had been offered without the gates of the city, in which he had smelled a sweet savour of rest. He therefore rejected the splendid apparatus by which it had been prefigured, and the hopes of men had been directed to it. But he delayed for some time the visible abrogation of the ceremonial law, which could not be effected but by the dissolution of the Jewish state, in order that an offer of salvation might first be made to the Jews in their national capacity, and that, before their dispersion, such of the elect as were among them might be gathered into the Christian church.

Under the new dispensation, the mode of service is entirely changed. There is now no magnificent temple appointed to be the seat of worship, to which men are required to repair at stated seasons from their distant dwellings; but in every place they are commanded to worship the Father. There is now no particular family who alone are authorized to minister in the sanctuary, and by whom the oblations of the people must be presented, that they may be acceptable. God chooses his servants from every class of society, and gives a commission to those, whom he has called by his providence and grace, whatever may be their parentage and connections, to dispense the ordinances of religion. There are now no sacrifices of the flock and the herd, nor the smoke of incense ascending from the censers of the priests; the only oblations are those of prayer and praise, and of a devout and holy heart. The new ritual is distinguished by its simplicity, and contains little that is addressed to the senses; there is no sensible representation of things to come, and we have only in the sacred Supper, a memorial of the past, intended to recall and to impress upon the mind, the great facts and truths of Christianity. It is therefore spiritual worship that is enjoined under the gospel; not, as I remarked in the last lecture, that under the Jewish economy, carnal worship only was required, but that the spirituality is now more manifest, as the multitude of ceremonies is abolished, and divine things are brought, if I may speak so, into closer contact with the mind. Except in the sacraments, which are symbolical institutions, without any gorgeous display, however, any imposing ceremonies to rivet the attention upon the external rite, there is nothing to attract the eye; the ear only is addressed in the words of truth and soberness, and men are called upon to present to God the homage of humble faith and fervent love.

You will perceive that I refer to the system of worship which is found in the New Testament, and was practised in the apostolic age. It soon, however, underwent a change, and by one addition after another, became as pompous as the Jewish, and acquired a near resemblance to the ritual of Paganism. From an ill-judged intention to recommend Christianity to the heathens, the ceremonies to which they were accustomed were adopted, till the simplicity of the primitive times was lost amidst a mass of superstition, and idolatry profaned the temple of God. In this corrupt and spurious form, religion is still exhibited in the church of Rome. Although the Reformation restored the purity of doctrine, circumstances prevented in some places a return to the original order and discipline of the church; and besides the form of their gov. ernment, which appears to us to be unscriptural, we find in certain Protestant societies rites of which there is no vestige in the New Testament; as kneeling at the sacrament, the sign of the cross in baptism, bowing at the name of Jesus, and the observance of holidays. The simplicity of our worship is a subject of censure and ridicule to them as well as to the followers of antichrist, and both reproach us with having made religion too naked and too spiritual for human nature, which requires to be excited through the medium of the senses. But in accusing us, they accuse the Author of our religion, to whose word we appeal, and from reverence for whom we reject these superstitious addiVOL. I.-20.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »