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Jesus of Nazareth proved the true and only promised Messiah:
PREACHED AT ST. MARY’S IN OXFORD,
BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY,
ON CHRISTMAS-DAY, 1665.
He came to his own, and his own received him not.
I CANNOT think it directly requisite to the prosecution of these words, (nor will the time allotted for it permit,) to assert and vindicate the foregoing verses from the perverse interpretations of that false pretender to reason, and real subverter of all religion, Socinus; who, in the exposition of this chapter, together with some part of the 8th, (both of them taken from the posthumous papers of his uncle Lelius,) laid the foundation of that great babel of blasphemies, with which he afterwards so amused and pestered the Christian world, and under colour of reforming and refining, forsooth, the best of religions, has employed the utmost of his skill and art to bring men indeed to believe none. And therefore no small cause of grief must it needs be to all pious minds, that such horrid opinions should find so ready a reception and so fatal a welcome in so many parts 438of the world as they have done; considering both what they tend to, and whom they come from. For they tend only to give us such a Christ and Saviour, as neither the prophets nor evangelists know nor speak any thing of. And as for their original, if we would trace them up to that, through some of the chief branches of their infamous pedigree, we must carry them a little backward from hence; first to the forementioned Faustus Socinus and his uncle Lelius, and from them to Gentilis, and then to Servetus, and so through a long interval to Mahomet and his sect, and from them to Photinus, and from him to Arius, and from Arius to Paulus Samosatenus, and from him to Ebion and Cerinthus, and from them to Simon Magus, and so in a direct line to the Devil himself: under whose conduct in the several ages of the church these wretches successively have been some of the most notorious opposers of the divinity of our Saviour, and would undoubtedly have overthrown the belief of it in the world, could they by all their arts of wresting, corrupting, and false interpreting the holy text, have brought the scriptures to speak for them; which they could never yet do. And amongst all the scriptures, no one has stood so directly and immovably in their way as this first chapter of St. John’s Gospel, a chapter carrying in it so bright and full an assertion of the eternal godhead of the Son, that a man must put common sense and reason extremely upon the rack, before he can give any tolerable exposition of it to the contrary. So that an eminent Dutch critic) who could find in his heart, as much as in him lay, to interpret away that noble and pregnant place of scripture, John viii. 58. Before Abraham was, I 439am, from being any proof at all of Christ’s eternal preexistence to his incarnation, and so to give up one of the main forts of the Christian religion to the Socinians) has yet been forced, by the overpowering evidence of this chapter, (notwithstanding all his shifts, too manifestly shewing what he would be at,) to express himself upon this subject more agreeably to the sense of the catholic church, than in many other places he had done. And well indeed might he, even for shame itself, do so much, when it is certain that he might have done a great deal more. For such a commanding majesty is there in every period almost of this chapter, that it has forced even heathens and atheists (persons who valued themselves not a little upon their philosophy) to submit to the controlling truth of the propositions here delivered, and, instead of contradicting or disputing, to fall down and worship. For the things here uttered were mysteries kept hid from ages, and such as God had for four thousand years together, by all the wise arts and methods of his providence, been preparing the world for, before it could be fit or ripe to receive them: and therefore a most worthy subject they must needs have been for this beloved apostle to impart to mankind, who, having so long lain in the bosom of truth itself, received all things from that great original by more intimate and immediate communications than any of the rest of the apostles were honoured with. In a word, he was of the cabinet; and therefore no wonder if he spake oracles.
In the text we have these two parts.
First, Christ’s coming into the world, in those words, he came to his own.440
Secondly, Christ’s entertainment, being come, in those other words, his own received him not.
In the former of which there being an account given us of one of the greatest and most stupendous actions that the world was ever yet witness of; there cannot, I suppose, be a truer measure taken of the nature of it, than by a distinct consideration of the several circumstances belonging to it, which are these.
First, The person who came.
Secondly, The condition from which he came.
Thirdly, The persons to whom he came. And,
Fourthly and lastly, The time of his coming.
Of all which in their order. And,
1. First for the person who came. It was the second Person in the glorious Trinity, the ever blessed and eternal Son of God, concerning whom it is a miracle, and a kind of paradox to our reason, (considering the condition of his person,) how he could be said to come at all: for since all coming is motion or progression from a place in which we were, to a place in which we were not before; and since infinity implies an actual comprehension of, and a presence to, all places, it is hard to conceive how he who was God could be said to come any whither, whose infinity had made all progression to, or acquisition of a new place impossible. But Christ, who delighted to mingle every mercy with miracle and wonder, took a finite nature into the society and union of his person; whereupon what was impossible to a divine nature was rendered very possible to a divine person; which could rightfully and properly entitle itself to all the respective actions and properties of either nature comprehended within its 441personality: so that being made man, he could do all things that man could do, except only sin. Every thing that was purely human, and had nothing of any sinful deficiency or turpitude cleaving to it, fell within the verge and compass of his actions. But now, was there ever any wonder comparable to this; to behold divinity thus clothed in flesh! the Creator of all things humbled, not only to the company, but also to the cognation of his creatures! It is as if we should imagine the whole world not only represented upon, but also contained in one of our little artificial globes; or the body of the sun enveloped in a cloud as big as a man’s hand; all which would be looked upon as astonishing impossibilities; and yet as short of the other, as the greatest finite is of an infinite, between which the disparity is immeasurable. For that God should thus in a manner trans form himself, and subdue and master all his glories to a possibility of human apprehension and converse, the best reason would have thought it such a thing as God could not do, had it not seen it actually done. It is, as it were, to cancel the essential distances of things, to remove the bounds of nature, to bring heaven and earth, and, what is more, both ends of the contradiction together.
