« Prev Sermon XXXVII. Romans i. 3, 4. Next »

SERMON XXXVII.

ROMANS i. 3, 4.

Περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ, τοῦ γενομένου ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ, κατὰ σάρκα, Τοῦ ὁρισθέντος υἱοῦ Θεοῦ ἐν δυνάμει, κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης, ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν.

Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.

IN these words we have an adequate and entire description of the person of Christ. For in the third verse his human nature, and in the fourth his divine, is fully and exactly represented to us.

I delight not, I must confess, to insist much upon philological or philosophical discourses in dispensing the word; but where the construction of the text lies so, that we cannot otherwise reach the full sense of it, but by making our way through doubts and ambiguities, we must have recourse to such expedients.

The present exercise, therefore, shall consist of these two parts.

I. An explication of the words.

II. An accommodation of them to the present occasion.

I. For the first of these we must know, that the scheme of the Greek carries a very different face 297from our translation, which difference renders the sense of the words very disputable.

The explication of which I shall comprise in the resolution of these four inquiries.

1st, Whether the translation rightly renders it, that Christ was declared to be the Son of God, since the original admits of a different signification.

2dly, What is imported by this term, with power.

3dly, What is intended by the following words, according to the spirit of holiness.

4thly and lastly, How those words, by the resurrection from the dead, are to be understood.

In all which, as the resolution will manifest the reason of the doubt, I shall be as brief as I can; for if I should give myself scope to pursue each particular through all the difficulties that might attend it, it would fill a much larger discourse than the measure of the present exercise will allow. After which explication I shall shew, that the resurrection of Christ is the greatest and the principal argument to prove the divinity of his person.

1st, And first for the first of these: that which we render declared, is in the Greek ὁρισθέντος, which may signify decreed, or determined; and accordingly the vulgar Latin reads it praedestinatus, and some other destinatus est. But with what propriety, or indeed with what tolerable sense, Christ could be said to be decreed to be the Son of God, which he was from eternity; and especially to be decreed to be so by the resurrection from the dead, a thing that had happened very lately, is hard to understand, and much harder to make out. That which is the proper object of decree or destination is something future; 298but that which was eternal cannot be imagined in any period of time to be future.

Those indeed who deny the eternal godhead of Christ, and date his deity entirely, and his sonship principally, from his resurrection, are great friends to this exposition of the word; and well may they be so, for it serves their turn to very great purposes: for if Christ was constituted eminently the Son of God at and by his resurrection, it might very properly be said of him, that he was decreed so to be antecedently to his resurrection; but how this can consist with the supposition of his eternal godhead, I must profess, I cannot apprehend.

Aquinas indeed retains this interpretation of the word by praedestinatus est; but it was the gross ignorance of the Greek tongue and all critical learning in those days, that betrayed so great a judgment to the inconvenience of holding that, of which to give a rational account he took so much pains, and to so little purpose.

Erasmus therefore observes, (whose authority in this sort of learning is inferior to none,) that there is another proper signification of the word ὁρίζω besides to decree, or determine, and that is, to declare, shew forth, or manifest; hence in grammar the indicative mood is called ὁριστικὸς; and in logic the definition of a thing, which is the declaration of its nature, is called ὅρος or ὁρίσμος; all which confirm this interpretation.

And for the agreeableness of it to this place, be sides the utter disagreeableness of any other signification; that is proved from hence, as that it carries a most fit and emphatical opposition to the words of 299the former verse, where the apostle expresses Christ’s human nature by γενομένου, he was made of the seed of David, which word imports the constitution of something that did not exist before: but hero, in this verse, expressing his divine nature, since he had from eternity been the Son of God, it is not said of him that he was made, but only declared or manifested to be so.

Besides, the apostle here speaks of things past and already done; which being so, with what propriety could he insist upon a thing only as decreed and purposed, after it had actually come to pass? especially since it was this only which here made for his purpose. His design was to prove Christ the Son of God by an argument taken from a thing known and notable, which was his resurrection; and would any rational disputer omit this, that he was actually risen, and argue only from this, that it was decreed that he should rise from the dead? According to the natural way of speaking, men never use to say that such a thing is decreed or purposed, after once that decree or purpose has passed into execution. And so much for explication of the first term.

