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SERMON CCXXXIII.

THE EVIDENCES OF THE TRUTH OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION; WITH THE CAUSE AND DANGER OF INFIDELITY.

But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.—2 Cor. iv. 3, 4.

I SHALL explain these words, and then proceed to handle many things contained in them.

“If our gospel be hid,” or veiled; so by this metaphor the apostle alludes to what he had said in the latter part of the foregoing chapter, concerning the veil which was upon Moses face, and upon the hearts of the Jews, so that they could not see to the end of that dispensation. There was a great deal of obscurity in that administration: “But the veil is done away in Christ.” The gospel is a clear revelation, and sufficiently conspicuous in itself: and now, if it be hid from any, the fault is not in the obscurity of the object, but in the blindness of men’s minds.

“If the gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.” To them that deserve to perish, because they will not see.

“In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not.” Some of the fathers, as St. Augustine, and St. Chrysostom, and several of the Greek scholiasts, read these words otherwise; 431“In whom God hath blinded the eyes of the men of this world who believe not;” and so refer this blindness to God’s permission; in which sense he is said elsewhere in Scripture, “to harden men’s hearts.” The reason why they choose this reading of the words rather than the other, was in opposition to the Marcionites and Manichees; the former of which sects made use of this text to countenance their opinion of two gods; the one of the Old Testament, whom they called the just God; the other of the New, whom they styled the good God: the former of these, say they, made the world, and is therefore, here called “the god of this world.” The Manichees made use of this text to prove that the devil, whom they made the principle of all evil and imperfection, was the maker of this world, and is therefore called the god of it.

But there is no need why for this reason we should depart from the usual reading of the words; for there is nothing in the true importance of them, that can give countenance to these errors. For the devil, though he did not make this world, may be said to be the god of it, upon a very good account, because the greatest part of the world, being sunk into idolatry and wickedness, were become his lot and portion, who worshipped him as God, and did his works, and therefore were part of his dominion. So St. John tells us, (1 John iii. 8.) “He that committeth sin is of the devil;” and, (chap. v. 19.) “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in wickedness,” ἐν τῶ πονηρῶ κεῖται, which may be rendered more agreeably to the opposition which the apostle intended, “is subject to the evil one,” is in his power, and under his dominion. According to which Plutarch tells us, that “every unreasonable 432and brutish nature belongs to the lot of bad spirits.” So that in this sense the devil may very well be said to be “the god of this world,” as he is elsewhere called by our Saviour, “the prince of this world;” (John xii. 31.) “Now shall the prince of this world be cast out;” and, (John xiv. 30.) “The prince of this world cometh.” And so the apostle, (Eph. vi. 12.) “The ruler of the darkness of this world.”

“Lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them,” εἰς τὸ μὴ αὐγάσαι, “lest they should see,” or “behold the light of the glorious gospel,” for so Hesychius tells us, that αὐγάζω αὐγάζομαι, is ὁρῶ καὶ βλέπω. It is called “the glorious gospel of Christ,” because of the glorious confirmation that was given to it by his miraculous resurrection and ascension, and his sending the Holy Ghost into the world; and Christ is said to be “the image of God,” because the power of the Deity did shew forth itself in the miracles which he wrought.

The words being thus explained, the most material things that offer themselves to our consideration in them, are these three:

First, The full and clear evidence which we have of the truth of the gospel, or of the Christian religion, which the apostle expresseth to us in these words, “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ.”

Secondly, The cause of infidelity, notwithstanding all the evidence which the gospel carries along with it, which the apostle expresseth in these words, “in whom the god of this world hath blinded the eyes of them that believe not.”

Thirdly, The dangerous state of those who, having the gospel propounded to them, do not believe it. The apostle tells them, that they are lost and 433undone. “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that perish.”

I begin with the first of these, namely, the full and clear evidence which we have of the truth of the gospel, or Christian religion. The only thing that can give us full assurance that any religion is true, is, if we can be satisfied, that it is from God; for being once satisfied of that, there can remain no doubt of the truth of any thing that comes from him, it being an essential part of the notion which every man hath of God, that he is “a God of truth.” Now there are two things must concur to give the mind of man full satisfaction that any religion is from God.

First, If the person that declares this religion give testimony of his Divine authority, that is, that he is sent and commissioned by God to that purpose.

