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ON THE DIVINE MISSION OF CHRIST.
ON THE DIVINE MISSION OF CHRIST.
O GOD, we praise thee with deep emotion of soul, for that thou hast crowned the excellent faculties, which we owe to thee, with the precious gift of reason, and hast laid the foundation of our knowledge of thee and thy sacred will in the depths of our spiritual nature. But with equal emotion and gratitude we warmly extol thy goodness, which sent a benefactor to appear amongst us, in Jesus thy ambassador, who has spoken to us in thy name, secured our wavering reason against gross errors and false conclusions, calmed our heart with respect to the past, and by his triumph over persecution,. death, and the grave, has opened to us a prospect of a glorious and joyful futurity. May our conscience testify, that we have occupied our minds with a free and honest examination into his divine dignity and mission; may we all be able to say before thee, that we have valued the greatest of thy mercies, the sending of thy Son for our salvation, 246according to its worth, and that we have laboured to become worthy of its fruits by filial devotion; may we all now appear before thee with the pious intention of seriously and conscientiously considering, how much our rational religion is profited by the conviction, that Jesus Christ was sent to us by thee, that he might become our wisdom and righteousness, our sanctification and redemption. Holy Father, sanctify us in the contemplation of this truth, for thy word is truth. Amen.
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
THE well-known words of our text, beloved hearers, contain two conditions under which a true and lasting happiness, both here and hereafter, is promised us; namely, the knowledge of God, and4 Jesus Christ whom he hath sent. Since the time when Christianity gradually became the predominant religion in our quarter of the globe, the efforts of teachers have always been to extend and to perfect this knowledge, and especially in latter times to procure for it a new accession and increase by a more liberal cultivation of our reason. Great and splendid in the mean time as the advancement 247of our age may be towards a purer knowledge of God, and, through that, to an improved rational religion; it at the same time appears to neglect in an equal degree the knowledge of Him, to whose instruction we are indebted, in a great measure, for the enlargement of our reason, and who has been ordained by God himself to teach us the truth, to be our Saviour, Mediator, and Redeemer. Yes, my bearers, we must confess, that our knowledge of Jesus has not always gained by the enlightening and cultivation of our reason; we must confess, that we do not always entertain that opinion of his union with the Godhead, and the divinity of his mission and his actions, which the dignity of his person and the authority of Scripture demand of us. Whence proceeds this injustice and coldness towards an ambassador of the Godhead, whom we know to be one of the noblest benefactors of the human rare, and who, considered only as man, as a guide and friend of virtue, merits our deep veneration and esteem? Is it then not possible to unite a regard for reason with love and reverence for Jesus? Is it folly and deception, which the Scripture teaches us of his close connexion with the Father, and of his divine mission to mankind? Is it then such a matter of indifference to our happiness, whether we know Jesus or not, and is the religion of reason; which our age so loudly proclaims and adopts, of itself sufficient to direct our weak virtue, to set our 248heart at rest respecting our past offences, and to fill us in the presence of death with strength, consolation, and contentment? I think it is due to my conviction, my duty, and yet more to the welfare of your immortal souls, distinctly and solemnly to negative these questions before you all. In order, therefore, to perceive the grounds of this conclusion, let us inquire together, How much the religion of reason gains by the conviction, that Jesus Christ was a divine ambassador.
This inquiry will give us occasion, 1st, to determine what is properly a divine ambassador; 2dly, to shew, that Jesus Christ possessed this dignity in the highest degree; and idly, to make it clear, how much our rational religion must gain by this conviction.
