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PROVING JESUS TO BE THE MESSIAS.
Now, when John had heard in prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached unto them: and blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me.—Matt. xi. 2-6.
ABOUT the time of our Saviour’s appearing in the world, there was a general expectation of a great Prince that should come out of Judea, and govern all nations: this the gentiles had from the prophecies of the sybils, which speak of a great King that was to appear in the world about that time. So Virgil tells us, that the time of Augustus was the utmost date of that prophecy:
Ultima Cumaei venit jam carminis aetas:
And Suetonius tells us, that “all over the eastern countries there was an ancient and constant tradition, that such a Prince should spring out of Judea:” and for this reason it is, that our Saviour is called by the prophet, “the expectation of the nations.”555
But more especially among the Jews, there was, at that time, a more lively and particular expectation, grounded upon the predictions of the prophets, of a Prince whom they called the Messias, or the anointed; and those who were more devout among them, did at that time wait for his appearance; as it is said of Simeon, that “he waited for the consolation of Israel.” Hence it was, that when John the Baptist appeared in the quality of an extraordinary prophet, they sent from Jerusalem to inquire whether he were the Messias: (John i. 19.) “The Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.” The Sanhedrin, to whom it belonged to judge who were the true prophets, sent to know whether he was the Messias or not? he would not take this honour to himself; but told them, the Messias was just at hand; and the next day, when Jesus came to be baptized of him, he bare record, that he was the Son of God, and that he saw the Spirit descending and abiding upon him.
So that it is plain that he knew him, and bare witness of him; which makes it the more strange, that, here in the text, he should send two of his disciples to inquire, whether he were the Messias or not: “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” that is, art thou the Messias, or not? for so he is called in the ancient prophecies of him, ὁ ἐρχόμενος, he that should come. (Gen. xlix. 10.) “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, till Shiloh come.”
For the resolution of this difficulty, it is very probably said by interpreters, and I think there is no reason to doubt of it, that John the Baptist did not send this message for his own satisfaction, but to 556satisfy his disciples, who were never very willing to acknowledge Jesus for the Messias, because they thought he did shadow and cloud their master. From whence we may take notice how men’s judgments are apt to be perverted by faction and interest; and that good men are too prone to be swayed thereby; for such we suppose the disciples of John to have been: they will not believe their own master, when they apprehend him to speak against their interest; for they knew that they must rise and fall in their reputation and esteem, as their master did. They believed that their master was a prophet, and came from God; yet, for all that, they could not digest his testimony of Christ; because that set him above their master; which they were sagacious enough to perceive, that it tended to the diminution and lessening of themselves. And that this was the thing which troubled them, appears plainly from the complaint which they make to their master; (John iii. 26.) “The disciples of John came to him and said, He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.” This troubled them, to see him invade their master’s office, and that he began to have more followers than John had; he “baptizeth, and all men come to him.”
This prejudice John had endeavoured to root out of their minds, by telling them, that he had always declared he was not the Messias: (ver. 28.) “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.” But when he perceived it still to stick with them, and that they observed all his actions, and the miracles that he wrought, as if they had a mind to pick a quarrel 557with him (for St. Luke, who relates the same story, tells us, that when our Saviour had healed the centurion’s servant, and raised from the dead the widow’s son at Naim, the disciples of John shewed him all these things); I say, John the Baptist, perceiving that they watched him so narrowly, sent two of his disciples to him, that they might receive full satisfaction from him.
And St. Luke tells us, that, upon their coming to him, he wrought many of his miracles before them, to convince them that he was the true Messias. (Luke vii. 21, 22.) “And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities, and plagues, and of evil spirits; and to many that were blind he gave sight;” and then said to the disciples of John, “Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised, and to the poor the gospel is preached; and blessed is he that is not offended in me.”
So that you see that the reason why John the Baptist sent to our Saviour to know whether he was the Messias, was not to satisfy himself, for he had no doubt of it; but perceiving his disciples to be ill-affected towards our Saviour, and hearing them speak with some envy of his miracles, he sent them to him, that, by seeing what he did, and hearing what account he gave of himself, they might receive full satisfaction concerning him.