Secondly, If the religion which he declares contain nothing in it, that is plainly repugnant to the nature of God. I say, these two must concur; for though I could suppose a person to bring the highest testimony imaginable of his Divine mission and authority, suppose he should work a miracle for the confirmation of his doctrine; yet, if there were any thing in the doctrine plainly repugnant to the natural notions which I have of God, I could not receive it as from God; the reason of which is plainly this—I can have no assurance that that is from God, which, if it were true, I should be uncertain whether there was a God or not. I cannot possibly have any greater assurance that any thing is from God, than I have that there is a God; and I have no greater assurance that there is a God, than I have of his essential perfections; as, that he is good, and powerful, and wise, and just, &c. For 434by the very same arguments that I come to know that there is a God, I know likewise that he must necessarily have these perfections. So that, if any thing should be offered to me as a revelation from God, which plainly contradicts those natural notions which I have of him, I must necessarily reject it, yea, though it were backed with a miracle; because no man can at the same time believe that there is a God of such and such perfections, and entertain any thing as from him, which evidently contradicts those perfections. And as this is reasonable in itself, so it is clear from Scripture. (Deut. xiii. 1-3.) “If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign, or a wonder: and the sign or the 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 not hearken unto the words of that prophet.” Here is the very case put, which I am speaking of; a prophet comes and preacheth the worship of idols, as the sun, moon, stars, &c. and, for the confirmation of this he is supposed to work a miracle; and yet, notwithstanding this, we are forbidden to hearken to him, because the doctrine that he brings does evidently contradict the natural notions which I have of God.

From all which it appears, that these two things must concur, to give us full satisfaction that any religion is from God; namely, first, That the person that declares this religion, gives testimony of his Divine authority, that he is sent and commissioned from God to that purpose. And,

Secondly, That the religion which he declares contains nothing in it that is plainly repugnant to the nature of God.

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Now to bring this to my present purpose, I should shew these two things concerning the Christian religion:

First, As to the Divine authority of the person that declares this religion to the world, that he was sent and commissioned by God to that purpose.

Secondly, As to the religion itself, that there is nothing in it that is repugnant to the nature of God. I intend chiefly to speak of the first of these: for I dare say, any one that will freely and without prejudice consider the Christian religion, as it is laid down in the Scriptures, and not as it hath been abused by the wanton wits of some, and the designs of others, will find nothing in it but what is very suitable to the nature of God, and worthy of him: he shall find nothing in the propositions of faith, but what is suitable to the perfections of the Divine nature, and hath a proper influence upon a godly practice; nothing in the precepts of life, but what plainly tends to the perfection of human nature, and the advantage and happiness of mankind; no thing in the arguments and motives to obedience, as, namely, the love of Christ in dying for us, the assistance of God’s Holy Spirit, and the rewards and punishments of another world, but what is very accommodate to our nature, and suitable to the wisdom, and goodness, and justice of God: and these three, the propositions of faith, the precepts of life, the arguments and motives to obedience, do constitute the Christian religion, and make up the whole gospel. Concerning most of these, I have elsewhere treated at large; therefore I shall now apply my self chiefly to the first thing, namely, to shew that we have abundant satisfaction of the Divine authority 436of the person that declares this religion to the world.

Now because we live at a great distance from the age wherein this revelation of the gospel by Jesus Christ was made to the world, it will be requisite for our clearer proceeding in this matter, to consider distinctly these three things:

First, What evidence those who heard this doctrine of the gospel immediately from our Saviour had for his Divine authority. And this inquiry only respects the disciples of our Saviour, and the rest of the Jews to whom he preached.

Secondly, What evidence those had who received this doctrine by the preaching of the apostles. And this concerns those to whom the gospel was published by the apostles after our Saviour’s death.

Thirdly, What evidence after-ages, until the present time, have of this. And this properly concerns us, who live at a great distance from the times of the first publication of the gospel.

And according to these three differences of time, there are likewise but three ways whereby we can come to the knowledge of matter of fact; and they are all such as are capable of giving us sufficient assurance.

The first is by the testimony of our own senses; and this was the advantage of those who heard our Saviour’s doctrine, and saw his miracles.

The second by the report and relation of credible eye and ear witnesses; and this advantage those had who heard the apostles,

The third by a constant and uncontrolled relation derived down successively from one age to an other, either by word or writing, or both; which is the way whereby the ages since the apostles to this 437day have had the Christian religion derived down to them.

First, To consider what evidence those who heard the doctrine of the gospel immediately from our Saviour himself might have of his Divine authority. Now there are but four ways that I can at present imagine (setting aside an internal revelation in every man’s mind) whereby men may be sufficiently satisfied of the Divine authority of any person.

I. If it be prophesied of him, and foretold by persons divinely inspired, that God would send such an one as his messenger and prophet into the world, and afterward such a person comes, to whom all the circumstances of those prophecies do agree.

II. By the testimony of an immediate voice from heaven.

III. By a power of working miracles.

IV. By the gift of prophecy, proved and made good by the accomplishment of his own predictions.

Now I shall shew that those who lived in our Saviour’s time, and conversed with him, were capable of satisfaction concerning his Divine authority all these four ways. I shall begin with the

I. First, They were capable of being eye-witnesses that Christ was the great prophet and messenger of God, the Messias prophesied of and foretold in the Old Testament. And here I do reasonably take for granted the Divine authority of the Old Testament, and that the prophecies therein contained are of Divine inspiration; because those to whom our Saviour ordinarily preached, were only the Jews, who acknowledged the Divine authority of those books; and therefore the accomplishment of those prophecies in the person of our Saviour, must needs be a satisfactory argument to them, that he was the Messias foretold.