1st. Who is a true ambassador of God to man, and how can we distinguish him from an enthusiast and an impostor? The answer to this question, my dear hearers, is the first point which shall occupy our attention. If we look upon God as a wise and holy Father, who acquaints his children with his will and his decrees, not merely by means of nature and the experiences of life, not merely by reason and their conscience, but also by verbal instruction; then an ambassador of God will be a man, who is immediately called upon by the Almighty himself to announce to his brethren the commands and promises of God, and who by his various knowledge 249and his virtues, by his works and the effect of his labours, convinces his contemporaries and posterity of the divinity of his vocation. That God himself required him to appear as his ambassador among men, no one can know but he himself; for who is able to look into the depths of his heart, in which the pious sentiments of religion glow, as sacred flames on a solitary altar? Who is able, with corporeal sense, to perceive the spiritual voice of the Deity, which, as the still suggestion of conscience, unheard by human ears, makes known to him the commands and promises of the Eternal? No, my dear hearers, when an ambassador of God comes among men, he appears not, like the envoy of a monarch, in outward splendour or with earthly pomp; but with the aspect of a calm sage, whose heartfelt desire is to improve and to bless his brethren by a worthy adoration of the holy and all-gladdening Deity. Contemporaries and posterity, who would try the divinity of his office, will next judge of his talents and knowledge; they will inquire, if his mind possesses intrinsic strength to raise itself to worthy conceptions of God, and, avoiding superstition and fanaticism, to find the way to the truth; they will lastly subject his knowledge and information respecting God and religion to a close examination, will compare them with the most sacred thing known to man, with the decisions and requisitions of their conscience, and so ascertain 250and inwardly feel, whether his doctrine be of God. Still greater will be the attention paid to his heart and life.; they will go on the principle, that a messenger from God must necessarily distinguish himself by the strictest purity of morals, if he would become worthy of the love and the special commands of God; and although they can require of him no faultless and superhuman virtue, yet they may justly expect, that his soul shall be free from the dominion of every evil desire, and will therefore declare him to be a deceiver or deceived, if riches, sensuality, or ambition, have power to charm and to enthral his heart. Even in his social relations they may expect extraordinary and surprising actions from him, who gives himself out for a messenger of God; for although, even in the service of the Deity, he is still a man, who has no command aver nature, and much less can subvert it, or alter its everlasting and beneficial rotation; yet there is a variety of powers, partly unknown and hidden, both in and beyond the sphere of man, which the Ruler of the world can employ for the sudden healing of the sick or the awakening of the dead, and which he can permit to operate as the credentials of him whom he has sent.
; And that there may not be the smallest deceit or delusion in such an important concern, as the mission of one intimate with the Godhead, posterity has in its hands another particular 251touchstone of the truth, the success of his teaching, and his influence on the improvement and amelioration of mankind. For when the omniscient Ruler of the universe raises up to the human race an extraordinary ambassador and interpreter of his sacred will, he will also place him in a situation, where his exertions may be productive of good, where he may overcome the enemies of truth, and render a large portion of his brethren happy, by the blessings of religion. Behold here, beloved hearers, the extent and the distinguishing marks of an office, which rises indignity and elevation far above the office of the mightiest king and potentate; the distinguishing marks of one sent by the Godhead, who, endowed with mind and talents by the Deity himself, consecrated to virtue, accredited by extraordinary deeds, and recommended by the success of his labours, has this end in view, the great work of God upon earth, the improvement and happiness of man! We maintain that Jesus Christ, this Divine benefactor of our race, possessed that dignity in the highest degree; and we will endeavour to prove the truth of this assertion, under the second head of our contemplation.
Jesus Christ, dear hearers, is the highest messenger of God, who, as far as history informs us, ever appeared among men; for he combines in himself all the characters, with which reason marks this exalted dignity. I will not now appeal 252to the testimony which he so often delivers concerning himself,—“I have not spoken of myself, but the Father who sent me, he gave me a commandment what I should say and what I should speak2727 John xii. 49.:” for no one could have an assurance of the certainty of this inward call of the Deity, but the divine person himself, and his friends who already knew on other grounds, that he spoke the truth. But how remarkable (if we may be allowed to view him in his human character, together with Peter and Paul) how. remarkable are the mind and talents of this man, who, brought up in no school, and educated by no learned person, while yet quite young, penetrated with eagle-quickness into the intricate religious faith of his nation, separates truth and falsehood, as fruit and the husk, from each other, who, from the desert of his despised country, steps at once into the assemblies of the people, and unexpected as a bright light in the darkness, shines in the circle of his most learned contemporaries. As a pure and plentiful water-course suddenly bursts forth over a dry soil, and refreshes the languishing and wasted fields; so now the noblest streams of knowledge respecting God and religion flowed out of his mouth; he brought down the awful Sovereign of the universe as a gracious father to the circle of his children, consecrated by his 253divine instruction the lilies of the field and the sparrows on the ground, as heralds of his providence, and spread abroad the doctrines of immortality and a just retribution hereafter, as a fruitful seed, in the hearts of his brethren.