I have been the longer in the clearing of this, that men, upon every appearance of contradiction in the evangelical history, may not be too forward to suspect the truth of it; but may be convinced, that if they would but have patience to examine things carefully, they would find that the story does sufficiently 558vindicate itself; and though it be penned with great simplicity, yet there is sufficient care taken to free it from being guilty of any contradiction to itself.
The occasion of the words being thus cleared, there are in them these two things considerable:
First, What it was that John the Baptist sent his disciples to be satisfied about; and that was, whether he was the Messias or not? “Now, when John had heard in prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples.” The circumstance of his being in prison, seems to be mentioned, to intimate to us the reason why he did not come himself along with them; he sent two of his disciples to him, who said unto him, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” And then,
Secondly, The answer which our Saviour returns to this message: “Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again the things which ye do see and hear: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached unto them: and blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me.”
So that these words contain, first, the evidence which our Saviour gives of his being the true Messias; secondly, an intimation, that, notwithstanding all this evidence which he gave of himself, yet many would be offended at him, and reject him; “blessed is he whosoever is not offended in me.”
First, The evidence which our Saviour gives of his being the true Messias; and to prove this, there were but two things necessary:
1. To shew that he was sent by God, and had a particular commission from him.559
2. That he was the very person of whom the prophets foretold that he should be the Messias.
The first of these he proves by the miracles which he wrought; and the second by the correspondency of the things he did, with what was foretold by the prophets concerning the Messias; the prophecies concerning the Messias were accomplished in him.
First, By the miracles which he wrought; “the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; and the dead are raised up.” Here is a brief enumeration of miracles which our Saviour wrought; and these were a testimony to him that he came from God, and was sent and commissioned by him to declare his will to the world. So he himself tells us: (John v. 36 .) “I have a greater witness than that of John, for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.” Upon the evidence of these miracles, Nicodemus, a ruler among the Jews, was convinced that he was sent by God: (John iii. 2.) “We know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” Nay, his greatest enemies were afraid of his miracles, knowing how proper an argument they are to convince men. John xi. 47, when the chief priests and pharisees were met together in council against him, they concluded, that if he were permitted to go on and work miracles, he would draw all men after him: “What do we? (say they) for this man doeth many miracles; if we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him.” This they said upon occasion of the great miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead.
And, in reason, miracles are the highest attestation 560that can be given to the truth and divinity of any doctrine; and supposing a doctrine not to be plainly unworthy of God, and contrary to those natural notions which men have of God and religion, we can have no greater evidence of the truth of it than miracles; they are such an argument as, in its own nature, is apt to persuade and induce belief.
All truths do not need miracles; some are of easy belief, and are so clear by their own light, that they need neither miracle nor demonstration to prove them. Such are those self-evident principles which mankind do generally agree in: others, which are not so evident by their own light, we are content to receive upon clear demonstration of them, or very probable arguments for them, without a miracle. And there are some truths which, however they may be sufficiently obscure and uncertain to most men, yet are they so inconsiderable, and of so small consequence, as not to deserve the attestation of miracles; so that there is no reason to expect that God should interpose by a miracle to convince men of them.
Nec Deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus
But for such truths as are necessary to be known by us, but are not sufficiently evident of themselves, nor capable of cogent evidence, especially to prejudiced and interested persons, God is pleased, in this case, many times to work miracles for our conviction; and they are a proper argument to convince us of a thing that is either in itself obscure and hard to, be believed, or which we are prejudiced against, and hardly brought to believe; for they are an argument a majori ad minus; they prove 561a thing which is obscure and hard to be believed, by something that is more incredible, which yet they cannot deny because they see it done. Thus our Saviour proves himself to be an extraordinary person, by doing such things as never man did; he convinceth them, that they ought to believe what he said, because they saw him do those things, which were harder to be believed (if one had not seen them) than what he said.
