|« Prev||Sermon XXXIX. Preached, March 18, 1693.||Next »|
Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.
I HAVE spoken to the general ground of this believing Jesus to be the Christ, to wit, upon that testimony which God hath given concerning him, that so he is.
But then there are many subservient grounds which have that use to notify to us the divinity of this revelation, or of this record; or whereupon we have reason to judge the testimony divine. And they are such as these:
[1.] The many prophecies that went before of him. The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy, Rev. xix. 10. God speaking by the mouth of all his prophets (as if all had but one mouth) concerning his Christ; so conscient and agreeing was their testimony, though in several successive ages. “Of him bear all the prophets witness,” Acts x. 43. “And which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the just one;” as dying Stephen speaks, Acts vii. 52. It would be a long business, and (I hope) among you not necessary, to recite all the prophecies, more ancient and more late, which were in the several ages given concerning Christ before he came. He refers himself to all the Scriptures that were then in his time extant, to wit, those of the Old Testament, and those particularly of Moses. “Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think to have eternal life, and they are they that testify of me,” John v. 39. He must refer there principally to the prophetical writings contained in those writings. And he after wards runs back as high as Moses, the penman of the first sacred writings. Moses (saith he) wrote of me, verse 46. But if ye will not believe Moses writings, how will you believe my words? Great prophecies there were concerning him, even in the writings of Moses; and he wrote of times far back, even from the beginning, for he spake of 2000 years and upwards, that the seed of the woman should break the serpent’s head: a plain prophecy concerning this same Jesus, and that he was to be the Christ. That the 497sceptre should not depart from Judah till Shiloh should come; and that to him the gathering of the people should be. And how many express prophecies do you find concerning him afterwards in the books of the Psalmists. “Why do the heathen rage?” The most express quotation that we have out of the Old Testament, that we have any where in the New, as to what afterwards follows in that Psalm, the Apostle, Acts xiii. quotes particularly the second Psalm, saying, concerning this his Christ, against whom the heathen did rage, even as they did against the Father; “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the utter most parts of the earth for thy possession.” The things that were said of him after he did come, to wit, that he was Lord of all. This was predicted and foretold concerning him so long before, that the heathen, and all the ends of the earth, should lie within the compass of his vast territory and dominion. Too great indeed to be called a territory: for all power was given him in heaven and in earth. He is Lord of all. It would be endless to recite all the passages to you which have this manifest application. It was foretold concerning him by the prophets, that two natures were to meet in his person. An admirable discovery, and a most express and plain one, that is, that one and the same person was to be born a child, and to be the mighty God. Isaiah ix. 6, “To us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and he shall be called Wonderful, The mighty God, The everlasting Father.” In reference to us, he fitly hath that title too. Not in reference to the Trinity, but in reference to us. His divine original was plainly there presignified to us, as in other texts of the Old Testament. “The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand.” And the land which he had a more peculiar relation to, is called “Emmanuel’s land, God with us.” That his goings forth are said to be “from everlasting,” even his, who was to be born at Bethlehem. Mic. v. 2. Many most circumstantial things, as well as those great and substantial ones, were predicted and foretold; the punctual correspondence whereunto of the event did most plainly declare the divinity of the testimony. That is, that those were most divinely inspired prophets, who could at so vast a distance of time testify such and such things concerning him. Well might the Spirit of prophecy, working in those prophets, be called the testimony of Jesus. As when the parting of his garments by lot, before spoken 498of, the piercing of his hands and feet, the giving him gall and vinegar to drink, with many more such things; and that he should be born at Bethlehem, when, as that was a casualty, humanly speaking it was no more than so, his mother being surprised upon a journey, and passing through that place. But these things I must not insist upon.