And thereupon some, who think it an imputation upon their reason to believe any thing but what they can demonstrate, (which is no thanks to them at all,) have invented several strange hypotheses and salvos to clear up these things to their apprehensions: as, that the divine nature was never person ally united to the human, but only passed through it in a kind of imaginary, phantastic way; that is, to speak plainly, in some way or other, which neither 442scripture, sense, nor reason know any thing of. And others have by one bold stroke cut off all such relation of it to the divine nature, and in much another sense than that of the Psalmist, made Christ altogether such an one as themselves, that is, a mere man; ψιλὸς ἄνθρωπος: for Socinus would needs be as good a man as his Saviour.
But this opinion, whatsoever ground it may have got in this latter age of the church, yet no sooner was it vented and defended by Photinus, bishop of Sirmium, but it was immediately crushed, and universally rejected by the church: so that although several other heresies had their course, and were but at length extinguished, and not without some difficulty, yet this, like an indigested meteor, appeared and disappeared almost at the same time. However, Socinus beginning where Photinus had long before left off, licked up his deserted forlorn opinion, and lighting upon worse times, has found much better success.
But is it true that Christ came into the world? Then sure I am apt to think that this is a solid inference, that he had an existence and a being before he came hither; since every motion or passage from one place or condition to another, supposes the thing or person so moving to have actually existed under both terms; to wit, as well under that from which, as that to which he passes. But if Christ had nothing but an human nature, which never existed till it was in the world, how could that possibly be said to come into the world? The fruit that grows upon a tree, and so had the first moment of its existence there, cannot with any propriety or truth of speech be said to have come to that tree, since that must 443suppose it to have been somewhere else before. I am far from building so great and so concerning a truth merely upon the stress of this way of expression; yet till the reasoning grounded upon it be disproved, I suppose it is not therefore to be despised, though it may be seconded with much better.
But the men whom we contend with, seem hugely injurious to him, whom they call their Saviour, while they even crucify him in his divinity, which the Jews could never do; making his very kindness an argument against his prerogative. For his condescending to be a man makes them infer that he is no more; and faith must stop here, because sight can go no further. But if a prince shall deign to be familiar, and to converse with those upon whom he might trample, shall his condescension therefore unking him, and his familiarity rob him of his royalty? The case is the same with Christ. Men cannot persuade themselves that a Deity and infinity should lie within so narrow a compass as the contemptible dimensions of an human body: that omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence should be ever wrapt in swaddling clothes, and abased to the homely usages of a stable and a manger: that the glorious artificer of the whole universe, who spread out the heavens like a curtain, and laid the foundations of the earth, could ever turn carpenter, and exercise an inglorious trade in a little cell. They cannot imagine, that He who commands the cattle upon a thousand hills, and takes up the ocean in the hollow of his hand, could be subject to the meannesses of hunger and thirst, and be afflicted in all his appetites: that he who once created, and at present governs, and shall hereafter 444judge the world, should be abused in all his concerns and relations, be scourged, spit upon, mocked, and at last crucified. All which are passages which lie extremely cross to the notions and conceptions that reason has framed to itself of that high and impassible perfection that resides in the divine nature. For it is natural to men to be very hardly brought to judge things to be any more than what they appear; and it is also as natural to them to measure all appearances by sense, or at the furthest by reason; though neither of them is a competent judge of the things which we are here discoursing of.
2. The second thing to be considered is the state or condition from which Christ came; and that was from the bosom of his Father, from the incomprehensible, surpassing glories of the godhead, from an eternal enjoyment of an absolute, uninterrupted bliss and pleasure, in the mutual, ineffable intercourses between him and his Father. The heaven of heavens was his habitation, and legions of cherubims and seraphims his humble and constant attendants. Yet he was pleased to disrobe himself of all this magnificence, to lay aside his sceptres and his glories, and, in a word, to empty himself as far as the essential fulness of the Deity could be capable of such a dispensation.