2dly, The second inquiry is, what is imported by this term with power; the Greek is ἐν δυνάμει, in power, so that by some it is rendered in virtute; but it being not unusual for the particle ἐν to be put for σὺν, it is most properly rendered in our translation with power; which, though some understand of the power of Christ, as it exerted itself in the miracles which he did; yet here it signifies rather the glorious power of his divine nature, by which he over came death, and properly opposed to the weakness of his human nature, by which he suffered it. Correspondent 300to which is that place in 2 Cor. xiii. 4, He was crucified by weakness, but he liveth by the power of God: that is, the weakness of his humanity made him capable of the death of the cross; but the power of his divinity triumphed over that death, and raised him to an eternal life.

3dly, The third thing to be inquired into is, what is the intent of the following words, according to the spirit of holiness. The expression is an Hebraism, and signifies as much as the Holy Spirit; but what is the meaning of that here, is the doubt to be resolved.

Some understand it only as a further explication of the precedent word ἐν δυνάμει, taking both that and this for the miraculous works done by the Spirit of God to confirm the gospel: for still we shall find that the miracles of Christ and his apostles were ascribed to the Spirit of God; which exposition cannot stand, for these reasons:

1st, Because it ought then to have been joined with the precedent words by conjunction, καὶ ἐν δυνάμει, καὶ κατὰ πνεῦμα.

2dly, Because in right construction it should have been πνεύματι, or διὰ πνεύματος, by the Spirit, noting the efficient cause; not according to the Spirit, as it is here; for κατὰ πνεῦμα can never be brought to have an equivalent signification to διὰ πνεύματος.

In the next place, therefore, if we observe the connection between this and the former verse, we shall find that there is a certain antithesis between them; and that as κατὰ σάρκα signifies the human nature of Christ, so κατὰ πνεῦμα may most appositely signify the divine; for it is not unusual in scripture for the divine nature to be rendered by the word 301spirit; John iv. 24, God is a spirit; and 1 Tim. iii. 16, it is said, in respect of Christ, that God was manifested in the flesh, but justified in the Spirit; that is, he was proved to have a divine nature, as well as an human. And now here, because the apostle had expressed the humanity of Christ, not by κατ᾽ ἀνθρωπίνην φύσιν, or κατ᾽ ἄνθρωπον, but κατὰ σάρκα, namely, the better to set forth the frailty and gross substance of the human nature; by way of opposition, he renders his divinity by κατὰ πνεῦμα, a word properly corresponding to κατὰ σάρκα, and withal importing the vigorous and refined substance of this nature. And whereas he annexes this qualification of holiness, and calls it the spirit of holiness, it is because he considers not the divine nature of Christ absolutely in itself, but according to the relation it had to, and the great effect that it exercised upon his other nature. For it was his divinity which sanctified, consecrated, and hypostatically deified his humanity; and in that respect it is here treated of by the apostle.

4thly, I come now to the explication of that fourth and last expression, by the resurrection from the dead, which is exceeding different from the original, according to the first and literal appearance of the sentence. For the words Jesus Christ our Lord, which in the translation are placed in the beginning of the third verse, in the Greek are the last words of the fourth; which has occasioned great diversity in the construction. The words in the original are these, ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν. So that what we render by the resurrection from the dead, is word for word to be rendered by the resurrection of the dead of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Whereupon some interpret it not of Christ’s personal 302 resurrection; which, they say, ought to have been ἐκ νεκρῶν, not simply νεκρῶν; but either of the resurrection of those, who in Matthew are said to have rose from their graves at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, or of the general resurrection of all the saints; who are therefore called the dead of Jesus Christ, to discriminate them from the wicked and the reprobates, who, though they shall rise again, yet bear not this relation to Christ.

Accordingly they take the word ἀνάστασις actively for the action of Christ, by his power raising them from the dead: forasmuch as otherwise their being raised from the dead would not have had so immediate a force to prove Christ to be the Son of God.

