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SERMON CCXL.

THE EVIDENCES OF THE TRUTH OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION.

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 AM still upon the fourth evidence, which those who lived in our Saviour’s time had of his Divine authority, viz. the spirit of prophecy, proved to be in him, and made good by the accomplishment of his predictions. Four instances I have already given, and now proceed to the

Fifth and last instance I shall give of our Saviour’s prophetic spirit, viz. in those predictions which foretell the fate of the gospel in the world; what discouragements and difficulties the first publishers of the gospel should meet with from the persecutions which the powers of the world should stir up against them, and from the rising of false Christs and false prophets; what assistance they should find in the carrying on the work; and what success the gospel should have, notwithstanding the opposition that should be made against it. I shall speak briefly to these.

I. What discouragements and difficulties the first publishers of the gospel should meet with. Our Saviour foretells two great discouragements.

1. From the persecutions which the powers of the 529world should stir up against them. This our Saviour gave his disciples early notice of, when he first called them together, and sent them forth, (Matt. x. 16-18.) “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake.” And, (ver. 21, 22.) “And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake.” And that the disciples might not be surprised with this, when it should happen, as an unexpected thing, a little before his death, when he foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, he repeats this prediction to them again, as you may see, Matt. xxiv. 9. “Then they shall deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” And (Luke xxi. 12.) “But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake.”

And all this we find punctually fulfilled in those persecutions that they met with at Jerusalem, and in other places wherever they went to preach the gospel, as you may read at large in the history of the Acts of the Apostles. And afterward in the persecutions raised against the Christians by the Roman emperors, where all kinds of cruelties and tortures were exercised upon them, and the Christians killed by thousands in a day, as if they would 530have destroyed the very name of Christ out of the world, as every one knows that is acquainted with ecclesiastical history.

Particularly he foretold the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, that they should be put to death. Matt. xx. 23. saith he unto them, “Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with.” And this accordingly happened to them; for we find (Acts xii. 2.) that James was slain by Herod. Indeed St. John lived a great while after, as our Saviour foretold, (John xxi. 22.) that John should tarry till he came; that is, he should live till the destruction of Jerusalem, which is very frequently in the evangelists called “Christ’s coming;” and so he did, and at last was put to death by the sword, as St. Chrysostom saith; though Justin, Irenæus, Clemens Alexandrinus, say nothing of it; and Origen and Tertullian say he died another death.

He likewise foretold Peter what kind of death he should die; namely, that when he was old, he should be crucified: (John xxi. 18, 19.) “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.” And the evangelist adds, “This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.” And accordingly, he was crucified about forty years after, as Eusebius tells us, and several of the fathers.

2. Another great discouragement which our Saviour foretold they should meet with in the publishing of the gospel, was, from the rising of false Christs and false prophets. This our Saviour foretells, in 531the 24th of St. Matthew, verse 5-24, That many should come in his name, and should deceive many; that there should “arise false Christs and false prophets, and shew great signs and wonders; insomuch, that, if it were possible, they should deceive the very elect.” And this I have already shewn was fulfilled in those many impostors that rose up among the Jews, pretending themselves to be Messiases, and drawing many people after them, both before and after the destruction of Jerusalem; and in Simon, and the other heads of the gnostic sect, who did great prejudice to Christianity, by “turning the grace of God into wantonness,” and abusing the holy doctrine of our Saviour to all manner of licentiousness, and drawing of Christians, not only to loose and filthy practices, but to a denial of the gospel for fear of persecution, and at last to join with the heathens in the persecuting of the Christians.

II. Our Saviour likewise foretold what assistance the apostles should find in the carrying on their work. He promised that he would be with them in the preaching of the gospel, (Matt. xxviii. 20.) More particularly before his ascension, he told them that they should receive power by the coming of the Holy Ghost upon them, whereby they should be qualified to be witnesses unto him, in Judea, and Jerusalem, and Samaria, and to the utmost parts of the earth, (Acts i. 8.) And (Matt. x. 19, 20.) our Saviour promiseth that his Spirit should direct them what to say, when they should be accused before kings and governors: “When they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak: for it is not you that speak; 532but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” And again to the same purpose, he encourageth them a little before his death: (Luke xxi. 14, 15.) “Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.”

And all this we find was made good to them after our Saviour’s ascension. They were wonderfully assisted, and carried on above themselves in the preaching of the gospel. So the evangelist St. Mark tells us, (Mark xvi. 20.) that the apostles “went forth and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.” And all along in the history of the Acts, we find, that they were extraordinarily strengthened and assisted in the publishing of the gospel. And particularly our Saviour’s prediction and promise were made good to St. Stephen, of whom it is said, (Acts vi. 10.) that when he was disputing with the Jews, “they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.”