In what exact unison these doctrines stood with his sentiments and actions, is unknown to none of you; ye know the deep reverence towards God, which he so frequently manifested in the most heartfelt prayer to him; ye know the warm affection for his fellowmen, expressed in all his words and acts; ye know the freedom from pretension, and the humility with which he thought of himself, and which inspired even his enemies with respect and admiration. Even on occasion of the miracles which he performed, I may remind you of the confidence and dignity, with which he healed the sick and called the dead to life; of the firm trust in God, with which he raised his friend Lazarus; of the care and discrimination, with which he distributed these extraordinary gifts to the believing and meritorious; and of the calm greatness of soul, with which, immediately after the most remarkable works, he withdrew from the admiration of the multitude, and surrendered himself in solitude to the feelings of gratitude to God, and the peaceful rewards of his own heart. Neither the arts of eloquence, nor force and compulsion, nor extravagant promises of terrestrial happiness, nor an excessive obtrusion of his miracles, 254should be made the means of propagating the religion which he taught; no, he was satisfied with the testimony, “the works which the Father hath given me to do, they bear witness of me that the Father hath sent me2828 John v. 36.,” and submitted it to the experience of every one to convince himself, whether his “yoke,” were “easy, and his burden light,” and whether by believing in him they found “rest for their souls.” Can you then wonder any more, my dear hearers, that the result of his labours was great and brilliant; that his contemporaries considered the day of his death almost as a day of consecration of his heavenly kingdom, on which forgiveness of sins, and the joyful hope of future blessedness were imparted to them; that his religion spread itself with uncommon rapidity over three quarters of the globe, and the Widest and most superstitious people bent under the easy yoke of truth and love; can we, indeed, wonder when we ourselves begin to be witnesses, how a great and Powerful nation, which, in the giddiness of her liberty seemed to have east off the bonds of all public religion, has gradually again assembled under the banner of Christianity, and by her return to the truth becomes the best eulogist of Jesus and his doctrine! So true is that which Peter in the fulness of his conviction exclaims, “Thou art Christ, 255the Son of the living God; to whom should we go Thou hast the words of eternal life.”
I will now no longer insist on a proposition which is sufficiently known to you all, and of which I have cited only the principal proofs, in order, thirdly, to chew the connexion in- which this truth stands with religion. Our religion of reason gains by it partly in certainty and assurance, partly in efficacy and perspicuity, and partly in inward power for promoting piety and the accomplishment of good; three points well worthy to be observed and fully weighed by us. If Jesus Christ is an ambassador of God, our rational religion gains first in certainty and assurance. We all know, indeed, what is right, and “what the Lord our God requires of us;” the internal judge, before which our thoughts accuse or excuse themselves, is certainly a strict monitor of virtue and piety; nature, conscience, and experience, teach us clearly enough, that there is a God, who created us to be his children, and guides our destinies for our moral welfare and consummation; and the sweet hope of a future better life so surely and infallibly emanates from the serious contemplation of ourselves, and the pure virtue of our heart, that we need only subject our thoughts and wishes to reason, in order to be assured of a blissful immortality. But then, beloved hearers, have we this so much extolled reason always in our power? Do we not see that the most educated men exhibit the 256most various and most opposite principles, concerning the most holy thing in us, our conscience and our moral nature? Does not the greatest part of our being consist in blind impulses of nature, in a number of sensations, desires, and propensities, which continually, like a thick cloud, envelope and bury in obscurity and darkness the faint glimmering light of our mind? And even then, when our reason is ever so clear, our passions ever so moderate, our hearts ever so clean and innocent, do not scruples and doubts respecting God and his providence, respecting our fate and our duties, respecting futurity and immortality, fall on us like a tempest, and undermine our peace, distract our hearts, and rob our virtue of its firmest supports, hope and trust in our Creator? When in this temper of mind, over which the best and most intelligent man has not always the mastery, how desirable and welcome must be to us the voice of Christ, which cries, “Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy-laden, and I will refresh you;” “I am the bread of life, he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth in me shall never thirst2929 John vi. 35.!” How strengthening and convincing must the force of truths now become, for which reason requires the most elaborate proofs, when the messenger of God instructs us with inimitable dignity and simplicity; 257“your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things3030 Matt. vi. 32.;” “the hairs of your head are all numbered;” “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us3131 Rom. viii. 18.,” for all those who are “pure in heart shall see God.” Confess, then, dear hearers, that the best informed religion of reason gains in our heart in certainty and assurance, if we unite with its intimations the testimony of God and him whom he has sent.
But, my friends, it gains still more thereby perspicuity and efficacy. We may always concede, what is so frequently asserted in our days, that the general religious doctrines of revelation can go no further than the general instructions of reason, because both are unconfined, both in a state of progression, and capable of an eternal maturity. But is it then reason alone which is conversant in religious matters, and do not sensations, feelings, and a certain activity of imagination contribute their share likewise to the clearer knowledge of the truth? We know that God is a pure and most perfect spirit, who should be reverenced and adored only by spiritual and devout dispositions; but should we, weak and sensual beings, have sufficient strength and ability to raise ourselves with pure 258love to this highly perfect Spirit, if the Son of God had not appeared on earth, that we night view in him the image of the Godhead in human form, and lift up ourselves in him, as the first of his children, to his and to our Father? We know that God is willing to remit the debts of the returning sinner, amended by repentance and faith, and that when mercy begins, there avenging justice must cease; but would this healing and consolatory persuasion remain firm in our hearts if Jesus, crucified and dying for our sins, were not a most expressive assurance to us all of Divine love and compassion? We know that suffering and struggling virtue is ultimately victorious, and that even death can only delay, not prevent or destroy, its triumph; but would this truth be so dear and visible to us, in the frequent wrongs which we. have to sustain, if the suffering and dying Jesus did not at the same time stand before our souls, as the Christ risen again and enthroned at the right hand of his Father? We know lastly, that every one of our free actions makes us better or worse, more susceptible of happiness or misery, and that a righteous retribution of oar deeds awaits us all after death; but can this conviction boast of the clearness which the doctrine of Scripture exhibits, that “we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according 259to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad3232 2 Cor. v. 10.?” So undeniable is it, my dear hearers, that the religion of reason gains in clearness and efficacy by maintaining the position, that Jesus Christ is a Divine Ambassador. Add to this, that it gains in inward power for promoting piety and the accomplishment of good, and you have all that the mission of Jesus must make dear and invaluable to you.