But that the words are not so to be rendered, nor consequently to be understood of the resurrection of any but of Christ himself, is clear upon the strength of this reason: that (as I have partly observed already) the apostle’s design here is to demonstrate to the Romans the divinity of Christ, by some signal passage already done, and so familiarly known by them. But the general resurrection was as yet future, and the resurrection of those few, it is probable, was not so famed a thing, as to have been commonly known amongst them: especially since there is mention of it only in St. Matthew, but in none else, either of the apostles or evangelists; who, being so diligent in representing all those arguments that seemed to prove the divinity of Christ, had they apprehended this to have been so clear and immediate an argument for the proof of it, certainly would not have thus passed it over in silence.

I conclude therefore, that it is to be understood of the personal resurrection of Christ from the dead. 303So that the only thing that remains for us is, to solve and make out the construction: for which, though several ways may be assigned, yet the most rational is to refer the words ησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν, by apposition to the precedent words in the former verse, περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ; not making it to be governed of νεκρῶν; so that, in the Latin translation, Jesus Christ is not to be rendered by the genitive, but by the ablative case; it being repeated after the intervening words by an hyperbaton; a figure usual in the writings of this apostle; whose expression must be acknowledged to be none of the easiest or the clearest.

Neither is it material that the particle ἐκ is not prefixed to νεκρῶν, to make it from the dead; since it is usual amongst the Greeks to omit prepositions, such as ἐν, ἐξ, and ἀπὸ; as also amongst the Latins, with whom surrexit terrâ is all one with surrexit a terrâ. But above all this, the preposition here may be so much the better omitted, since the very word ἀνάστασις carries in it the force of this preposition; forasmuch as it denotes a motion or recess from a certain place or state.

And thus I have given an explication of the words, the first thing proposed for the management of this subject; which explication has been, I confess, something large; but I hope, to those who under stand these matters, is not altogether unuseful.

II. I come now to the second general head, which is, the accommodation of the words to the present occasion; and that shall be in shewing, that Christ’s resurrection is the greatest and the principal argument to prove him the Son of God. Now both the foundation and sum of the gospel lies within the 304compass of this proposition, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God: from which one aphorism spring all the other branches of Christianity. For that, which properly discriminates the Christian religion from the natural, or Judaical, is the holding of Christ’s deity, and his satisfaction naturally consequent upon it: to both which together are reducible all the parts of the gospel, as appendages to, or conclusions naturally flowing from them.

But it is not here to be denied, that Christ is capable of being called the Son of God in several respects; as that, according to his human nature, he had no natural father, but was produced in the womb of his mother by the immediate power of God; as also for his resemblance to God, upon the accounts of his transcendent holiness: it being proper to call him the Son of God who does the works of God; (as Christ called the Jews the sons of the Devil, for doing the works of the Devil, John iii. 44, Ye are of your father the Devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do:) all great likeness, in the scripture dialect, founding the denomination of sonship. Christ might be also called the Son of God, from his having the government of all things put into his hands upon his ascension. All this must be granted: yet here we are to consider only the principal and grand cause of his being called so; which is from the eternal generation and emanation of his person from the person of the Father; that is, we are to consider him to be the Son of God upon such an account, as may also infer and prove him to be God himself.

Now this supereminent way of sonship being the foundation of his deity, as that is the foundation of our religion, ought in reason to be evinced by some 305great and evidently conclusive argument; and such an one we affirm to have been his resurrection.

But you will here naturally reply, How can this be a proper proof of that? How can his resurrection, which supposes him. to have been dead, prove him to be such an one as existed from all eternity, and so could not die? Is the grave a medium to demonstrate a person incorruptible? or death, to enforce that he is immortal? I answer, that this argumentation is so far very right; and that the resurrection considered only in a bare relation to the person rising from the dead, proves him only to be a wonderful man; but is so far from proving him the eternal Son of God, that it rather proves the contrary. But then, if we consider it with relation to the doctrine of that person affirming himself to be thus the Son of God, and as the seal set to the truth of that doctrine by an omnipotent hand and an unfailing veracity; why, thus it is an infallible argument to prove the real being of all those things that were asserted by that person. Christ’s resurrection therefore proved him to be the eternal Son of God consequentially; that is, as it was an irrefragable confirmation of the truth of that doctrine which had declared him to be so.