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Now to shew that the disciples of our Saviour, and the rest of the Jews, were capable of receiving full satisfaction in this, that Jesus Christ was the Messias prophesied of in the Old Testament, I shall proceed in these steps:

1. That the prophecies of the Old Testament fix a time for the coming of the Messias; they give certain marks and signs whereby it may be known when the Messias would come; as, that he should come when the government should utterly be lost from Judah: (Gen. xlix. 10.) “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah till Shiloh come;” by whom the ancient Jews did understand the Messias; and nothing but plain malice against Christ, and the Christian religion, makes the modern Jews to depart herein from the sense of their ancient masters. That he should come before the destruction of the second temple; (Hag. ii. 6-9.) “For thus saith the Lord of hosts, Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, and the Desire of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts.” From whence it is plain, that this house should remain when “the Desire of all nations,” that is, the Messias (according to the interpretation of the ancient Jews) should come, and his presence should be the glory of this second temple, and make it excel the first. And much to the same purpose; (Mai. iii. 1.) “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me; and the Lord, whom ye seek, (that is, 439the Messias) shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: Behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” That he should come at the end of so many weeks of years, “from the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem, “and after so many weeks of years should be cut off, and after that “the city of Jerusalem and sanctuary should be destroyed and made desolate,” (Dan. ix. 24 27.) So that you see the prophecies of the Old Testament do fix and ascertain the time of the Messias coming, both by infallible marks and signs, concomitant and consequent, and by an exact computation of years.

2. That the time fixed by those prophecies for the coming of the Messias is already past. And this appears, in that all those marks and signs, which it was foretold should accompany and follow the coming of the Messias, are come to pass, and the time limited for the coming of the Messias is long since expired.

For, (1.) The sceptre is long since departed from Judah. The Jews are now dispersed among all nations, their government lost, their families confounded, insomuch that they do not at this day know those of the tribe of Judah from others. At the captivity, the government was not utterly lost, for they had a prince of the captivity; or at least it was interrupted but for seventy years, and then it was restored to them again: but now the sceptre hath been departed, and the government lost for sixteen hundred years.

(2.) The second temple is destroyed, to which it was foretold, that “the Desire of all nations should come.”

(3.) The city is destroyed and made desolate, 440which was foretold should be “after the cutting off of the Messias.”

(4.) The “seventy weeks of years are accomplished” and expired long since, which were to begin from “the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem,” and to end at the coming of the “Messias the Prince.” And whether we fix the beginning of these weeks in the first or second year of Cyrus, or in the reign of one of the Dariuses or Artaxerxeses (for by universal consent it must begin in some of them) it matters not to my present purpose: for wherever it be fixed, these weeks are long since expired.

3. And consequently the Messias is already come. For if the predictions of the Old Testament be true, which limit his coming to a certain time, which is fixed both by infallible marks, and by an account of years; I say, if these predictions be true, that he should come at such a time, and that time is past, then he is already come.

The Jews seek to evade the force of this argument by this pitiful shift, that the promises and predictions of the Messias were not absolute, but conditional; that is, he should come at such a time, if the sins and impenitency of men did not hinder. To this I answer,

(1.) This grants that the time for the coming of the Messias is past.

(2.) The reason that they give why God hath deferred the accomplishment of those prophecies and promises, is, because of the impenitency and wickedness of the people of the Jews at that time; which will agree very well with the history of the gospel, and give us a very good account how they came to reject the Messias; because they were so wicked, 441and their unbelief and impenitency were so great at that time.

(3.) There is no such condition any where expressed in any of those prophecies.

(4.) It is unreasonable that there should be such a condition; that the impenitency of men should hinder the coming of him, who was to bring the world to repentance, that is, to do that on his part which is sufficient to that end.

(5.) Nothing could bring the veracity of God into question more, than to make such predictions conditional, as, by the concurrent testimony of so many prophets, have the time of their accomplishment so punctually defined, and have not either a condition expressly fixed to them, or in the nature of the thing necessarily implied: and if this were not so, anyone might pretend to be a true prophet, though the event proved never so contrary to his prediction.

(6.) It appears out of the books of the Jews to have been a constant tradition among them, that the Messias should come when the state of the people was most degenerate, and there was the greatest corruption and dissolution of manners among them. And if this be so, then their wickedness and impenitency could be no obstacle and impediment to the fulfilling of the promises and predictions, concerning the Messias.

I should have added in the next place, that the prophecies and promises in the Old Testament concerning the Messias, do all exactly, both as to the time, and all other circumstances, agree to Jesus Christ, who was born at Bethlehem, who gave him self out to be the Messias, and whom we Christians own to be so. But this I reserve for the next opportunity.

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