And now, if by the poor measures and proportions of a man we may take an estimate of this great action, we shall quickly find how irksome it is to flesh and blood to have been happy, to descend some steps lower, to exchange the estate of a prince for that of a peasant, and to view our happiness only by the help of memory and long reflections. For how hard a task must obedience needs be to a spirit 445accustomed to rule and to dominion! How uneasy must the leather and the frieze sit upon the shoulder that used to shine with the purple and the ermine! All change must be grievous to an estate of absolute, entire, unmingled happiness; but then to change to the lowest pitch, and that at first, with out inuring the mind to the burden by gradual, intermediate lessenings and declensions, this is the sharpest and most afflicting calamity that human nature can be capable of. And yet what is all this to Christ’s humiliation? He who tumbles from a tower, surely has a greater blow than he who slides from a molehill. And we may as well compare the falling of a crumb from the table to the falling of a star from the firmament, as think the abasement of an Alexander from his imperial throne, and from the head of all the Persian and Macedonian greatness, to the condition of the meanest scullion that followed his camp, any ways comparable to the descension of him who was the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person; to the condition of a man, much less of a servant and a crucified malefactor. For so was Christ treated: this was the strange leap that he made from the greatest height to the lowest bottom: concerning which it might be well pronounced the greatest wonder in the world, that he should be able so far to humble himself, were it not yet a greater that he could be willing. And thus much for the second circumstance.
3. The third is, the persons to whom he came, expressed by that endearing term his own; and this in a more peculiar, advanced sense of propriety. For all the nations of the world were his own by 446creation, and, what is consequent to it, by the right of possession and absolute dominion; but the Jews were his own by a fraternal right of consanguinity. He was pleased to derive his humanity from the same stock, to give them the honour of being able to call the God of heaven and the Saviour of the world their brother.
They were his own also by the right of churchship, as selected and enclosed by God from amidst all other nations, to be the seat of his worship, and the great conservatory of all the sacred oracles and means of salvation. The gentiles might be called God’s own, as a man calls his hall or his parlour his own, which yet others pass through and make use of; but the Jews were so, as a man accounts his closet or his cabinet his own; that is, by a peculiar, uncommunicable destination of it to his own use.
Those who have that hardy curiosity, as to examine the reason of God’s actions, (which men of reason should still suppose,) wonder that, since the design of Christ’s coming was universal, and extending to all mankind, he should address himself to so inconsiderable a spot of the world as that of Palestine, confining the scene of all his life and actions to such a small handful of men; whereas it would have seemed much more suitable to the purposes of his coming, to have made Rome, at that time the metropolis of the western world, and holding an intercourse with all nations, the place of his nativity and abode: as when a prince would promulge a law, because he cannot with any convenience do it in all places, therefore he does it in the most eminent and conspicuous. To which argument, frequently urged by the enemies of Christianity, he who would 447seek for a satisfactory answer from any thing but the absoluteness of God’s sovereignty, will find himself defeated in his attempt. It was the mere result of the divine good pleasure, that the fountain of life should derive a blessing to all nations, from so narrow and contemptible an head.
And here I cannot but think it observable, that all the passages of the whole work of man’s redemption carry in them the marks, not only of mercy, but of mercy acting by an unaccountable sovereignty: and that for this very reason, as may be supposed, to convince the world that it was purely mercy on God’s part, without any thing of merit on man’s, that did all. For when God reveals a Saviour to some few, but denies him to more; sends him to a people despised, but passes over nations victorious, honourable, and renowned; he thereby gives the world to know, that his own will is the reason of his proceedings. For it is worth remarking, that there is nothing that befalls men equally and alike, but they are prone to ascribe it either to nature or merit. But where the plea of the receivers is equal, and yet the dispensation of the benefits vastly unequal, there men are taught, that the thing received is grace; and that they have no claim to it, but the courtesy of the dispenser, and the largess of heaven; which cannot be questioned, because it waters my field, while it scorches and dries up my neighbour’s. If the sun is pleased to shine upon a turf, and to gild a dunghill, when perhaps he never looks into the bedchamber of a prince, we cannot yet accuse him for partiality: that short, but most significant saying in the evangelist, May I not do 448what I will with my own? Matt. xx. 15. being a full and solid answer to all such objections.
4. The fourth and last circumstance of Christ’s coming related to the time of it: he came to the Jews, when they were in their lowest and worst condition, and that in a double respect, national and ecclesiastical.
1. And first upon a civil or national account. It was not then with them as in those triumphant days of Solomon, when for plenty, riches, and grandeur, they had little cause either to make friends or to fear enemies, but shone as the envy and terror of all the surrounding neighbourhood. At the best now they were but a remnant, and a piece of an often scattered, conquered, and captivated nation: but two tribes of twelve, and those under the Roman yoke, tributary and oppressed, and void of any other privilege but only to obey, and to be fleeced quietly by whosoever was appointed their governor. This was their condition: and could there be any inducement, upon the common principles and methods of kindness, to visit them in that estate? which could be nothing else but only to share with them in servitude, and to bear a part in their oppression.
