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THE EXCELLENCY AND UNIVERSALITY OF THE CHRISTIAN REVELATION, WITH THE SIN AND DANGER OF REJECTING IT.
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.—John iii. 19.
IN discoursing on these words, I have already considered the first thing observable in them, viz. The description which is here given of our Saviour and his doctrine; they are called a light: “Light is come,” that is, the Son of God, bringing the doctrine and knowledge of salvation to the world; it being one of the first and most obvious properties of light to discover and make visible itself and other things: “That which makes all things manifest is light;” and accordingly I have observed, that the Christian religion hath made a clear discovery to us of many great and important things, of which the world was either ignorant or doubtful before: and likewise that it brought great evidence along with it of its own divinity, and that it was from God.
I proceed now to the second thing observable in the text, viz. The universal influence of this light: “Light is come into the world.” The doctrine of the gospel was designed for the illumination and instruction, not of one particular place and nation, but of the whole world. Thus our Saviour and his 586doctrine are described by old Simeon, (Luke ii. 30-32.) “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people: a light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” To the gentiles, who were before in darkness, he is said to be a light: but to the Jews, who had the light of Divine revelation in some degree before, he is said to be a glory; that is, a brighter and more glorious light; “A light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” And (John i. 9.) he is called “the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world,” that is, which was sent into the world for the illumination of all mankind. And (John viii. 12.) he says of himself, “I am the light of the world.”
Now that the revelation of the gospel by Jesus Christ was designed for the whole world, for the instruction, and comfort, and benefit of all mankind, I shall endeavour to make out by these three steps:
I. In that it is very credible, that God would some time or other make such a revelation of his will, as might be sufficient to direct and bring man kind to happiness.
II. That before the revelation of the gospel by Jesus Christ, no such general and universal declaration of God’s will had been made to the world.
III. That the revelation of the gospel hath all the marks and characters of an universal revelation, and was certainly by God designed for that purpose.
I. It is very credible, that God would some time or other, when his infinite wisdom and goodness should think it most fit and seasonable, make such a revelation of his will to the world, as might be sufficient to direct and bring mankind to happiness. 587The consideration of the Divine goodness is very apt to induce such a persuasion; for what more reasonable to believe concerning God, than that he, who is good to all, and the common Father of all mankind, not the God of the Jews only, but the God of the gentiles also (as St. Paul argues to this purpose, in his Epistle to the Romans,) should some time or other, in pity and compassion of the ignorant and degenerate and helpless condition of mankind, provide some universal remedy, by such a general revelation of his will, as was every way fitted and calculated to be of universal use and benefit to direct all men in the way to happiness, and if they be not wanting to themselves to bring them to it; that, in the doublings and uncertainties of mankind concerning the will of God, and the rule of their duty, he should give an universal law, equally obliging all men, to be a perfect and standing rule and measure of their duty in all times and places, and which should never stand in need of any addition, amendment, or alteration.
For why should we think that God, who is so equally related to us all, should confine the effects of his goodness to a few persons, or a small part of mankind, to one particular family or nation? That he, whose bounty is so equal and unconfined in the disposing of temporal blessings, should be so partial and narrow in the bestowing of his greatest and best gifts, those spiritual blessings which concern our souls, and our happiness to all eternity? How can we in reason imagine, that he who “causeth the sun to rise, and his rain to fall,” upon the whole world, should vouchsafe that great and most glorious light of his Divine and heavenly truth only to a few, and shower down his spiritual blessings 588upon a small part of the earth, leaving all the rest of the world a wilderness, and a land of darkness? Thus to think of God is no ways agreeable to those large apprehensions which mankind have always had of the goodness of God, by no means honourable to the Divine nature; and therefore it is most highly probable, that God should one time or other make such a revelation of his will to mankind, as is of universal concernment and advantage.
II. I shall shew that before the revelation of the gospel by Jesus Christ, no such general and universal declaration of God’s will had been made to the world. All the revelations which God had made to men before, were either made to some particular persons upon particular occasions, or to one particular nation and people, I mean that of the Jews. Those which were made to particular persons were so narrow and limited, and of so private concernment, that they signified nothing to the generality of man kind; nor could the knowledge of them, with any degree of evidence, have been propagated. As for that revelation which was made to the Jews, it was, both in its nature and design, and in all the circumstances of it, plainly limited to one particular place and nation. And as God discovered no intention, so neither were there any proper means and endeavours used to proclaim and propagate it, as an universal law and institution obligatory to all mankind.