Miracles are, indeed, the greatest external confirmation and evidence that can be given to the truth of any doctrine; and where they are wrought with all the advantages they are capable of, they are an unquestionable demonstration of the truth of it: and such were our Saviour’s miracles here in the text, to prove that he was the true Messias; here are miracles of all kinds; “the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; and the dead are raised up.” For the nature of them, they are such as are most likely to be Divine, and to come from God, for they were healing and beneficial to mankind. Our Saviour here instanceth in those things which are of greatest benefit and advantage, and which free men from the greatest miseries and in conveniences; the restoring of sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf; soundness and health to the lame and the leprous; and life to the dead. And then for the number of them, they were many; not one instance of a kind, but several of every kind, and great multitudes of most of them; and for the manner of their operation, they were public, in the sight and view of great multitudes of people, to free them from all suspicion of fraud and imposture; they were not wrought privately and in corners, 562and given out and noised abroad, but before all the people, so that every one might see them, and judge of them; not only among his own disciples and followers, as the church of Rome pretends to work theirs, but among his enemies, to convince those that did not believe; and this not done once, and in one place, but at several times, and in all places where he came, and for a long time, for three years and a half; and, after his death, he endowed his disciples and followers with the same power, which lasted for some ages. And then for the quality of them, they were miracles of the greatest magnitude; those of them, which in themselves might have been performed by natural means, as healing the lame, and the leprous, and the deaf, he did in a miraculous manner, by a word or a touch, yea, and many times at a great distance. But others were, not only in the manner of their operation, but in the nature of the thing, unquestionably miraculous; as, giving of sight to those that had been born blind, and raising up the dead to life, as Lazarus, after he had lain in the grave four days; and himself afterwards, the third day after he had been buried; which, if there ever was or can be any unquestionable miracles in the world, ought certainly to be reputed such. So that our blessed Saviour had all the attestation that miracles can give, that he came from God. And this is the first evidence of his being the Messias.
The Jews acknowledge that the Messias, when he comes, shall work great miracles; their own Talmud confesseth, that Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary, did work great miracles; and the history of the gospel does particularly relate more and greater miracles wrought by him, than by Moses and all 563the prophets that had been since the world began; so that we may still put the same question to the Jews, which they did in our Saviour’s time to one another; “When Christ cometh,” when the Messias whom ye expect comes, “will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?”
But, secondly, this will yet more clearly appear by the correspondency of the things here mentioned, with what was foretold by the prophets concerning the Messias.
Not to mention innumerable circumstances of his birth, and life, and death, and resurrection, and ascension into heaven, together with the success and prevalency of his doctrine in the world, all which are punctually foretold by some or other of the prophets; I shall confine myself to the particulars here in the text.
First, It was foretold of the Messias, that he should work miraculous cures. Isa. xxxv. 4-6. speaking of the Messias, “He will come and save you; then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped; then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing;” this you see was fulfilled here in the text. It is true, indeed, the text mentions another miracle which is not in the prophet, that he raised the dead; but if God did more than he promised and foretold, this is no prejudice to the argument, if all that he foretold was accomplished in him. Besides, the Jews have a proverb, that God is not content to perform barely what he promiseth, but he usually doth something over and above his promise. That the Messias should heal the blind, and the deaf, and the lame, Isaiah prophesied; and God makes good this promise and prediction to the 564full; the Messias did not only do these, but, which is more and greater than any of these, he raised the dead to life.