[2.] It speaks the divinity of that testimony given concerning him, that he entered in so extraordinary a way into this world. I may in the highest sense say, that he had so illustrious a birth. Illustrious, not by any thing of lustre derived and borrowed from this earth; that was too mean a thing to make his birth illustrious; but as he was of heavenly descent, the illustriousness of it was by a light and glory which did accompany it from Heaven. His birth was not signalized by the state and pomp of embassies from the courts of we know not how many princes; but by the descent of multitudes of glorious angels, proclaiming it as “glad tidings of great joy” which should be to all people; and an extraordinary star, which signalized this, and which was the guide to those wise sages who by special divine instinct came to do an homage to him, not without a secret signification of that right he was to have in the remotest parts of the world, and all the world over. They came from far to pay that homage, and to signify that his dominion should be tar and near. And,
[3.] His most divine and heavenly doctrine was mightily subsidiary unto this record of God concerning him, that he was the Christ and his own Son; for how did he often, when he spake, transport his hearers? How were they astonished sometimes at his doctrine, (as Matthew vii. latter end) for there were such characters did attend it as manifestly did distinguish it. He taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes, though they were authorized teachers among that people too. The ear that heard him blessed him, and the eye that saw him bare witness to him. You find, Luke iv. 17, that when he had pitched upon a text in one of the synagogues, to wit, that of Isaiah lxi. 1. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach glad tidings to the poor;” when he came to dilate upon that subject, all the assembly are amazed, wondering at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth. And when the officers are sent to apprehend him, and bring him before the judicature at Jerusalem, they come back confounded men, without their errand’s end; they are examined, and enquired why they 499had not brought him? say they, “Never man spake as this man; a divine person, we dare not touch him, we dare lay no hand upon so sacred an one as he appears to be.” And,
[4.] The wonderful works, which, through the whole course of his ministration, after he began, he continually did to testify and bear witness to the truth of what he repeatedly affirmed concerning himself, that he was Christ. When John’s disciples were sent to him (not for John’s sake, but their own) to know, “Art thou he that shall come, or shall we look for another?” (Matt. xi. 3.) he gives them an answer from what they might see and hear, “Go and tell John the things that ye see and hear; (that is) The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who shall not be offended in me.” Implying all this to be a sufficient testification who he was. And those words (though they are mild and soft, and palmy and pleasant), “Blessed is he that is not offended in me,” yet they carry a sting in them—they breathe terror too; for this plain intimation is carried in them, “Woe to him that is offended when so clear light shines, when there is so plain and manifest a discovery who I am: fearful is the case of that man who stumbles, takes offence, and cannot see when so bright light shines upon him, revealing me.” Unto these words of his he makes his frequent appeal, in his many conflicts with the Jews, when they charge him with the solitariness of his testimony. “Thou bearest witness of thyself, thy witness is not true.” That he disclaims; though justly tells them too, that if he did bear witness of himself, yet his witness was true. But he did not bear witness of himself singly and alone; “My Father beareth witness of me, and the works that I do they bear witness of me.” And he returns it upon them, ff If another comes in his own name, him will ye believe: I come in my Father’s name, and ye will not receive me.” John v. 43.