From the nature and all the circumstances of the Jewish law, it clearly appears to have been designed for a municipal law and constitution, for the governing of one particular people and nation, within a certain territory and spot of ground, to which a great part of the precepts of it is peculiarly limited, 589and could be exercised and practised no where else; and not intended to take in and oblige all the nations of the earth. For when this law was first given, God plainly directs it to the people of Israel, beginning it in this form of words, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one God;” and “I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, and out of the house of bondage;” and he frequently tells them, that he had separated them from all the people upon the face of the earth, to be a peculiar people to himself; to be governed by peculiar civil laws, and by a particular way of religious worship: for which reason the apostle calls the Jewish law and religion “a wall of partition, which did separate and divide them from all other people; so that even towards the strangers that lived among them, they were not bound in several cases to observe the same laws towards them which they were obliged strictly to observe towards their brethren; as in the case of usury, and remitting debts, and releasing of servants.
Besides that, a great part of their religion was confined to a particular place, which God should appoint, and which at last by his appointment was fixed to the temple at Jerusalem, to which they were obliged to resort thrice every year; which it was impossible for other nations to do. Not to mention that the great promises and threatening* of that law were, of plenty and prosperity, or of famine and affliction in that land. To all which we may add, that a great part of the laws and ordinances of that religion, was peculiarly fitted and suited to the genius and inclination of that people, and made in condescension to their capacities and prejudices, to the obstinacy and hardness of their hearts.590
It is very clear, likewise, that God did not design to spread and propagate this law any farther than that people; since no means were appointed by him, no endeavours were used, to that end: no apostles and prophets were sent forth to proclaim and publish this law to other nations; nay, the providence of God seems rather purposely to have designed to conceal them and their law, till the time drew near of God’s revealing to the world a more perfect institution, which should have its rise and beginning there, and from thence be published over the world, according to that of the prophet, that “the law should come out of Sion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem:” but the law which was given by Moses to the Jews was, for many ages in a great measure concealed from the rest of the world. So the Psalmist tells us, (Psal. cxlvii. 19, 20.) “He sheweth his word unto Jacob; his statutes and judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them.” Nay, on the contrary, God had provided, by several strict and severe laws, that the people of Israel should have as little commerce and conversation as was possible with other nations; a plain sign he never intended their religion to be propagated among them; but this is so manifest from the nature of the Jewish religion, and all the circumstances of its constitution, that I need not to labour any farther in the proof of it. I proceed therefore to shew, in the
III. Third and last place, That the revelation of the gospel hath all the marks and characters of an universal revelation, and was certainly designed by God for that end. And this will clearly appear, by considering these four things:—591
1. The person by whom God was pleased to make this revelation to the world.
2. The nature and design of it.
3. The prophecies and predictions concerning it. And,
4. The remarkable countenance and assistance which were given from heaven to the first publishers of it.
1. If we consider the person by whom God was pleased to make this revelation to the world, we cannot think that God had any less design therein, than the recovery and reformation of mankind. Now the person employed by God to make this revelation of his will, was the eternal and only-begotten Son of God, assuming our nature and appearing in it; I say, the eternal and only-begotten Son of God. So the apostle to the Hebrews describes him, and there by distinguished! him from all the former prophets, by whom, in former ages, God had made particular revelations of himself to men: (Heb. i. 1-3.) “God, who at sundry times (or by several parts and degrees), and in divers manners, spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds: who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power.” What a character is here of the greatest and most glorious person that ever was employed to men! a messenger of God to man; and who so fit as the Son of God, who came from the bosom of his Father, to reveal his will to all mankind? Who so proper as he, who made the world, and upholds and preserves it, to be sent upon so great an errand, as the recovery 592and salvation of the whole world? And, on the contrary, who so unfit, as this great and glorious person, to be employed in any less and lower design, than that which was of general concernment to the benefit and happiness of all mankind? So great an ambassador was not fit to be sent to treat of any thing less than an universal peace, and the reconciliation of the whole world.
And then, if we consider him as assuming human nature, and thereby equally related to all mankind, it was fit he should be concerned for that whole race of creatures to whom he had so nearly allied himself, and whose nature he had vouchsafed to assume. It became him, who became man, to shew himself a lover of mankind, to reveal the will of God, and the way to happiness, to all men, to be an universal teacher and lawgiver; that by the direction and doctrine, and the obedience of his laws, “all men might come to the knowledge of the truth, and be saved.”
2. If we consider the nature of this revelation, it will appear to be designed for the general use and benefit of mankind. The matters revealed, whether concerning God or ourselves, this world or the other, are of universal concernment. The laws of this religion are not calculated for any particular place or nation, one more than another; and the arguments and encouragements to the obedience of these laws, are equally fitted to work upon all capacities and conditions, and apt to affect them alike, because they equally touch the interests and concernments of all men: for since all men are equal in the immortal duration of their souls, and equally obnoxious to the judgment of God in another world, it concerns all men alike to understand their duty, 593and the way to gain the favour of God, and thereby to escape the endless and intolerable miseries, and to obtain the unspeakable and everlasting happiness, of another world: and to direct, and excite men hereto, the whole revelation of the gospel, and the doctrines, and all the laws of it, do plainly tend. There is nothing in the Christian religion but what is fit for all men to know and practise, in order to their present peace and comfort, and their future and eternal happiness; and these things surely are of universal and equal concernment to mankind.