Secondly, It was likewise foretold of the Messias, that he should preach the gospel to the poor: (Isa. lxi. 1.) “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek;” εὐαγγελίσασθαι πτωχοῖς, “to preach the gospel, or good tidings to the poor:” so the LXXII. render the words; and they are the very words used by our Saviour here in the text. It is true, indeed, this was no miracle; but it was the punctual accomplishment of a prophecy concerning the Messias, and consequently an evidence that he was the Messias. But, besides, it had something in it which was very strange to the Jews, and very different from the way of their doctors and teachers; for the rabbies among the Jews would scarce instruct any but for great reward; they would meddle with none but those that were able to requite their pains; the ordinary and poorer sort of people they had in great contempt, as appears by that slighting expression of them, (John vii. 48, 49.) “Have any of the rulers or of the pharisees believed on him? but this people who knoweth not the law are cursed.” And Grotius upon this text tells us, that the Jewish masters had this foolish and insolent proverb among them, that “the Spirit of God doth not rest but upon a rich man;” to which this prediction concerning the Messias was a direct contradiction: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.” In old time, the prophets were especially sent to the kings and princes of the people: but this great prophet comes to “preach the gospel 565to the poor.” None have so little reason to be proud as the sons of men, but never was any so humble as the Son of God; our Saviour’s whole life and doctrine was a contradiction to the false opinions of the world; they thought the rich and great men of the world the only happy persons; but he came “to preach glad tidings to the poor,” to bring good news to them whom the great doctors of the law despised and set at nought; and therefore, to confound their pride and folly, and to confute their false opinions of things, he begins that excellent sermon of his with this saying, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”
Thirdly, It was foretold of the Messias, that the world should be offended at him: (Isa. viii. 14.) “He shall be for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offence, to both the houses of Israel.” And, (Isa. liii. 1 3.) “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? he hath no form nor comeliness, and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him; he is despised and rejected of men, and we hid, as it were, our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not;” and this likewise is intimated in the last words of the text, “and blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me.” Intimating, that, notwithstanding the great works that he did among them, which testified of him that he came from God; notwithstanding the predictions of their prophets concerning the Messias were so clearly and punctually accomplished in him; yet, notwithstanding all this, they would take offence at him upon one account or other, and reject him and his doctrine: but even this, that they rejected him, and would not own him for the Messias, was another sign or evidence that 566he was the true Messias foretold by the prophets: for, among other things, this was expressly predicted concerning him, that he should be despised and rejected of men.
And thus I have done with the first thing I propounded to speak to; namely, the evidence which our Saviour here gives of his being the true Messias.
First, The many and great miracles which he wrought, prove that he came from God. And,
Secondly, The correspondence of the things he did, with what was foretold by the prophets concerning the Messias, declare him to be the true Messias.
I now proceed to the next thing I propounded to speak to; namely,
Secondly, An intimation in the text, that, not withstanding all the evidence Christ gave of himself, yet many would be offended at him, and reject him, and his doctrine. In speaking to which, it will be very proper to consider,
First, How the poor came to be more disposed to receive the gospel than others.
Secondly, What those prejudices are which the world had against our Saviour and his religion at its first appearance, as also those which men have at this day against the Christian religion, and to endeavour to shew the unreasonableness of them.
Thirdly, How happy a thing it is to escape and overcome the common prejudices which men have against religion.
First, How the poor came to be more disposed to receive the gospel than others: “The poor have the gospel preached unto them.” Which does not only signify that our Saviour did more especially apply himself to them, but likewise that they were 567in a nearer disposition to receive it, and did, of all others, give the most ready entertainment to his doctrine: and this our Saviour declares to us in the beginning of his sermon upon the Mount, when he pronounceth the poor blessed upon this account, because they were nearer to the kingdom of God than others; “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” So likewise St. James; (chap. ii. 5.) “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom, which he hath promised to them that love him?” So that it seems the poor were, upon some account or other, in a nearer disposition to receive the gospel, than the great and rich men of this world. And of this there are three accounts to be given.