[5.] The express vocal testimony (besides that stated one that we have in the sacred records) given again and again from Heaven concerning him, at three noted times, his birth, his baptism, and his transfiguration. At his birth, by the embassy of angels, of which you have heard so much already; at his baptism, when the Holy Ghost descended as a dove lighting upon him, and that voice was heard, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” To be that Son of God and the Christ (as the case is stated,) 500you have heard, must signify the same thing. They are put together often, “Christ the Son of the living God.” Matt. xvi. 16. “Christ, the Son of God.” Mark i. 1. That being the great question of that time. He avowing himself to be the Son of God; they charging him, who were his enemies, to be a deceiver and impostor: when that point indeed was gained, that he was the Son of God, no deceiver, no impostor, that must consequently include necessarily that he was the Christ; because that he always testified concerning himself. And if he were the Son of God, he could not be the author of a false testimony, or of an injurious usurpation of a dignity and office that belonged not to him. And at his transfiguration, how solemn and how glorious was the vocal testimony from Heaven concerning him, when he took up, not all the disciples, but a competent number (in common human estimate two or three being sufficient to prove the truth of a matter of fact in such a case,) he takes such a number as might certify the rest, and so publish the whole business to the world, when it should be seasonable and consistent with the design of such a manifestation as that was. When he had Peter, James, and John with him in the Mount, where he was transfigured before them; and then, as the apostle Peter (who was one of the number, and an eye witness), doth himself testify, 2 Pet. i. 17; and tells us what he had seen with his own eyes, and heard with his own ears. Many of you may remember I insisted largely heretofore upon that context. “We have not followed (saith he) cunningly devised fables, when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye witnesses of his majesty; for he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came to him such a voice from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” What place could there be left for reasonable doubt, whether God did not sufficiently own this Jesus to be the Christ, when there came “such a voice from the excellent glory” concerning him, to this same purpose, notified and testified as any matter of fact ought to be. And then,
[6.] His most amazing death, with so tremendous circumstances as the gospel reports it: such as that, though he could not be brought to it but by consent, till he was pleased in order thereunto to retract the glorious beams of his Majesty, that they might not withhold and frighten those, that were to be the executioners of that horrid tragedy, 501from doing the thing itself which the hand and counsel of God had determined should be done. He is therefore said not to have his life taken from him; to wit, whether he would or no, but “he laid it down.” There must be consent in the case; otherwise, had he let out those beams of majesty continually that shone so illustriously in him, even in the very confines of that hour and power of darkness that was coming upon him, they had not dared to do it. You see that the assassinates, that they are even at the first attack beaten aback by those appearances of him, those characters of divinity, that some way or other appeared, and their own dread, that they fall flat to the ground; so that he is constrained to vail himself, and draw some kind of cloud over that glory, that they might not be withheld from going on; though it was a thing that he must spontaneously yield to, or it could not have been done. But when he did yield to it, and it was done, with what amazing circumstances was it attended, that all might know how extraordinary a person he was! Immediately the sun withdraws his head. Such an eclipse ensues, the like whereof was never known in the world besides; and of which some noted Pagan writers give an account with wonder. The powers of Heaven are shaken, so as that from that great Pagan these words were extorted, “That either the God of nature suffered, or the whole frame of things is suffering a dissolution.” The earth is shaken and torn; the graves are opened, and the dead arise, many of them, and go into the holy city. The Roman centurion, a Pagan (who was by office to superintend the execution,) upon the sight of all this, gives him the cause against the assassinates and murderers; to wit, that whereas this was the question, Is he a deceiver, or is he the Son of God? This was the question on which he died. He gives him the cause, saying, “Verily this is the Son of God.” He speaks it in reference to the controversy then agitated and on the stage. What is this man, that here is dying, affixed to this cross? Was he what the Jews averred him to be? or was he what he averred himself to be? Why that is decided on his side by this impartial Pagan. And,
[7.] His glorious Resurrection, by which he was declared to be the Son of God with power, and that upon which the stress of the whole cause was all along after laid. And it was the whole business of the apostleship to bear witness to his resurrection. They were twelve of them. A sufficient number to testify that they had often seen him when arisen. 502The highest testimony that God could from Heaven have given concerning him; that when he died under that false and malicious imputation, as a deceiver and blasphemer, that Heaven might own him to be what he said he was. Though it was necessary he should be permitted to die, yet he recovers, and is raised up from the dead, and made a glorious triumph over death; the pangs whereof it was impossible should hold him, and therefore they are loosed; the pangs and bonds of it could hold him no longer. And,