It is much disputed, whether Christ’s resurrection is to be referred to his own power raising himself from the dead, or only to the power of the Father. Those who deny his eternal divinity allow only this latter, stiffly opposing the former. To give countenance to this their opposition, they seem to make challenge to any one to produce but one place of scripture where Christ is said to have raised himself from the dead, and they will yield the cause. To 306which I answer; though this is no where affirmed in these very terms, representing it in praeterito, as done; yet if Christ spoke the same thing in words importing the future, the result is undoubtedly the same. And for this I desire to know what they will answer to that place, John ii. 19, where Christ, speaking of his body, says, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up? Does not Christ personally appropriate the action to himself and to his own power? Wherefore that exception is a vapour and a cavil, unbecoming a rational opponent.

But I add, that as to the proof of the divinity of Christ’s person, it is not material whether his resurrection be stated upon his own power, or the power of his Father; for both equally prove the same thing, though in a different manner.

If Christ raised himself, it directly proves that he was God, and so had a divine nature, besides his human; for if he raised that, being dead, it must needs follow, that he did it by virtue of a power inherent in another nature, which was some divine spirit.

But, on the other hand, if the Father raised him, yet still it proves him to have been God; forasmuch as he always avouched himself to be so; and the Father would not have exerted an infinite power to have confirmed a lie, or verified the words of an impostor.

Having thus shewn how Christ’s resurrection could be a proper argument to prove his divinity and eternal sonship, I come now in the next place to shew, that it is the greatest and the principal of all others.

And for this we may observe, that the arguments for the proof of the truth of Christ’s doctrine, of 307which the sum is, that he himself is the Son of God, are generally reducible to these three:

1st, The nature of the things taught by him.

2dly, The fulfilling of prophecies in his person.

3dly, The miracles and wonderful works which he did in the time of his life.

Now to prove that his resurrection was an argument surpassing all these, I shall premise this one consideration; that whatsoever is brought as an argument to prove a thing demonstratively, ought to be in itself not only true, but evident and clear. Forasmuch as to prove a thing is properly to make it evident; but nothing can make another thing evident which is not so itself; nay, more evident than the thing to be proved by it. This being premised, let us take a brief examination of each.

1st, And first for the nature of the things which he taught. If you take a view of those which relate to practice; as, that we are to take no thought for the morrow, to take up our cross daily, and to renounce all the enjoyments of those things which were made only to be enjoyed; not to resist evil, nor to defend ourselves, but being smote upon one cheek to turn the other; and when the oppressor has robbed me of my coat, to gratify him with my cloke also; which is in effect to relinquish the grand rights of nature, and the eternal principle of self-preservation, writ in the hearts of all men with the pen of an adamant: furthermore, that for every petty anger we are responsible to the degree of murder; and that for every idle word we are liable to eternal damnation; that is, to a perpetuity of torments, not only unsupportable, but unconceivable; with several other such articles of the same nature.

308

Now I say, what strange, unusual, and grating documents are these to the nature and universal apprehensions of man’s reason? How does this, as it were, start and fly back at the direful appearance of these severities, as much fitter to terrify than to persuade, to confound than to conquer the affections; and therefore, if these have any influence upon man’s belief, (as undoubtedly they have a very great one,) we may be sure that such aphorisms shall never find any credit for their own sake, nor can it be expected that they should.

But then again; if we cast our eye upon what things Christ taught relating to belief; as, that the divine nature being most simply and indivisibly one, there are yet three persons in it, every one of which is truly and properly God. Also, that the same person should be God and man; and that person, in his human nature, should be born of a virgin; that he should die, and make satisfaction for the sins of the world; and that there should be a resurrection of all mankind with the same bodies, though consumed many thousand years since, and by infinite changes transformed into other things; and all this to a state of happiness or misery, of which there shall be no end.

Now how much stranger are these than the former? How do they look more like riddles than instructions? designed rather to astonish than to in form the man’s understanding.

A great part of the world reject them all, as absolute paradoxes, and contrary to reason, and we ourselves confess them to be above reason; so that from our confession it will follow, that they are not to be believed for themselves.

309

I conclude therefore, that though these things are in themselves most true, yea, as true as the most evident proposition in the mathematics; yet because they are not at all evident, they are utterly unable to give evidence to the truth of that doctrine which does assert them.