First, The poor had no earthly interest to engage them to reject our Saviour and his doctrine. The high-priests, and scribes, and pharisees, among the Jews, they had a plain worldly interest which did engage them to oppose our Saviour and his doctrine; for if he were received for the Messias, and his doctrine embraced, they must of necessity lose their sway and authority among the people; and all that which rendered them so considerable, their pretended skill in the law, and in the traditions and observances of their fathers, together with their external shows of piety and devotion, would signify nothing, if our Saviour and his doctrine should take place. And there are very few so honest and sincere, as to be content, for truth’s sake, to part with their reputation and authority, and to become less in the esteem of men than they were before. Few are so impartial as to quit those things which they have once laid great weight upon, and kept a great stir about; because this is to acknowledge 568that they were in an error, and mistaken in their zeal, which few have the ingenuity to own, though it be never so plain to others; and, therefore, it is no wonder, that our Saviour’s doctrine met with so much resistance from these, who were so much concerned, in point of honour and reputation, to make head against it. And this account our Saviour himself gives of their infidelity: (John v. 44.) “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour which cometh of God only?” and, (chap. xii. 43.) “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”
And, besides the point of reputation, those that were rich were concerned in point of interest to oppose our Saviour and his doctrine; because he called upon men to deny themselves, and to part with houses and lands, yea, and life itself, for his sake, and for the gospel’s, which must needs be a very hard and unpleasant doctrine to rich men, who had great estates, and had set their hearts upon them. Upon this account it is, that our Saviour pronounceth it so hard “for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God;” and compares it with those things that are most difficult, and humanly impossible; “I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
But now the poor were free from these encumbrances and temptations; they had nothing to lose, and therefore our Saviour’s doctrine went down more easily with them; because it did not contradict their interest, as it did the interest of those who had great estates and possessions.
Secondly, Another reason of this is, that those that are poor, and enjoy little of the good things of 569this life, are willing to entertain good news of happiness in another. Those who are in a state of present misery and suffering, are glad to hear that it shall be well with them hereafter, and are willing to listen to the good news of a future happiness; and therefore our Saviour, when he had pronounced the poor blessed, (Luke vi. 20.) adds, by way of opposition, (ver. 24.) “But woe unto yon that are rich; for ye have received your consolation.” They Mere in so comfortable a condition at present, that they were not much concerned what should become of them hereafter; whereas all the comfort that poor men have, is the hopes of a better condition, non si male nunc, el olim sic erit, that “if it be bad now, it will not be so always;” and therefore, no wonder if the promises and assurance of a future happiness be very welcome to them.
Thirdly, If by the poor we do not only understand those who are in a low and mean condition as to the things of this world, but such, likewise, as had a temper and disposition of mind suitable to the poverty of their outward condition, which our Saviour calls poverty of spirit, by which he means meekness and humility; there is no doubt but that such a frame and temper of spirit is a great disposition to the receiving of truth. And that this is included in the notion of poverty, is very plain, both from the words of the prophecy I cited before, (Isa. lxi. 1.) “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek, and to bind up the broken hearted;” and likewise from our Saviour’s description of these persons, in one of the evangelists; (Matt. v. 3.) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” So that, by the poor, 570who are so nearly disposed to receive the gospel, our Saviour intended those, who, being in a poor and low condition in respect of outward things, were likewise meek and humble in their spirits. Now meekness and humility are great dispositions to the entertaining of truth. These graces and virtues do prepare the minds of men for learning and instruction; meekness, and modesty, and humility, are the proper dispositions of a scholar. He that hath a mean opinion of himself is ready to learn of others; he who is not blinded by pride, or passion, is more apt to consider things impartially, and to pass a truer judgment upon them, than the proud and the passionate. Passion and pride are great obstacles to the receiving of truth, and to our improvement in knowledge. Passion does not only darken the minds of men, but puts a false bias upon our judgments, which draws them off many times from truth, and sways them that way to which our passion in clines them. A man of a calm and meek temper stands always indifferent for the receiving of truth, and holds the balance of his judgment even; but passion sways and inclines it one way, and that commonly against truth and reason. So, likewise, pride is a impediment to knowledge, and the very worst quality that a learner can have; it obstructs all the passages whereby knowledge should enter into us, it makes men refuse instruction, out of a conceit they need it not. Many men might have known more, had it not been for the vain opinion which they have entertained of the sufficiency of their knowledge. This is true in all kinds of learning, but more especially as to the knowledge of Divine things. For God loves to communicate himself, and bestow his grace and wisdom upon 571meek and humble minds. So the Scripture tells us, (Psal. xxv. 9.) “The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his ways.” And, (1 Pet. v. 5.) “Be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”
And thus I have shewn in what respects the poor were more disposed for the receiving the gospel than others. I proceed now, to the
Second thing; namely, What those prejudices and objections are, which the world had against our Saviour and his religion at their first appearance; as also to inquire into those which men have at this day against the Christian religion, and to shew the weakness and unreasonableness of them. I begin,
First, With those prejudices which the world had against our Saviour and his religion, at their first appearance.