The measure of men’s kindness and visits be stowed upon one another, is usually the prosperity, the greatness, and the interest of the persons whom they visit; that is, because their favour is profitable, and their ill-will formidable; in a word, men visit others because they are kind to themselves. But who ever saw coaches and liveries thronging at the door of the orphan or the widow, (unless peradventure a rich one,) or before the house or prison of an 449afflicted, decayed friend? No, at such a time we account them not so much as our own; that unfriends and unbrothers, and dissolves all relations, and it is seldom the dialect of my good friend, any longer than it is my great friend.
But it was another sort of love that warmed the breast of our Saviour. He visits his kindred, nay, he makes them so in the lowest ebb of all their outward enjoyments, when to be a Jew was a name of disgrace, and to be circumcised a mark of infamy: so that they might very well be a peculiar people, not only because God separated them from all other nations, but because all other nations separated themselves from them.
Secondly. Consider them upon an ecclesiastical account, and so we shall find them as corrupted for a church, as they were despised for a nation. Even in the days of the prophet Isaiah, chap. i. 21, it was his complaint, that the faithful city was become an harlot; that is, notable for two things, as harlots usually are, paint and impurity. Which growing corruption, in all the intervening time, from thence to the coming of Christ, received a proportionable improvement: so that their teachers, and most seraphic adored doctors of the law, were still ranked with hypocrites. For the text of Moses was used only to authorize a false comment, and to warrant the impiety of a perverse interpretation. Still for all their villainies and hypocrisies they borrowed a veil from Moses; and his name was quoted and pretended as a glorious expedient to countenance and varnish over well contrived corruptions: nay, and they proceeded so high, that those who vouched the authority of Moses most, denied the being of immaterial 450substances, and the immortality of the soul, in which is wrapt up the very spirit and vital breath of all religions: and these men had formed themselves into a standing and considerable sect called the Sadducees; so considerable, that one of them once stepped into the high priesthood: so that whether you look upon the Sadducees or the Pharisees, they had brought the Jewish church to that pass, that they established iniquity by a law, or which is worse, turned the law itself into iniquity.
Now the state of things being thus amongst the Jews at the time of Christ’s coming, it eminently offers to us the consideration of these two things.
First, The invincible strength of Christ’s love, that it should come leaping over such mountains of opposition, that it should triumph over so much Jewish baseness and villainy, and be gracious even in spite of malice itself. It did not knock at, but even break open their doors. Blessing and happiness was in a manner thrust upon them. Heaven would have took them by force, as they should have took heaven: so that they were fain to take pains to rid themselves of their happiness, and it cost them labour and violence to become miserable.
Secondly, It declares to us the immovable veracity of God’s promise. For surely, if any thing could reverse a promise, and untie the bands of a decree, it would have been that uncontrolled impiety which then reigned in the Jewish church, and that to such a degree, that the temple itself was profaned into a den of thieves, a rendezvous of hagglers and drovers, and a place not for the sacrificing, but for the selling of sheep and oxen. So that God might well have forgot his promise to his people, when 451they had altered the very subject of the promise, and as much as in them lay had ceased to be his people.
We have here finished the first part of the text, and took an account of Christ’s coming to his own, and his coming through so many obstacles: may we not therefore now expect to see him find a magnificent reception, and a welcome as extraordinary as his kindness? For where should any one expect a welcome, if not coming to his own? And coming also not to charge, but to enrich them; not to share what they had, but to recover what they had lost; and, in a word, to change their temporals into eternals, and bring an overflowing performance and fruition to those who had lived hitherto only upon promise and expectation; but it fell out much otherwise, his own received him not.
Nor indeed if we look further into the world shall we find this usage so very strange or wonderful. For kindred is not friendship, but only an opportunity of nearer converse, which is the true cause of, and natural inducement to it. It is not to have the same blood in one’s veins, to have lain in the same womb, or to bend the knee to the same father, but to have the same inclinations, the same affections, and the same soul, that makes the friend. Otherwise Jacob may supplant Esau, and Esau hate and design the death of Jacob. And we constantly see the grand seignior’s coronation purple dipped in the blood of his murdered brethren, sacrificed to reason of state, or at least to his own unreasonable fears and suspicions: but friends strive not who shall kill, but who shall die first. If then the love of kindred is so small, surely the love of countrymen and neighbours can 452promise but little more. A prophet may, without the help of his prophetic spirit, foresee that he shall have but little honour in his own country. Men naturally malign the greatness or virtue of a fellow-citizen or a domestic; they think the nearness of it upbraids and obscures them: it is a trouble to have the sun still shining in their faces.
And therefore the Jews in this followed but the common practice of men, whose emulation usually preys upon the next superior in the same family, company, or profession. The bitterest and the loud est scolding is for the most part amongst those of the same street. In short, there is a kind of ill disposition in most men, much resembling that of dogs; they bark at what is high and remote from them, and bite what is next.
Now, in this second part of the text, in which is represented the entertainment which Christ found in the world, expressed to us by those words, his own received him not, we shall consider these three things.