[8.] The wonderful fortitude and boldness wherewith his inspired disciples and apostles did testify concerning his resurrection afterwards, and that he was the Christ. That was the business of the apostolical office, to bear witness to his resurrection; Matthias was chosen to fill up the number, and join with the rest to bear witness to the resurrection of our Lord, that all the world that way might know who and what he was. With great boldness did the apostles bear witness to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, and a divine presence was with them herein. They testified it from time to time, even to the very faces of those powers under which he suffered: by whose instigation, at least, if not by their authority. The Sanhedrim, the Jewish magistracy, could not put a man to death at that time, they being wholly under the Roman power. But they were the instigators; and yet from time to time, to their very faces, do these poor illiterate men testify, that God had raised him from the dead whom ye have crucified, and him of whom ye were the betrayers and murderers. And this was the thing that stung them and cut them to the heart. You think to bring this man’s blood upon us. But that they never spared to do. A most divine fortitude. That to the face of these powers, by whom such things were acted against our Lord, these men should, at the utmost peril of their own lives, so oppose themselves and their testimony, who but a little before did creep and sneak to the denial of our Lord, as you know Peter himself did. Before he was crucified, he did not know the man; afterwards he tells the greatest of them to their faces, You have been his betrayers and murderers. And,
[9.] The terrible vengeance that hath followed hereupon, upon the nation of the Jews. A mighty subsidiary testimony. “Your house is left unto you desolate.” Our Lord foretold them how it would be. “Not one stone should be left upon another, even as to their temple, (the thing wherein they so much gloried) that should not be thrown 503down.” He weeps over self-desolating Jerusalem. “O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets,” when. he saw the calamity that was coming; but it came, and not a tittle failed of what was foretold, and according to what the prophets of old did foretell. My God will cast them away, because they did not hearken unto him; and they shall be wanderers among the nations.” Hosea ix. 17. That people, while they are yet in being in that scattered dispersed state (wherein the world knows they are unto this day,) are a perpetual testimony, throughout all succeeding ages, of the truth of that Gospel and Christianity which they with so horrid malignity opposed themselves unto. And,
[10.] The marvellous success which the Gospel had since. That success it had immediately after the resurrection of our Lord: for he that descended, the same ascended, “that he might fill all things.” Upon that ascent of his, what a mighty descent was there of the Spirit and power of God, that bore down all opposition! The Gospel was preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven. And in this and that part of the world, you find there are solemn appeals. Do you not know what manner of entrance we had in this place and that place, and how men “turned from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son Jesus, who saveth from wrath to come?” 1 Thess. i. latter end. How did the gospel fly like lightning from one part and quarter of the world to another! How soon did it run through Judea and Samaria, and after that into remoter parts! A vast circuit in that age, and by the ministry of these very apostles. A gospel that began to be spoken by the Lord himself, but was confirmed by them that heard him; “God bearing them witness with signs and wonders, and by divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost,” Heb. ii. 4. That by which the apostle doth enforce that solemn caution, to take heed of letting slip the things that they had heard. For, saith he, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation which began to be spoken?” And I may add,
[11.] The strange preservation of the Christian cause and interest through all successive times and ages. That when all the powers of earth and hell were combined to root and raze out Christianity, and all the vestiges and memorials of it, that could never be effected, to this day. That as the spreading of the Gospel was by no human power, so no human power could prevail to extinguish it. It was not 504in the way wherein the Mahomedan empire and religion did propagate themselves together, that this was propagated, to wit, by force and arms, and by the temptation of secular advantages, but by its own native and self-recommending light and lustre, and great design. And as it was propagated by no human means, so by no human means or power could it be extinguished, but hath grown upon the world in spite of the world, except the assigned foretold time of the apostasy, that dark and dismal interval wherein that work hath been so long at a stand, and out of which we are to expect its glorious revival.
All these things do concur to evince that that Revelation which hath been made to us concerning this Jesus, that he is the Christ, is from God: and so carries an indubitable truth in it to be relied upon. And it is upon that main and principal ground that our belief concerning him, that this Jesus is the Christ, must be built and rest, otherwise it is none of the faith which the Gospel claims to it. And it is all one to say the Gospel is a fable, and to believe it to be true and upon no ground, we cannot tell why or how.
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