Both Jews and gentiles were offended at him and his doctrine; but not both upon the same account. They both took exceptions at him, especially at his low and suffering condition; but not both upon the same reason. I shall begin with the exceptions which the Jews took against our blessed Saviour and his religion; and I shall reduce them all, or at least the most considerable of them (as I find them dispersed in the history of the gospel, and in the Acts of the Apostles) to these six heads:
First, The exceptions which they took against him upon account of his extraction and original.
Secondly, At the meanness of his condition, contrary to their universal expectation.
Thirdly, As to his miracles.
Fourthly, His conversation.
Fifthly, The prejudice that lay against him from 572the opposition that was made by persons of greatest knowledge and authority among them. And,
Lastly, That the religion which he endeavoured to introduce, did abolish and supersede their ancient religion, as of no longer use and continuance, though it was plain it was at first instituted by God.
First, The exceptions which they took at his extraction and original. In relation to this they were offended at three things.
1. That his original was known among them. This you find urged against him, John vii. 27, “We know this man whence he is; but when the Messias comes, no man knows whence he is.”
This, to be sure, was no just exception in reason against him. For what if his extraction were known, might he not be from God for all that? They owned Moses for the greatest prophet that ever was, and yet it was very well known from whence he was.
But they seem to refer to some prophecy of the Old Testament, which did seem to assert so much. If they meant that his extraction should be altogether unknown, they knew very well, and believed the contrary, that he was to be of the line of David, and to come out of Bethlehem. If they referred to that prophecy, that “a virgin should conceive and bear a son,” and so understood that he should be without father, this was really true, though they thought that he was the son of Joseph. And if he affirmed that he had no father, he did sufficiently justify it by his miracles; that being as easy to be believed possible by a Divine power, as the miracles which he wrought; which yet they could not deny, because they saw them.
2. Another prejudice against his extraction, was 573the meanness of his parents and breeding. This you find mentioned, Matt. xiii. 54, 55. “Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? and his sisters, are they not all with us? whence then hath this man these things? And they were offended in him.” And so, likewise, John vii. 15. “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?”
A strange prejudice, and most unreasonable. They could not believe him to be an extraordinary person, because his parents and relations, his birth and breeding, were so mean. He had been brought up to a trade, and not brought up to learning: whereas, in reason, this ought to have been an argument just the other way; that he was an extraordinary person, and divinely assisted, who all on the sudden, without the help and assistance of education, gave such evidence of his great wisdom and knowledge, and did such mighty works. This could not be imputed to his breeding, for that was mean; therefore, there must be something extraordinary and Divine in it. Thus another man, who had been free from prejudice, would have reasoned.
3. The most unreasonable prejudice of all, in respect of his extraction, was grounded upon a spiteful and malicious proverb, concerning the country where our Saviour was brought up, and they supposed him to be born; and that was Galilee: (John i. 46.) “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” and, (John vii. 41.) “Shall the Messias come out of Galilee?” and, (ver. 52.) “Search and look, for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.”