1. The grounds upon which the Jews rejected Christ.
2. The unreasonableness of those grounds. And,
3. The great arguments that they had to the contrary.
As to the first of these. To reckon up all the pretences that the Jews allege for their not acknowledging of Christ, would be as endless as the tales and fooleries of their rabbles; a sort of men noted for nothing more than two very ill qualities, to wit, that they are still given to invent and write lies, and those such unlikely and incredible lies, that none can believe them but such as write them. But the 453exceptions which seem to carry most of reason and argument with them, are these two.
First, That Christ came not as a temporal prince.
Secondly, That they looked upon him as an underminer and a destroyer of the law of Moses.
1. As for the first. It was a persuasion which had sunk into their very veins and marrow; a persuasion which they built upon as the grand fundamental article of all their creed, that their Messiah should be a temporal prince, nor can any thing beat their posterity out of it to this day. They fancied nothing but triumphs and trophies, and all the nations of the earth licking the dust before them under the victorious conduct of their Messiah: they expected such an one as should disenslave them from the Roman yoke; make the senate stoop to their sanhedrim; and the capitol do homage to their temple. Nay, and we find the disciples themselves leavened with the same conceit: their minds still ran upon the grandeurs of an earthly sovereignty, upon sitting at Christ’s right and left hand in his kingdom, banqueting and making merry at his table, and who should have the greatest office and place under him. So carnal were the thoughts even of those who owned Christ for the Messiah; but how much more of the rest of the Jews, who contemned and hated him to the same degree! So that while they were feeding themselves with such fancies and expectations, how can we suppose that they would receive a person bearing himself for the Messiah, and yet in the poor habit and profession of a mean mechanic, as also preaching to them nothing but humility, self-denial, and a contempt of those glories and temporal felicities, the enjoyment of which they had 454made the very design of their religion? Surely the frustration of their hopes, and the huge contrariety of these things to their beloved preconceived notions, could not but enrage them to the greatest disdain and rejection of his person and doctrine imaginable.
And accordingly it did so: for they scorned, persecuted, and even spat upon him, long before his crucifixion; and no doubt, between rage and derision, a thousand flouts were thrown at him: as, What! shall we receive a threadbare Messiah, a fellow fitter to wield a saw or an hatchet, than a sceptre? For is not this the carpenter’s son? and have we not seen him in his shop and his cottage amongst his pitiful kindred? And can such an one be a fit person to step into the throne of David, to redeem Israel, and to cope with all the Roman power? No, it is absurd, unreasonable, and impossible: and to be in bondage to the Romans is nobler than to be freed by the hand of such a deliverer.
2. Their other grand exception against him was, that he set himself against the law of Moses, their reverence to which was so sacred, that they judged it the unchangeable rule of all human actions; and that their Messiah at his coming was to impose the observation of it upon all nations, and so to establish it for ever: nay, and they had an equal reverence for all the parts of it, as well the judicial and ceremonial as the moral; and (being naturally of a gross and a thick conception of things) perhaps a much greater. For still we shall find them more zealous in tything mint, and rue, and cummin , and washing pots and platters, (where chiefly their mind was,) than in the prime duties of mercy and justice. And as for their beloved sabbath, they placed the 455celebration of it more in doing nothing, than in doing good; and rather in sitting still, than in rescuing a life, or saving a soul: so that when Christ came to interpret and reduce the moral law to its inward vigour and spirituality, they, whose soul was of so gross a make that it was scarce a spirit, presently defied him as a Samaritan and an impostor, and would by no means hear of such strange impracticable notions. But when from refining and correcting their expositions and sense of the moral law, he proceeded also to foretell and declare the approaching destruction of their temple, and therewith a period to be put to all their rites and ceremonies, they grew impatient, and could hold no longer, but sought to kill him, and thereby thought that they did God good service, and Moses too. So wonderfully, it seems, were these men concerned for God’s honour, that they had no way to shew it, but by rejecting his Son out of deference to his servant.
We have seen here the two great exceptions which so blocked up the minds and hearts of the Jewish nation against Jesus Christ their true Messiah, that when he came to his own, his own rejected and threw him off. I come now in the next place,
2. To shew the weakness and unreasonableness of these exceptions. And,
First, For Christ’s being a temporal monarch, who should subdue and bring all nations under the Jewish sceptre. I answer, that it was so far from necessary, that it was absolutely impossible, that the Messiah should be such an one, and that upon the account of a double supposition, neither of which, I conceive, will be denied by the Jews themselves.