2dly, The second argument of the truth of Christ’s doctrine, and consequently of his divinity, is from the fulfilling of prophecies in his person. An argument no question very solid, and really conclusive; but perhaps not so clear and demonstrative as to silence very great exceptions.

For the ways of interpreting prophecies are so various, as to be here attended with such allowances, and there again bound up with such limitations, such distinctions between the literal and mystical intention of them, and such great difficulty to prove when one is to be pitched upon, and when the other, that he who shall look into this matter will find, that this argument is not so absolutely full, nor so totally commands down the difficulty, as to render all additional arguments superfluous.

The modern Jews are so expert and versed in this particular, that there is not a text or prophecy throughout all the Old Testament, but they will readily give you such an interpretation of it as shall not at all relate to Jesus Christ. Nay, and there have not been wanting some such amongst the Christians; one I am sure there has been, who has endeavoured to shew, that all or most of those places in the Old Testament, which the Christian church generally applies to Christ, have had an actual and literal completion in some other before him, and so belong to him only by accommodation; which 310to a Jew (should you dispute with him, would upon another beg the question) would signify as much as nothing.

Though when such persons have shewn all the tricks they can upon the scripture, for I must needs call it shewing tricks upon it rather than expounding it; I say, still there remain some portions of it which point to Christ with such a pregnant and invincible clearness, such as the twenty-second Psalm and the fifty-third of Isaiah, that they cannot, with out an apparent force, and a visible wresting them from their genuine sense, be applied to any else. And what good design to Christian religion any one could have in giving them such an interpretation, as makes them, in the first and literal purport of them, not at all to relate to Christ, surpasses my understanding to give any tolerable account of.

3dly, The third argument is taken from the wonderful works that Christ did during his lifetime; all which were undoubtedly high proofs of the truth of the doctrine which they were brought to prove, and consequently of the divinity of Christ’s person and of his mission. They were the syllogisms of heaven, and the argumentations of omnipotence.

Yet over these also Christ’s resurrection had a vast preeminence, and that I prove upon the strength of these two considerations.

1st, That all the miracles Christ did, supposing that his resurrection had not followed, would not have had sufficient efficacy to have proved him to be the Messias. But his resurrection alone, taking it single and by itself, and without any relation to his precedent miracles, had been a full and undeniable proof of the truth of his doctrine and the divinity 311of his person. The former part of the assertion is clear from that of St. Paul, 1 Cor. xv. 14, If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain; and in the 17th verse, Ye are yet in your sins. Now before Christ’s death all his miracles were actually done, and yet, notwithstanding all these, the apostle lays this supposition, that in case then he had not rose from the dead, the whole proof of the gospel had fallen to the ground, and been buried with him in the same grave.

And for the other part of the assertion, that Christ’s resurrection alone, without respect to his miracles, had been a sufficient demonstration of the truth of his doctrine, that appears upon these two accounts.

1st, That the thing considered absolutely in itself, according to the greatness and wonder of it, did transcend and outweigh all the rest of his works put together.

2dly, That it had a more intimate and near connection with his doctrine than any of the rest; and that not only by way of inference, as a sign proving it, but by way of real effect, as it enabled him to give being and subsistence to the things which he had said and promised. He had promised to send the gifts of the Holy Ghost upon his disciples, to fit them to promulge the gospel; he had promised also to raise up those that believed in him to life eternal at the last day: which are two of the principal pails and pillars of the doctrine delivered by him. But for him to have done this, not rising from the dead, but continuing under a state of death, had been utterly impossible.

2dly, The second consideration upon which I 312ground the preeminence of Christ’s resurrection above all the rest of his miracles, is the general opinion and judgment that the world had of both. For besides, that upon Christ’s doing the most strange and signal of his miracles, you will find that they did not convince men so potently, but that while some believed, as many or more went away with the same unbelief of him that they brought; so we shall find moreover, that they were still resolving them into some other cause, short of a divine power; as, that he cast out devils by the prince of the devils, Matt. xii. 24. And they generally looked upon him as a conjurer, and as one who had commerce with a more potent spirit or demon, by whose assistance he was too hard for the rest. But now observe, when they came to that great and difficult problem of his resurrection, they never attempted to assign any causes of that besides the power of God, so as by that means to depress the miraculousness of it; but they absolutely deny the matter of fact, and set themselves to prove that there was no such thing.