But it seems Nathanael, who was a good man, was 574easily taken off from this common prejudice, when Philip said to him, “Come and see.” He bids him come and see the works he did, and then refers it to him, whether he would believe his own eyes, or an old proverb: however, it seems the Jews laid great weight upon it, as if this alone were enough to confute all his miracles; and, after they had shot this bolt at him, the business was concluded clearly against him. But prudent and considerate men do not use to give much credit to ill-natured proverbs; the good or bad characters which are given of countries are not understood to be universally true, and without exception. There is no place but hath brought forth some brave spirits and excellent persons, whatever the general temper and disposition of the inhabitants may be. Among the Grecians, the Boeotians were esteemed a dull people, even to a proverb; and yet Pindar, one of their chief poets, was one of them. The Scythians were a barbarous nation, and one would have thought no good could have come from thence; and yet that country yielded Anacharsis, an eminent philosopher. The Idumeans were aliens and strangers to -the covenant; and yet Job, one of the best men that ever was, came from thence. God can raise up eminent persons from any place; Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, and an idolatrous people. Nay, as our Saviour tells us, “he can out of stones raise up children unto Abraham.” The wise God, in the government of the world, does not tie himself to our foolish proverbs. It is not necessary, to make a man a prophet, that he should be bred in a good air. If God sends a man, it matters not from what place he comes.
Secondly, Another head of exception against 575our Saviour, was the meanness of his outward condition, so contrary to the universal expectation of the Jews. The Jews, from the tradition of their fathers, to which they (as the church of Rome does at this day) paid a greater reverence than to the written word of God, were possessed with a strong persuasion, that the Messias whom they expected w as to be a great prince and conqueror, and to subdue all nations to them; so that nothing could be a greater defeat to their expectations, than the mean and low condition in which our Saviour appeared; so that, upon this account, they were almost universally offended at him.
But this prejudice was very unreasonable. For neither did their prophets foretel any such thing as the temporal greatness of the Messias: but, on the contrary, most expressly, that “he should be despised and rejected of men,” that he should be “a man of sorrows” and sufferings, and at last be put to death; which was directly contrary to what they expected from their ill-grounded tradition.
Thirdly, Against his miracles they made these two exceptions:
1. That he wrought them by magical skill, and by the power of the devil.
Which was so exorbitantly unreasonable and malicious, that our Saviour pronounceth it to be an unpardonable sin; and, for answer to it, appeals to every man’s reason, whether it was likely that the devil should conspire against himself, and assist any man to overthrow his own kingdom? For it was as plain our Saviour’s doctrine was directly contrary to the devil’s design; and, therefore, to assist him to work miracles for the confirmation of it, 576must have been apparently against his own interest, and to the ruin of his own kingdom.
2. They pretended, that though he did many great works, yet he gave them no sign from heaven. Matt. xvi. 1, it is said, “They desired him to shew them a sign from heaven.” It seems they expected that God should give some immediate testimony to him from heaven; as he did to Elias, when fire came down from heaven, and consumed his enemies; and particularly they expected, that, when he was upon the cross, if he were the true Messias, he should have come down and saved himself. And because he did not answer their expectation in this, they concluded him an impostor.
Now what could be more unreasonable, when he had wrought so many other and great miracles, perversely to insist upon some particular kind of miracle which they fancied? as if God were bound to gratify the curiosity of men; and as if our Saviour were not as much declared to be the Son of God, by rising again from the dead, as if he had come down from the cross.
Fourthly, As to his conversation, they had these three exceptions:
1. That he used no severity in his habit or diet; took too much freedom, as they thought; came eating and drinking; that is, he freely used the creatures of God for the end for which they were given, with temperance and thanksgiving; and did not lay those rigorous restraints upon himself in these matters, which many that were esteemed the most religious among them used to do.
But he plainly shews them that this exception was merely out of their prejudice against him. For if he 577had come in the way of austerity, they would have objected to him as well. They were resolved to find fault with him, whatever he did. (Matt. xi. 16.) “Whereunto shall I liken this generation? John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking, and they say he hath a devil.” He lived in a more austere and melancholy way, “he came in the way of righteousness,” used great strictness and severity in his habit and diet, and this they took exception at. Our Saviour was of a quite contrary temper, and that did not please them neither. “The Son of man came eating and drinking; and they say, Behold a wine-bibber and a glutton.” So that let our Saviour have done what he would, he could not have earned himself so as to have escaped the censures of men so peevishly and perversely disposed.