3. The predictions and prophecies concerning the Messias, and the doctrine which should be delivered to the world, do plainly shew, that this revelation should be universal. In the first promise to Abraham, it is plainly foretold, that in his seed, that is, as the Jews always understood it, in the Messias, all the nations of the earth should be blessed. And there are innumerable predictions in the prophets of the Old Testament to this purpose. I shall mention but a few of many: (Psal. ii. 8.) “Ask of me, (saith God to his Son) and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” Psal. lxxii. 17. speaking of the Messias, “Men shall be blessed in him; all nations shall call him Blessed.” (Isa. xlix. 6.) “I will give thee (says God there concerning him) for a light to lighten the gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
4. And lastly, This revelation was actually published to the world, God giving remarkable countenance and assistance from heaven to the first preachers and publishers of it.
The apostles of our Lord and Saviour, in virtue of his commission, and by his express command 594just before his ascension, went forth and published his doctrine to the world. Having, upon the day of Pentecost, according to his promise which he made to them before his death, and renewed to them after his resurrection, when he was going to his Father; I say, having, according to his express promise, received the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, they began to publish the gospel first to the Jews; and, being rejected by the greatest part of them, they preached it to the gentiles; and as a confirmation of the doctrine which they preached, they witnessed the resurrection of Christ from the dead, as the great evidence of the truth of his doctrine; and to give confirmation to this testimony, God enabled them to work miracles, and particularly to raise the dead to life, which was a confirmation of their testimony beyond all exception: and in order to the more speedy and effectual propagation of this doctrine, God was pleased to work a strange miracle never wrought upon any occasion before or since; he endowed the apostles and first preachers of Christianity with a power of speaking all languages, which they had occasion in their travels to make use of, without ever having studied or learned them; and this miraculous gift was common to all the apostles, and continued till the gospel was published by them in most parts of the then known world; greater evidence than which God cannot be imagined to give of his design to communicate the knowledge of this doctrine universally, and to all nations: and if it was rejected in some places, and the progress of it obstructed in others, this doth not hinder but that God designed it to be universally known, and that it is of its own nature fit to be a law to all mankind; and God, who, in his secret 595counsel, bath not thought fit as yet to grant the knowledge of this doctrine of salvation to some parts of the world, may in his due time send this light into those dark places of the earth, which are full of the habitations of barbarousness and cruelty, and grant the knowledge of salvation to them. In the mean time, what cause have we to bless God, to whom this light came so soon, and who have enjoyed it so long! “Let us walk in the light, while we have it, lest darkness overtake us.”
And thus much may suffice to have been spoken of the second particular which I observed in the text, namely, the Universal influence of this light; “light is come into the world.”
I proceed to speak briefly to the third particular I mentioned, viz. the excellency and advantages of this doctrine of the Christian religion, above any other doctrine or institution, even that of the Jewish religion, which was likewise immediately from God. They are all but darkness in comparison of it. “Light is come into the world.” But in this I have in a great measure prevented myself, in what I have already discoursed upon the two former heads, and therefore I shall say the less upon it: for by what I have already said, it will in good measure appear, how obscure and imperfect the discoveries both of natural light, and of the Jewish religion were, in comparison of the bright revelation of the gospel; and that, both concerning the nature of God, and the worship which is most suitable and acceptable to him; and likewise concerning the rule of our duty, and the rewards and punishments of another life, which are the great motives and arguments to obedience; and which, as to the greatest part of mankind, both Jews and gentiles, had but a 596very weak and faint influence before. And how could it well be otherwise, since the apprehensions of mankind concerning these things were dark and doubtful!
What gross and imperfect notions the heathens had concerning God, we may judge by their universal and abominable idolatry. How uncertain their morality was (which yet was the best part of heathenism) we may see by their endless differences and disputes concerning moral duties. How wavering they were concerning the immortality of souls, and the rewards of another world, we may judge by the different and contrary opinions of the greatest philosophers about these points. So that heathen ism was plainly defective, both in the knowledge of God, which is the great foundation of all religion, and the precepts of a good life, which are the rule of it; and the assurance of immortality, which is the great motive to religion, and the only solid comfort and support of the mind of man under the evils and afflictions of life, and against the fears of death.