1. The first is the professed design of his coming, 456which was to be a blessing to all nations: for it is over and over declared in scripture, that in the seed of Abraham, that is, in the Messiah, all nations of the earth should be blessed. But now if they mean this of a temporal blessing, as I am sure they intend no other, then I demand how this can agree with his being such a prince, as, according to their description, must conquer all people, and enslave them to the Jews, as hewers of wood and drawers of water, as their vassals and tributaries, and, in a word, liable upon all occasions to be insulted over by the worst conditioned people in the world? A worthy blessing indeed, and such an one as, I believe, few nations would desire to be beholden to the seed of Abraham for. For there is no nation or people that can need the coming of a Messiah to bless them in this manner: since they may bless themselves so whensoever they please; if they will but send messengers to some of their neighbours, wiser and powerfuller than themselves, and declare their estates and country at their service, provided they will but come and make them slaves with out calling them so; by sending armies to take pos session of their forts and garrisons, to seize their lands, monies, and whatsoever else they have; and, in a word, to oppress, beggar, and squeeze them as dry as a pumice, and then trample upon them because they can get no more out of them: let any people, I say, as they shall like this, apply to some potent, overgrown prince, (whom the fools, his neighbours, shall have made so,) and I dare undertake, that upon a word speaking, they shall find him ready to be such a Messias to them at any time. And yet this was all that the gentile world could gain by 457those magnificent promises of the Messiah, (as universal a blessing as the prophets had foretold he should be,) if the Jews opinion concerning the nature of his kingdom over the rest of the world should take place. But since they judge such a kind of government so great a blessing to mankind, it is pity but they should have a large and lasting enjoyment of it themselves, and be made to feel what it is to be peeled and polled, fleeced and flayed, taxed and trod upon by the several governments they should happen to fall under; and so find the same usage from other princes which they had so liberally designed for them, under their supposed Messiah: as indeed through the just judgment of God they have in a great measure found ever since the crucifixion of Christ.
Second. The other supposition upon which I disprove the Messiah’s being such a temporal prince, is the unquestionable truth of all the prophecies recorded of him in scripture; many of which declare only his sufferings, his humility, his low despised estate; and so are utterly incompatible with such a princely condition. Those two, the first, Psalm xxii. the other in Isaiah liii. are sufficient proofs of this. It is not to be denied, indeed, that several have at tempted to make them have no respect at all to the Messiah; but still the truth has been superior to all such attempts. The Jewish rabbies for the most part understand them of the whole body of the people of Israel: and 1313 See more of this in the following discourse on Isaiah liii. 8.one we know amongst our Christian interpreters, (though it will be hard to christen his interpretation,) who will needs have this whole fifty-third chapter of Isaiah to relate only to 458the prophet Jeremy, in the first and historical sense of it: little certainly to the service of Christianity; unless we can think the properest way for confirming our faith (especially against its mortal adversaries the Jews) be to strip it of the chief supports which the Old Testament affords it. But every little fetch of wit and criticism must not think to bear down the whole stream of Christian, catholic interpreters; and much less the apparent force and evidence of so clear a prophecy.
And therefore to return to the rabbies themselves, the most learned of them, after all such fruitless at tempts, understand those prophecies only of the Messiah: but then, being fond of his temporal reign and greatness, some of them have invented the σοφὸν φάρμακον of two several Messiahs, Messiah Ben David, and Messiah Ben Joseph: one whereof was to be potent and victorious, the other low, afflicted, and at length killed. A bold unheard of fiction, and never known to the ancient Jewish church, till the modern rabbies began to dote and blaspheme at all adventures. But there is no shift so senseless and groundless which an obstinate adherence to a desperate cause will not drive the defenders of it to. It is clear, therefore, that all the pretences which the Jews have for the temporal reign and greatness of their Messiah, is sufficiently answered and cut off by these two considerations: for to argue with them further from the spirituality of the Messiah’s kingdom, as that the end of it was to abstract from all carnal, earthly, sensual enjoyments, as the certain hinderers of piety, and underminers of the spirit, would be but a begging of the question, as to the Jews, who would contend as positively that this was 459not to be the intent of it. And besides the truth is, their principles and temper are so hugely estranged from such considerations, that a man might as well read a lecture of music or astronomy to an ox or an ass, as go about to persuade them that their Messiah was only to plant his kingdom in men’s hearts, and by infusing into them the graces of humility, temperance, and heavenly-mindedness, to conquer their corruptions, and reign over their carnal affections, which they had a great deal rather should reign over them. And thus much for answer to their first exception.
Secondly. I come now to shew the unreasonableness of the other, grounded upon a pretence, that Christ was a supplanter of the authority of Moses, and an enemy to the law. And here for answer to this, I grant that Christ designed the abrogation of their ceremonial law, and yet for all this I affirm that Christ made good that word of his to the utmost, that he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it. For we must know, that to destroy a constitution, and to abrogate, or merely to put an end to it, are very different. To destroy a thing, is to cause it to cease from that use to which it is designed, and to which it ought to serve: but so did not Christ to the ceremonial law; the design of which was to fore-signify and point at the Messiah who was to come. So that the Messiah being come, and having finished the work for which he came, the use of it continued no longer; for being only to relate to a thing future, when that thing was past, and so ceased to be future, the relation, surely, grounded upon that futurity, must needs cease also. In a word, if to fulfil a prophecy be to destroy it, then Christ by abrogating the ceremonial law may be 460said also to have destroyed it. A prophecy fulfilled is no longer a prophecy; the very subject-matter of it being hereby took away; so a type is no longer a type, when the thing typified comes to be actually exhibited. But the Jews, who stripped all these things from any relation to a spiritual design, thought that their temple was to stand for ever; their circumcision and sabbaths to be perpetual, their newmoons never to change, and the difference of meats and of clean and unclean beasts to be unalterable. For alas, poor ignorant wretches! all their religion (as they had made it) was only to hate hogs, and to butcher sheep and oxen. A religion which they might very well have practised, had they sacrificed to no other god but their belly. Having thus shewn the unreasonableness of the Jews exceptions against Christ, I come now to
The third and last thing, which is to shew, that they had great reason for the contrary, high arguments to induce them to receive and embrace him for their Messias. It is not the business of an hour, nor of a day, to draw forth all those reasons which make for this purpose, and to urge them according to their full latitude and dignity: and therefore being to speak to those, who need not be convinced of that which they believe already, I shall mention but two, and those very briefly.