III. Our Saviour foretold also what success the gospel should have, notwithstanding all the opposition that should be made against it; that it should be “published in all nations;” (Matt. xxiv. 14.) and in despite of all the malice of the Jews, and the potent opposition that the gentiles should make against the publishers of the gospel, they should “make disciples in every nation, and bear witness unto Christ to the uttermost parts of the earth:” (Matt. xxviii. 19. and Acts i. 8.) that he would “build his church upon a rock, and the gates of hell should not prevail against it:” (Matt. xvi. 18.) and this we find was done with great success, both 533among the Jews and gentiles, as appears out of the history of the Acts of the Apostles, and other histories of the first ages of the church.

Particularly our Saviour foretold, that that act of kindness which Mary shewed to him, in anointing his head with precious ointment, should be remembered wherever the gospel was preached: (Matt. xxvi. 13.) “Verily, I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.” And accordingly this little particular history hath every where been propagated with the gospel, and the fame of it hath spread as far as the notice of Christianity.

And thus I have done with the fourth and last evidence of our Saviour’s Divine authority, namely, the prophetic spirit, which was proved to be in him, and made good by the punctual accomplishment of his predictions. I shall only shew that these in stances which I have given, are clear arguments of a prophetic spirit in our Saviour. And this will appear, if we consider these two things:

First, That all these things which our Saviour foretold, were purely contingent in respect of us, that is, there was no necessity that they should come to pass; and consequently nothing but infinite knowledge could certainly foresee that they would.

Secondly, All or most of them were not only contingent, but exceedingly unlikely; there was no probability that they should happen; and, consequently, no one could reasonably and prudently have foreseen that they would. And these two things being made out, will abundantly evidence, that the foretelling of these things doth argue a prophetic spirit in our Saviour; and consequently 534his Divine authority. Things that have necessary causes, if those causes be evident, any one may foretell that they will be; things that are probable, and likely to happen, every prudent man may reasonably conjecture that they will be, and consequently may in many cases successfully foretell them without a spirit of prophecy: but such things as in respect of us are purely contingent, and depend upon no necessary causes we know of, especially if they be withal unlikely to come to pass, no man can foretell but by the inspiration of that Spirit, whose infinite wisdom knows all things; and this is the true reason why the foretelling of future contingents hath always been looked upon as an argument of inspiration.

First, These things which our Saviour foretold were purely contingent; that is, there was no necessity in human reason that they should come to pass: and consequently no man without inspiration could certainly foretell them. Those things are said to be contingent in respect of us, which have no necessary cause that we know of; particularly those things which depend upon the will of free agents, either the will of men, or of God. And such were those things which our Saviour foretold; many of them depended upon the will of men, whether they should happen or not, supposing the permissive will of God, that is, that God had determined not to interpose and hinder them.

The death of Christ, with all the wicked and opprobrious circumstances of it, depended upon the will of men; and therefore it was a thing that no man could foresee whether it would be or not. So likewise the resistance and opposition that were made to the gospel by the persecutions of men, and 535the malice of false prophets, did depend upon the wills of men.

But many of these events depended purely upon the will of God, which no man could foreknow, unless he did reveal it to him; and if he did, this was an argument of inspiration, which is the thing we are contending for. Of this kind were the resurrection of our Saviour from the dead; his being taken up into heaven; the miraculous powers and gifts wherewith the apostles and primitive Christians were endowed; the fatal destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation, contrary to the design of those who brought it to pass; the prevalency of the gospel in the world, in despite of all opposition made against it. All these were brought to pass in a more immediate manner by the power of God, and therefore depended purely upon his will.

Secondly, Most of the things which our Saviour foretold, were not only purely contingent in respect of us, and therefore could not without inspiration be certainly foreseen; but were also exceedingly unlikely and improbable in themselves, and therefore could not so much as prudently have been conjectured. And to make this out more fully, I shall run over the several instances of our Saviour’s predictions, and shew how unlikely the things which he foretold were to have come to pass: and if this appear, it must be granted that our Saviour was a prophet.