From the great power which the senses assert over the will, the inward motives of reason are in most cases too weak to moderate our passions, and bind our heart to what is good. Our noblest purposes and resolutions must be supported and strengthened by sensations and feelings, in order to be executed and accomplished. But where coul4 the religion of reason find motives to virtue and piety, which better support the authority of our conscience, and more actively rouse all the energies of our mixed, moral and sensual nature, than the history of him, whom God sent to be our “Wisdom and Righteousness, our Sanctification and Redemption3333 1 Cor. i. 30.?” When the feeling of our weaknesses depresses us, and mournful experience of the injustice and perfidy of the best informed men shakes out faith in mankind; what can better drive away these 260melancholy sensations from our breasts, and impress deeper in our souls the consideration of our dignity as immortal beings, without which no virtue prospers, than the thought of him, who was “one with the Father,” and who became our brother, that we also might be one with him, as the head of his Church? When passion and unbelief would extirpate from the soul our sensibility to what is good, what is able to animate and strengthen it more powerfully, than warm affection to him, who has “left us an example, that we should follow his steps3434 1 Pet. ii. 21.?” What is able in the midst of the misfortunes of life, under the most violent excitement of desires, under the continually renewed dominion of sin, to awaken in us nobler feelings and purposes, than a look towards the divine Friend of man, who as Teacher contended for us, as Propitiator suffered for us, as Saviour of the world mediated a new covenant between God and his children, and as the Conqueror of death won life and a blessed immortality for us by his triumph? O! my hearers, the consciousness of having an immediate messenger of the Deity, who by his mind and his virtues became the image of the Eternal to his brethren, for our Friend and Teacher, our Saviour and Redeemer; the conviction, that by faith in him and in his doctrine, 261by the fruits of his death and. by the feast. of love, we stand in blessed union with him as members of one body; the hope of one day, after the death of this body, beholding him exalted at. the right hand of God, and of partaking of his glory; these representations rejoice the heart, calm the mind, strengthen and invigorate the spirit to what is good, and in4uce in all friends of the Divine doctrine, the heavenly persuasion, that neither height nor depth, neither the present nor the future, neither death nor life, can separate them from the love of God through Jesus Christ, whom he has sent.
Judge now yourselves, my hearers, how we must be affected towards those, who make it their business in our days, not only to speak in a contemptuous and disparaging manner of the person and office of the Redeemer, but also to eradicate Christianity more and more out of the hearts of this generation, and to proclaim the religion of reason as the only true religion, the only one that can make us happy. Far be it from us to despise this precious gift of Providence, or to encourage superstition and ignorance, which arrogantly enough wraps itself up in empty forms, and preaches that, as Divine revelation for all men at all times, which bears the stamp of human invention and folly, not to be mistaken, on its front. No, my dear hearers, we will never forget, that all blind faith, which contradicts 262the internal laws of our thought and will, is useless, pernicious, and dangerous to our virtue and happiness; we will therefore never cease to refl4t, to “search the-Scriptures” ourselves, to “prove all things and hold fast that which is good3535 1 Thess. v. 21..” But let us not on the other hand be unjust and unthankful for those glorious measures which God has instituted by his ambassador Jesus Christ for the amelioration and happiness of our race; let us revere with devoted heart the auxiliary aid for the promotion of truth and virtue, in the abundance and fitness of which Christianity is distinguished above all religions of the world, and never forget, that, according to the wise counsel of the Lord, no man should be lost, but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth. And so we approach thee, thou perfected Saviour and Redeemer, whose name is an offence and a folly to so many of our sensual contemporaries, with the devout conviction, that the knowledge of thee, the highest messenger of God, leads to the knowledge of thy eternal Father and to everlasting bliss. We worship thee as “the Son of the living God,” who brings us to the knowledge of the truth which “makes us free;” we praise thee as our Propitiator with God, who has “shed his blood as a ransom for many;” we trust 263in thee, as the conqueror of death, who “brought life and immortality for us to light.” Thy Divine Gospel possesses an inward power to bless every one that trusts in it; whom else should we follow but thee? “Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Amen.264265
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