1. The first shall be taken from this; that all the signs and marks of the Messias did most eminently appear in Christ: of all which signs I shall fix upon one as the most notable, which is the time of his coming. It was exactly when the sceptre, or government, was departed from Judah, according to that prophecy of Jacob: and at the end of Daniel’s 461weeks; at which time he foretold that the Messiah should come. Upon a consideration of which one of their own rabbies, but fifty years before Christ, said, that it was impossible for the coming of the Messiah to be deferred beyond fifty years: a proportion of time vastly different from that of above six teen hundred, and yet after this also they can hear no news of such a Messiah as they expect. The same Daniel also affirms, that after the coming and cutting off of the Messiah, the city and the temple should be destroyed: as clear therefore as it is, that the city and temple are destroyed, so clear is it that their Messiah came before that destruction. From all which we may well insist upon that charge made against them by our Saviour, Ye fools, ye can discern the face of the sky, and of the heavens, but how is it that ye do not discern this time? A time as evident as if it were pointed out by a sunbeam upon a dial. And therefore the modern Jews being pinched with the force of this argument, fly to their old stale evasion, that the promise of the time of the Messiah’s coming was not absolute but conditional; which condition failing upon the great sins of the Jews, the time of his coming has been accordingly deferred. But this answer signifies nothing: for the very design of the Messiah’s coming, was to take away sins and be a propitiation for them, even according to their own rabbies words and confession: and therefore it is ridiculous to make the Jews sins the hinderances of his coming, when he made the atonement of sins the chief reason why he should come. In a word, if the Messiah was to come within such a certain period of time, (which time is long since expired,) and while the city and temple were 462yet standing, which shortly after Christ’s coming were demolished; then either that Jesus was the Messiah, or let them shew some other about that time, to whom that title might better belong.
2. A second reason shall be taken from the whole course and tenor of Christ’s behaviour amongst the Jews. Every miracle that he did was an act of mercy and charity, and designed to cure as well as to convince. He went about doing good; he conversed amongst them like a walking balsam, breathing health and recovery wheresoever he came. Shew me so much as one miracle ever wrought by him to make a man lame or blind, to incommode an enemy, or to revenge himself; or shew me any one done by him to serve an earthly interest. As for gain and gold he renounced it. Poverty was his fee, and the only recompence of all his cures: and had he not been sold till he sold himself, the high priests might have kept their thirty pieces of silver for a better use. Nor was fame and honour the bait that al lured him: for he despised a kingship, and regarded not their hosannahs. He embraced a cross, and declined not the shame. And as for pleasure and softness of life, he was so far from the least approach to it, that he had not where to lay his head, while the foxes of the world had very warm places where to lay theirs. He lived as well as wrought miracles. Miracles of austerity, fasting, and praying, long journeys, and coarse receptions; so that if we compare his doctrine with his example, his very precepts were dispensations and indulgences, in comparison of the rigours he imposed upon himself.
Let the Jews, therefore, who shall except against Christ as an impostor, (as they all do,) declare what 463carnal or secular interest he drove at; and if not, what there is in the nature of man, that can prompt him to an endurance of all these hardships; to serve no temporal end or advantage whatsoever. For did ever any sober person toil and labour, and at length expose himself to a cruel death, only to make men believe that which he neither did nor could believe himself? And so by dying in and for a lie, must procure himself damnation in the next world, as well as destruction in this? But if, for all this, they will still make Christ a deceiver, they must introduce upon mankind new principles of acting, cancel and overturn the old acknowledged methods of nature; and, in a word, either affirm that Christ was not a man, or that he was influenced by ends and inclinations contrary to all the rest of mankind: one of which must unavoidably follow; but neither of them ought to be admitted, where sense or reason is so much as pretended to.
And thus I have at length finished what I first proposed to be discoursed of from these words, He came to his own, and his own received him not. In which, that men may not run themselves into a dangerous mistake, by thinking the Jews the only persons concerned in these words, and consequently that the guilt here charged upon them could affect none else; we must know, that although upon the score of the natural cognation between Christ and the Jews, the text calls them by that appropriating character his own, and accordingly speaks of his coming to them as such; yet that all the nations of the world, who have had the gospel preached unto them, are as really his own, as any of the race of Abraham could be, (if those may be called his own whom he had so dearly 464bought,) and consequently that we are as capable of having Christ come to us, as the Jews themselves were. And accordingly he actually has, and every day does come to us; not in the same manner, indeed, but to the same purpose; not in the form of a servant, but with the majesty of a Saviour; that is to say, he comes to us in his word, in his sacraments, and in all the benefits of his incarnation; and those exhibited to us with as much reality and effect, as if with our very eyes we beheld the person of our benefactor. And then on the other hand, as we are altogether as capable of his coming to us, as his kindred and contemporaries the Jews themselves were; so are we likewise as capable of not receiving him, as those wretches were or could be. And therefore let no man flatter himself with reference to Christ, as the Jews, in much the like case, did with reference to the old prophets; boasting, forsooth, that had they lived in the days of their fathers, they would have had no hand in the Mood of those holy messengers of God, Matt. xxiii. 30. Let no vicious person, I say, though never so noted and professed a Christian, conclude from hence, that had he lived when and where our Saviour did, nothing could have induced him to use him as those miscreants had done. For though I know that such men (as bad as they are) do with great confidence aver all this, and think themselves in very good earnest while they do so; yet as, in general, he who thinks he cannot deceive himself does not sufficiently know himself; so in this particular case, every hypocrite or wicked liver professing Christianity, while he thinks and speaks in this manner, is really imposing upon himself by a false persuasion; and 465would (though he may not know so much) have borne the very same malignity towards our Saviour, which those Jews are recorded to have done; and under the same circumstances would have infallibly treated him with the same barbarity. For, why did the Jews themselves use him so? Why? because the doctrines he preached to them were directly contrary to their lusts and corrupt affections, and defeated their expectations of a worldly Messias, who should have answered their sensual desires with the plenties and glories of such an earthly kingdom, as they had wholly set their gross hearts and souls upon. Accordingly, let us now but shift the scene, and suppose Christ in person preaching the same doctrines amongst us, and withal as much hated and run down for an impostor by the whole national power, civil and ecclesiastical, as it then fared with him amongst the Jews; and then no doubt we should see all such vicious persons, finding themselves pricked and galled with his severe precepts, quickly fall in with the stream of public vogue and authority, and as eagerly set for the taking away his life, as against reforming their own. To which we may further add this, that our Saviour himself passes the very same estimate upon every such wicked professor of his gospel, which he then did upon the Jews themselves, in that his irrefragable expostulation with them, Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I command you? Luke vi. 46. implying thereby, that this was the greatest hostility and affront that men could possibly pass upon him. And no doubt but the Jews themselves, who avowedly rejected Christ, and his doctrine, out of an almost invincible prejudice infused 466into them by their teachers and rulers, concerning the utter inconsistency of both with the Mosaic constitution, were much more excusable before God, than any Christians can be, who, acknowledging the divine authority both of his person and his gospel, do yet reverse and contradict that in their lives and actions, which they avow in their creeds and solemn declarations. For he who prefers a base pleasure or profit before Christ, spits in his face, as much as the Jews did: and he who debauches his immortal soul, and prostitutes it to the vile and low services of lust and sensuality, crucifies his Saviour afresh, and puts him to as open a shame as ever Pontius Pilate, the high priest, or those mercenary tools, the very soldiers themselves, did. They do not indeed pierce his side, but (what is worse) they strike a dagger into his heart.
And now, if the passing of all these indignities upon one who came into the world only to save it, (and to redeem those very persons who used him so,) is riot able to work upon our ingenuity, should not the consequences of it at least work upon our fears, and make us consider, whether, as we affect to sin like the Jews, it may not be our doom to suffer like the Jews too? To which purpose, let us but represent to ourselves the woful estate of Jerusalem, bleeding under the rage and rapine of the Roman armies; together with that face of horror and confusion which then sat upon that wretched people, when the casting off their Messias had turned their advocate into their judge, their saviour into their enemy; and, by a long refusal of his mercy, made them ripe for the utmost executions of his justice. After which proceeding of the divine vengeance 467against such sinners, should it not (one would think) be both the interest and wisdom of the stoutest and most daring sinners in the world, forthwith to make peace with their Redeemer upon his own terms? and (as hard a lesson as it seems) to take his yoke upon their necks, rather than with the Jews to draw his blood upon their heads; especially since one of the two must and will assuredly be their case? for the methods of grace are fixed, and the measures stated: and as little allowance of mercy will be made to such Christians as reject Christ in his laws, as to those very Jews who nailed him to the cross.
In fine, Christ comes to us in his ordinances, with life in one hand, and death in the other. To such as receive him not, he brings the abiding wrath of God, a present curse, and a future damnation: but to as many as shall receive him, (according to the expression immediately after the text,) he gives power to become the sons of God. That is, in other words, to be as happy, both in this world and the next, as infinite goodness acting by infinite wisdom can make them.
To him therefore, who alone can do such great things for those who serve him, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.468
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