And to this day the modern Jews, who hold Christ to have been an impostor, do yet for all that grant the history of his miracles; that he did most of those strange, stupendous works reported of him; but still they persist in a denial of his resurrection.

All which shews, that they tacitly confess, that should they grant this one thing, that Christ was risen from the dead, they could have no reason to except against his person or doctrine; but must needs acknowledge, that being owned in such an immediate, undeniable way by the power of God himself, and that in the grand and crowning passage 313of his doctrine, all that he said was true, and consequently that he himself was the Messias, and Son of God.

But they thought his other miracles carried no such cogent evidence in them, but that they had so much to except against their being convinced by them, as to warrant their unbelief.

Which exceptions, I conceive, may be reduced to these two heads.

1st, The great difficulty of discerning when an action is really a miracle; which difficulty lies in this: that since a miracle is properly such an action as exceeds the force and power of natural or second causes; to the discerning of it so to be, it is required, that a man knows the utmost extent and just measure of the power of those causes, how far it extends, and where it ends, before he can certainly pronounce that such an action or effect does exceed it; and consequently that it is a miracle. But now, I defy the greatest and the most indefatigable searchers of nature to give me in such an account of the activity and force of all natural causes, as to state the just boundaries and portions of their power. I cannot easily believe that any one would be so impudent, as to pretend to such an achievement.

But admit that some men, by the singular dexterity of their wit, and their profound experience, were able to do this; yet how will vulgar minds, which have neither ability nor opportunity to make these inquiries, be able to assure themselves, that such an action is above the force of nature, and therefore to lie ascribed to a supernatural power?

These men, not being able to look beyond the out ward bulk and first appearance of an action, determine 314miracles, not from the principle that causes them, but from the wonder that they find caused by them in themselves: which wonder arises from the unusualness of the thing, and their utter ignorance of the reason of it. As for instance, suppose a man should come amongst a rude, barbarous sort of people, and affirm to them strange things, as a message from God; and, to verify his words, should as sure them, that he would make such a piece of iron come to him of its own accord, and cure any wound immediately, without any application made to it; and accordingly should do so; that those people, who know nothing of the force of the loadstone, or the sympathetic cure of wounds, would from hence conclude, that this man did those things by a divine power, and consequently that his message was of divine authority, I do no more doubt, than that I am now speaking.

2dly, But then, in the next place, supposing that an action is fully known to be a miracle, it is al together as difficult, if not more, to know whether it proves the truth of the doctrine of that person that does it, or not. The reason is, because it is not certain but that God may suffer miracles to be done by an impostor, for the trial of men, to see whether or no they will be drawn off from a received, established truth. That the Jews thought so, is certain; and they took up their persuasion from these five first verses of Deuteronomy xiii: If there arise amongst you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; thou shalt 315not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. And it is added, in the fifth verse, that that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death.

Now though I no ways question but that the main principle that acted the Jewish council in the putting of Christ to death was carnal policy, and resolution to maintain their own grandeur; yet I verily believe, that the more zealous and conscientious of them (of which sort there were, doubtless, some) commenced their proceedings against him upon the force of this law: for we must know that it was the judgment of the Jews, that to worship other gods was all one with worshipping the true God, in any other way, besides, or opposite to, the Mosaic institution. But this was their πρῶτον ψεῦδος, the first and chief error that betrayed them to all the rest.

Now supposing this to have been the sense of this law; forasmuch as they saw that Christ visibly designed an abolition of the Mosaic rites and economy hereupon, notwithstanding all the signs and wonders shewn by him, they thought they had sufficient warrant to look upon him as an impostor, and to deal with him accordingly.

But moreover, as the forementioned scripture seems to prove that God may suffer true miracles to be done by him who does not always avouch a true doctrine; so the same seems yet more clear from those miracles done by several: as Vespasian is said to have cured a blind man, by spitting on him, 316and striking him with his foot; and Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, was wont to cure persons distempered with the spleen, with a touch of his foot. And at this day the kings of England and of France cure a certain disease with a touch of their hand and a piece of money: all which cures can no more be resolved into the mere power of those agents, visibly employed in that action, than the curing of the lame or the deaf can be naturally effected with a word. And yet surely we neither believe the kings of England or France, upon this account, to be persons assisted by God, in all that they do or say, by an infallible spirit. I conclude, therefore, that it is not so easy to be assured of the truth of any doctrine upon the credit of a miracle done by the person who does promulge it.