1. Our Saviour’s prediction concerning his own death and sufferings was a thing very unlikely to have come to pass. It was very likely that the pharisees and chief priests, whose interest was so much struck at, should have malice enough against him to design his ruin; but that ever they should 536have accomplished it without a popular tumult and sedition, was very unlikely, considering the esteem and favour he had among the people. Who could have believed that the Jews, who had seen so many miracles, and received so great benefits by them, who were such admirers of his doctrine, and so astonished at it, who would have made him king, should ever have consented to have put him to death? Who could have thought that so soon after they had so unanimously brought him to Jerusalem in triumph with such hosannahs and acclamations, the same people should have been so eager to have him crucified? I know there is nothing more inconstant than the giddy and fickle multitude; nothing less to be relied upon than the opinion and applause of the people: but because the humour of the people is so uncertain, therefore, for this reason, it was hard to prophesy what they would do. And nothing was more improbable than that any should certainly fore tell where this humour would at last fix and settle. Nay, it was very unlikely that they, who had been raised to so great and just an esteem of him, from a clear conviction of his innocence and holiness, and of the Divine power which attended him, should have had either the wickedness or the confidence to have gone about to compass the death of so innocent and Divine a person.

And it is very remarkable, that this was a thing so incredible to the disciples, that though our Saviour did several times, in the plainest words that could be, tell them of his death and sufferings, yet they could not understand it; that is, it could by no means sink into them, they could not apprehend that ever any such thing should come to pass; (Mark ix. 31, 32.) “For he taught his disciples, and said 537unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him, and after that he is killed he shall rise the third day. But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him.” And (Luke ix. 43-45.) after our Saviour had done a great miracle, it is said, “they were all amazed at the mighty power of God: but while they wondered every one at all things which Jesus did, he said unto his disciples, Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men. But they under stood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not; and they feared to ask him of that saying.” They looked upon it as a thing incredible, that he, who did such works, and was at tended with such Divine power, should ever be “delivered into the hands of men:” if men should be so malicious as to design his death, yet it was not credible that God should give up such a person into their hands. And again, a little before his sufferings, he inculcates this more particularly upon them, (Luke xviii. 31-34.) “Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully en treated, and spit upon; and they shall scourge him, and put him to death.” And then it is said of the disciples, that “they understood none of these things, and this saving was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.” What was the matter? Could any thing have been said in plainer words, than our Saviour’s declaring this to them? No, certainly, they understood very well the meaning 538of those words; for it is said, (Matt. xvii. 23.) that “when he said this to them, they were exceeding sorry,” they were very much troubled to hear him say this; they understood very well what the words signified, and they were troubled at the first appearance and literal sense of them; but it seems they took them to be a parable, and to have some allegorical meaning hidden under them; for they could not imagine, that ever they should be literally true. And, that this was their apprehension, seems to be sufficiently intimated by both the evangelists, St. Mark and St. Luke, who, after they had told us that “the disciples understood not this saying,” they immediately add, that “they feared to ask Christ of this saying;” that is, they did not understand whether they were to take this saying in the obvious and literal sense of it; or to look upon it as an allegory, or a parable that had some hidden sense; but being troubled at the saying, because the literal and obvious sense had a great deal of horror, they were afraid to ask our Saviour the meaning of it, (as they used always to ask him the meaning of his parables) for fear he should tell them that he intended it literally. Now from this it appears, how unlikely it seemed to the disciples, that our Saviour should suffer such things as he foretold of himself.

2. Our Saviour’s predictions concerning his rising again out of the grave the third day; concerning his being taken up into heaven; concerning the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the apostles, in such miraculous powers and gifts after his ascension, were all things very unlikely and incredible, because so exceeding strange, and above the common course of nature. We look upon it as a wonderful thing for a man certainly to foretell an ordinary thing: but 539if any man should tell us, that, after he was dead, and had Iain three days in the grave, he should rise again, and be visibly taken up into heaven, and from thence bestow miraculous gifts upon men, and this should accordingly come to pass; it were impossible not to think this man a prophet.

3. Our Saviour’s prediction concerning the fatal destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation, was very unlikely. But this I spake to at large, when I explained the prophecy.

4. The fate which our Saviour foretold the gospel should have in the world, was a thing very improbable. That it should meet with great opposition and persecution was not strange; nothing being more likely than that a religion which was new to the world, so contrary to the principles of those who had been educated in another religion, and so opposite to the interests of men, should be opposed and resisted to the utmost: but then there are these three things very strange, which our Saviour foretold should attend the publication of the gospel.

(1.) That an action of no greater consideration than that was of Mary’s anointing our Lord’s head, and done privately, should be celebrated through the world in all ages; and the memory of it should be as far, and as long propagated, as the most famous actions of the greatest prince that ever was in the world.