And the Jewish religion, likewise, though it had manifold advantages of paganism, yet was it very short and imperfect in many of these respects which I have mentioned: besides that, it gave no clear and well-grounded assurance of the pardon and forgiveness of sins; and the rewards of another world were very obscurely revealed under that dispensation. So that well might the apostle, upon comparison of the law and the gospel, say, “The law made nothing perfect: but the bringing in of a better hope did.”
And as for the evidence which those religions had, paganism pretended to no other authority for their idolatrous worship, but the long custom and practice 597of the world. This Symmachus, the heathen, insists upon, instead of all other arguments: Sequimur majores nostros, qui feliciter secuti sunt suos: “We follow our forefathers, who happily followed theirs.”
The Jewish religion, indeed, produced good evidence that it was from God; but it is very destitute of arguments to prove, that it was either an universal, or perfect, or final revelation of God’s will to mankind; nay, it was expressly said in their law, that God would raise up another prophet among them, to whom they were to hearken, and to be obedient in all things. The Messias was plainly foretold, and spoken of, both in the law and the prophets, as one that was to be the author of a more perfect law and institution, which in due time was to be revealed to the whole world, “to be a light to lighten the gentiles,” as well as to be the glory of the people of Israel: and accordingly, “in the fulness of time,” he came, and by a greater confirmation of miracles, than the Jewish religion had, he put a period to that weak and imperfect institution; and to shew that the law of Moses was at an end, God hath now, for above sixteen hundred years, taken away their place and nation, destroyed their temple, and laid waste their country, and dispersed them over the world; so that they are not capable of observing a great part of their religion. By all which it appears, that whatever was in the world before, was but darkness, in comparison of the glorious light of the gospel; so that well might our evangelist say, “This light was the true light, which coming into the world, enlightens every man:” “the true light,” by way of excellency and eminency; as our Saviour calls himself “the true bread which 598came down from heaven,” so the doctrine of the gospel is called “the true light,” in opposition to those false or imperfect lights which were in the world before. This doctrine of the Christian religion is a perfect, and therefore a final discovery of the will of God to man; because it can receive no amendment, therefore it shall never have any change or alteration.
I will conclude this particular with that inference which the apostle to the Hebrews makes, from the consideration of the perfection and unchangeableness of the gospel dispensation, which he calls “a kingdom which cannot be shaken:” (Heb. xii. 28, 29.) “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be removed, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” The better, and more perfect, and more unchangeable, our religion is, the better we should be; the more steadfastly should we persist in the sincere profession and practice of it: and if we do not, the heavier will be our condemnation; “for our God is a consuming fire.” I proceed to the
Fourth particular observable in the text, viz. The great unreasonableness of rejecting this doctrine of the gospel. It is to make the absurdest judgment and choice possible, to prefer darkness before light. “Men loved darkness rather than light;” that is, they chose rather to continue in their former ignorance, than to entertain the most clear and perfect discovery of God’s will to mankind. And what can be more absurd and unreasonable, when the difference is so palpable, and the choice so plain? That man is blind that cannot distinguish light from darkness; and he is very perverse and 599obstinate, who, seeing the difference between them, will choose darkness rather than light. Such was the unreasonableness of those who rejected the gospel when it was revealed to the world; since no thing is more clear to an impartial and considerate man, than that the Christian religion is the best and most perfect institution, of the greatest and most universal concernment to mankind, that ever was revealed to men; and our blessed Saviour, who was the author and founder of this religion, gave greater evidence that he came from God, than any other prophet or teacher that ever was; and the worship of God which this religion prescribes, is most agreeable to his nature, being a spiritual and a reasonable service, fit for men to give, and for God to accept. In a word, the precepts of the gospel are more excellent in themselves, and better calculated for the happiness and perfection of human nature; and the motives and arguments to persuade men to the obedience of these precepts, more powerful than those of any other religion that ever yet appeared in the world.
So that the difference between the Christian religion and all others that have been received and professed in the world, is so plain and apparent, that nothing but passion, or prejudice, or interest, or some other faulty principle, can hinder any man from yielding his assent to Christianity. The comparison is almost equal to that betwixt light and darkness; and therefore, our Saviour had great reason to speak so very severely of the infidelity of the Jews, who rejected such a doctrine, propounded to them with so much evidence and advantage. And because the Jews are the great Scripture pattern of perverse infidelity and opposition to the 600truth, it will not he amiss to take our estimate and measure of the unreasonableness of this spirit and temper from the properties and characters which we find of it in the Jews, most of which do still inseparably accompany the spirit of infidelity wherever it is; that as face answers face in water, so does the infidelity of this present age resemble that of the Jews in our Saviour’s time, in all those perverse and unreasonable qualities which did then attend them; and therefore I shall take notice of some of the chief of them, as I find them dispersed up and down in the history of the New Testament. But this, and what remains to be said upon this argument, I must reserve for another discourse.601
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