2. That he kept company with publicans and sinners.
To which exception nothing can be more reason able than our Saviour’s own answer; that he was sent to be a physician to the world, “to call sinners to repentance;” and therefore, they had no reason to be angry, or think it strange, if he conversed with his patients, among whom his proper employment lay.
3. They objected to him profaneness in breaking the sabbath; and that surely was plain, that he could not be of God, if he kept not the sabbath-day. The truth was, he had healed one on the sabbath-day.
To this our Saviour gives a most reasonable and satisfactory answer, that surely “it was lawful to do good on the sabbath-day;” that that was but a positive institution, but works of mercy are natural and moral duties; and God himself had declared, that he would have even his own institutions to give 578way to those greater duties, that are of natural and eternal obligation. “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” And then from the end of the sabbath; the sabbath was made for the rest and refreshment of man; and therefore could not be presumed to be in tended to his prejudice. “The sabbath was made for man: and not man for the sabbath.”
Fifthly, Another great prejudice against him, was, that persons of the greatest knowledge and authority among them did not embrace his doctrine. (John vii. 48.) “Have any of the rulers or pharisees believed on him?” So that here was the infallible rule and authority of their church against him.
There is no doubt but the example and authority of our guides ought to sway very much with us, and overrule us in doubtful cases, but not against plain and convincing evidence; there we ought to follow “and obey God rather than men.” There is some times a visible and palpable corruption in those who are to lead us; they may have an interest to oppose the truth: and thus it was with the pharisees and rulers at that time; and so it hath been among Christians in the great degeneracy of the Roman church. The Christian religion was never more endangered, nor ever more corrupted, than by those who have been in greatest authority in that church; who ought to have understood religion best, and have been the principal support of it. Men may err, but God cannot: so that when God sends a prophet, or by his word does plainly declare his will to us, human example and authority ceaseth, and is of no force.
The last prejudice I shall mention, which the Jews had against our Saviour and his doctrine, was, that it did abolish and supersede their religion, as 579of no longer use and continuance, though it was plain it was instituted by God.
This had been a very specious pretence, indeed, had not this been part of their religion, and had not their own prophets foretold that the Messias should come, and perfect what was wanting and defective in their institution. It is expressly said in their law, that “God would raise unto them another prophet, like to Moses, and that they should hear him,” when he came. So that, in truth, it was the accomplishment of all those revelations which were made to the Jews, and did not reprove the Jewish religion as false, but as imperfect; and did not contradict and overthrow, but perfect and fulfil the law and the prophets.
And thus I have gone over the chief exceptions and offences which the Jews took at our Saviour and his doctrine; and I hope sufficiently shewn the unreasonableness of them. I have not now time to proceed to what remains: but by what hath been said, you may easily see, upon what slight and unreasonable grounds men may be prejudiced against the best person and things, and yet be very confident all the while that they are in the right. For so, no doubt, many of the Jews, who opposed our Saviour and his doctrine, thought themselves to be. Therefore it concerns us to put on meekness, and humility, and modesty, that we may be able to judge impartially of things, and our minds may be preserved free and indifferent to receive the truths of God, when they are offered to us: otherwise, self-conceit and passion will so blind our minds, and bias our judgments, that we shall be unable to discern, and unwilling to entertain, the plainest and most evident truths. We see here, by the sad example 580of the Jews, that by giving way to passion, and cherishing pride and self-conceit, men may he so deeply prejudiced against the truth, as to resist the clearest light, and reject even salvation itself, when it is offered to them. So that is not in vain, that the Scripture saith, “Let every man be swift to hear, and slow to wrath; for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God:” and exhorts us so earnestly, to “receive with meekness the word of God, which is able to save our souls.”
END OF VOL. V.
J. F. DOVE, Printer, St. John’s Square.
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