(2.) This was strange and unlikely, which our Saviour likewise foretold, that false Christs, and false prophets and teachers, should arise after his death; that, after the Jews had been so severe to our Saviour, for giving out himself to be the Messias, though he gave such convincing evidence of it, this should not deter counterfeits from assuming so dangerous 540a person; and that when Christianity was persecuted, there should arise false apostles, and false teachers, that should pretend to Christianity, when it was so odious a profession, that any should be found that should dissemble in a matter so full of hazard and danger; this was very strange and unlikely.

But, because this prediction of our Saviour’s concerning false Christs and false prophets is aspersed by the atheists, and particularly by Vaninus, as one of the most cunning and crafty actions that our Saviour did; as if, after he had let himself into a reputation and esteem in the world, he had designed by this prediction to bolt the door against all others; therefore it will be requisite that I speak a little more particularly to this.

1. It is acknowledged by the atheists themselves, particularly by Vaninus, that it does not appear that our Saviour carried on any worldly design. Why then should he be suspected of it in this matter, which is capable of a good interpretation, when his whole life, and all the actions of it, do clear him of any such suspicion? But because it is said, that though he carried on no design for riches and power, yet he had a deep design to gain reputation and fame to himself in after-ages; therefore I shall add one or two considerations more, to shew how unreasonable, and how perfectly malicious, this jealousy is.

2. Let us consider, then, that this prediction of his would either be accomplished or not; but whether it was, or was not, it can be no argument of any design of vain-glory. If it had not come to pass (as I have shewn it was very unlikely it should, especially within the compass of the time which he had prefixed for it) then he had been a false prophet, and 541so he had lost his reputation, by the very means whereby he intended to have established it, which I do not understand the craft and cunning of: for either he knew certainly that it would come to pass, or not; if he did, he was a true prophet; if he did not, he did not do politicly, in putting his reputation upon such a hazard.

3. If we suppose him, as this objection does, to have been an impostor, and consequently not to have believed his own doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and another life after this; what an apparent madness had it been to neglect the present advantages of this world, which he was capable of enjoying; and to lay out for a fame and reputation, after he was dead and extinguished, and consequently when he should not be capable of having any sense and enjoyment of it!

And the instance of the Romans, who ventured their lives out of vain-glory, to get a name after they were dead, will avail nothing in this case: because it plainly appears from all the heathen writers, that they did this upon a presumption of their immortality, and a persuasion that they should live in another world, and enjoy the pleasure of the fame by which their names should be celebrated in this world: but had they not been persuaded of this, it would have been the greatest folly in the world, to have ventured their lives to gain a fame after death, and to be spoken of with honour when they were not, and consequently could take no pleasure in it. This may suffice to be said in short, to this malicious and absurd objection. But,

(3.) This was strange and unlikely, that the gospel should have such success in the world. And the more likely it was that it should meet with so much 542opposition and resistance, the more unlikely was it that it should prevail, especially by such means and in such manner as it did; that a few unlearned men, destitute of secular arts and learning, opposed by all the wit and power that the world could exert, should be able in the space of a few years to propagate and plant all over the known world a doctrine so despised and persecuted, so contrary to the almost invincible prejudice of education in another religion, so opposite to those two great governors of the world, the lusts and the interests of men; nothing could have been foretold so unlikely and improbable as this is; especially if we take in this, that the chief instrument of spreading this doctrine in the world was the fiercest opposer and persecutor of it, I mean St. Paul, who, by a light and voice from heaven, was taken off from persecuting Christianity, and became the most active and zealous instrument of its propagation. The wonderful success and prevalency of the gospel by such means, and in such circumstances of difficulty, and potent opposition made against it, are a plain indication, that this doctrine was assisted and countenanced from Heaven; that “it was of God, and therefore could not be overthrown.” Nothing but the mighty force of truth could, naked and unarmed, have done such wonders in the world.

And thus I have, I hope, fully shewn that those who lived in the age of our Saviour, were capable of having sufficient assurance, that Jesus Christ, who declared the Christian religion to the world, was sent of God: from the prophecies concerning him; the testimonies that were given him by an immediate voice from heaven; the miracles that were wrought by him, and on his behalf; 543and by the prophetic spirit, that gave evidence of his inspiration. And if any one doubt whether he gave these testimonies of his Divine authority to the world, let him consider that it is almost as great a miracle as any of those, that a doctrine preached by one that gave no testimony of his Divine authority to the world, should be so strangely propagated, and maintain its possession so long in the world; I say, let him consider this, and methinks this should convince him of the truth of Christianity.

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