For, to represent you the sum of both exceptions in short; he who will assure himself of the truth of any doctrine, upon the account of any miracle done by the author of it, must first assure himself that it is a miracle: to be sure of which, he must under stand the utmost power of all natural causes: which I have shewn is very hard, if not impossible to be compassed. And then, after that he knows it to be a miracle, before he can conclude that it proves any doctrine to be true, he must know that it was done by God, with an intent to confirm that doctrine; and not for some other end, as to try whether men will suffer themselves, by such means, to be drawn from the truth: which since it is not to be distinguished by any mark of difference inherent in the actions themselves, but by a knowledge of the mind of God in them, which knowledge also we cannot have, without an immediate inspection into 317his counsels; it follows, that a certainty in these matters is highly difficult, and not without a very strong faith attainable. Hence it is, that the most learned writers of the Romish church, when they come to speak of the proof of the truth of any doctrine by miracles, speak exceedingly contemptibly of them: but this perhaps is no wonder, if they thought all other miracles of the same nature with those that they do themselves.

But now neither of those two forementioned exceptions take place against the resurrection.

1st, For first, though we cannot assign the determinate point where the power of nature ends, and so cannot possibly know every miracle; yet there are some actions that at first appearance so vastly transcend it, that there can be no suspicion that they proceed from any power but a divine. As for instance, I cannot exactly tell how far a man may walk in a day, but yet I can tell that it is impossible for him to walk a thousand miles, by reason of the apparent disproportion between the natural strength of man and such a performance. Now such a thing does reason judge the raising of a dead man to life again, in reference to the force of natural causes; which in their utmost actings were never observed to do any thing like it: and certainly that is not in their power to do, which from the beginning of the world was never exemplified, or actually done by them, so much as in one particular instance.

2dly, And for the second: should God suffer a miracle to be done by an impostor, (which I, for my part, think he never does; but have hitherto disputed only upon a supposition of the Jews;) yet, I 318say, there was no necessity hence to gather, that God did it to confirm the words of that impostor: for God may do a miracle when and where he pleases. So that it follows not that it must needs relate to the vouching of what the impostor says. But now Christ had so often laid the stress of the whole truth of his gospel upon this, that he would rise from the dead; and declared to those who sought for a sign, that it was the only sign that should be given to that generation; that God could not have raised Christ from the dead, but that this action must needs have related to his words, and to have confirmed what Christ had said and promised, and consequently have joined with him in the imposture.

In a word; if this does not satisfy, I affirm, that it is not in the power of man to invent, or of God to do, any greater thing to persuade the world of the truth of a doctrine. It would even puzzle omniscience, and nonplus omnipotence itself, to find out a brighter argument to confound infidelity. And I dare avouch, that he who believes not upon Christ’s resurrection from the dead, would scarce believe, though he rose from the dead himself. So that if after this he continues an infidel, he does in effect give Heaven the lie, and bids the Almighty convince him, if he can. He is miracle-proof, and beyond the reach of persuasion; and not like to be convinced, till it is too late for him to be converted.

But to sum up all: he who builds the grand concern of his eternal happiness upon his obedience to the gospel, as the sure way to it; and his obedience to the gospel upon a firm belief of the same; and lastly, grounds the said belief upon a belief of Christ’s 319resurrection, has hereby made his calling and election as sure, as things knit together by an absolute decree and an unchangeable law are uncapable of being ever disjoined, or forced asunder. And therefore, instead of those uncouth, ill-sounding words, used by Luther upon another occasion, Si decipior, Deus me decepit, such an one may with equal reverence and assurance conclude, that while he believes the Christian religion true, because the great author and promulger of it died, and rose again from the dead, according to the scriptures, it will be as impossible for him, so doing, to be deceived, as it is for the God of infinite truth and goodness to deceive him.

To which God, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both note and for ever more. Amen.

320
« Prev Sermon XXXVII. Romans i. 3, 4. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |