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Luke ii. 10.
—Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.—
HiT^HE coming of the Messiah is always foretold JsL in Scripture as a period of joy and triumph. The Patriarchs rejoiced when they saw his day afar off. All the Prophets take fire at this great occasion, and rise into strains of rapture when they describe the glory of the latter days, and the happiness of the Messiah's reign. In the most beautiful colours they paint its arrival as a new era of happy time, and as a general jubilee to the world. They represent it as accompanied with universal peace and prosperity ; as effecting a renovation, the return of innocence to earth, and the descent of God to dwell with men. "In those days the wilderness and the solitary place "shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom "like the rose. They shall blossom abundantly ; and "rejoice with joy and with singing. The glory of "Lebanon shall be given unto it; the excellency of "Carmel and Sharon. The parched ground shall "become a pool, and the dry land springs of water. "In the wilderness shall waters break out, and "streams in the desert.—The light of the moon "shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of "the sun shall be sevenfold." When the heavens and the earth at first arose in beauty from the hands of the Creator, the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. In like manner, when these new heavens and this new earth appeared, all the angelic host broke forth into strains of gratulation, ascribing glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and good-wiii towards fallen men.
Unhappily, the Jews, whb were a gross and carnal people, misinterpreted the prophecies concerning !he kingdom of the Messiah, took the magnificent style of prophecy for literal description, and fondly imagined that these glad tidings of great joy announced temporal and earthly blessings. They looked for no better a country than the land of Canaan, and expected no other redemption than to be redeemed from the Roman yoke. The veil is now takert off from the prophets, and we discern the Gospel, not as meant to procure us possession of the earth, and dominion over the nations, but as intended to make us partakers of eternal life, and to give us an inheritance in the heavens, which is incorruptible, undefiled, and fadeth not away.
The Gospel, then, is a system of spiritual joy. And, in treating of it in this light, 1 shall, in the Jirst place, consider it as a method of instruction, enlightening the darkness, and dispelling the ignorance of human nature: In the second place, As a plan of redemption from the guilt of sin : In the third place* As a scheme of comfort and relief during the afflictions of life ; and, in the fourth place, As a system of consolation against the fear of death. Here are comprehended all the evils of human life; and if we find that the Gospel brings us relief from all of them, then it will appear to contain indeed, " Good tidings "of great joy.'
I am to shew you, then, in the first place, That, as a system of joy, Christianity enlightens the natural darkness of the mind, and gives us all requisite information concerning the truths necessary to our happiness.
Curiosity, or the desire of knowledge, is one of the earliest emotions of the human soul. No sooner does the mind arrive at the exercise of thought, than it proceeds to examine the objects around it, and to extend its researches wider and wider over the whole circuit of nature. One of the most obvious (dictates of reason is the belief of a God. Tnere are so many indications of wisdom and contrivance in the works of nature ; such striking displays of order and beauty; such splendid demonstrations of a plan established, that an intelligent mind is at once recognized, and a Deity, though invisible in himself, js everywhere seen in his works. Accordingly, all nations have agreed in acknowledging and worshipping a supreme Power, the Creator and Governor of all things. But although the light of nature reveals to us the existence of a God, it gives us no materials whereon to form an opinion concerning his attributes. A mixed dispensation of things seems to prevail in the world. There are many indications of goodness, but there are also many appearances of evil. Providence seems equally to favour the good and the bad. All things come alike to all, and there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked. Reason is at a loss what conclusion to draw from such contradictory appearances, and, amidst the clouds and the darkness that surround the paths of the Almighty, cannot discern that justice and judgment are for ever the habitation of his throne. But a state of uncertainty and suspense, especially about an object of such great importance, is the most deplorable of all situations. To live and to die in ignorance and uncertainty, whether the Governor of the world be a tyrant or a friend, whether we are under the misrule of hate, or the government of love, must sit heavy upon the candid and inquisitive mind, and give additional smart to all the sorrows which embitter human life. What beams of joy will break in upon such benighted minds, when the Sun of Righteousness appearing, scatters the clouds of ignorance and error, and lets in the pure light of heaven upon the darkness of the human condition? To make the discoveries of the Gospel to such persons, is to reveal to them a father and a friend. To discover that God is love; that he is a God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself: that he administers the affairs of the universe so as to issue in the general good; that he is for ever employing the attributes of his nature, his infinite wisdom, his boundless goodness, and his Almighty power, to favour the cane of righteousness, and to promote the happiness of the good throughout the whole creation: Such views of Deity as these, fill the mind with joy and with consolation. The weary traveller has now got a shelter from the storm. He has tbund a sanctuary in the time of trouble, and he looks to the heavens from 'whence cometh his aid. The heart is fully at ease while it rests on him that made it, and reposes with perfect peace under the protection of everlasting arms.
Further, Man in a state of nature is equally ignorant concerning himself. He finds himself here a stranger in a wide world, where the powers and operations of nature are very imperfectly known; where both the causes and the issues of things are wrapt up in much darkness, and where he can only form uncertain conjectures from whence he comes, for what purpose he was brought into being, and whither he is to go when he departs from hence. If he looks back to his origin, he is lost in uncertainty. Born to be at the head of the interior creation, and to be the masterpiece of the Almighty in this lower world, he hath at the same time appetites and passions, the abuse of which degrades him below the level of the brutes that perish. His dignity and his meanness; the excellence of his frame, and the degeneracy of his nature; the elevation of his understanding, and the corruption of his heart,—form a contrast which the philosophy of ages could never reconcile. How could such a creature come into the world? If he be the work of a wise and good being, whence come the seeds of evil.that are latent in his heart? If he be the production of malignant beings, whence the seeds of goodness, and the lineaments of heaven, which, however obscured, are to be found in his frame? Whatever supposition we take, we are beset with insuperable difficulties., But, change the scene, and look forWard to his future lot, and he is still more distressed and forlorn* He sees his friends and companions, one after another, continually disappearing. But whither do they go when they depart? Have they withdrawn into everlasting darkness, or do they still act in another scene? Is the beam of heaven for ever extinguished? Is the celestial fire which glowed in their hearts for ever quenched, and naught but ashes left to mingle with the earth, and be blown around the world? Are their hopes limited to this life? Or, beyond the horizon which terminates their present prospects, does a more beautiful and a more perfect scene present itself, where the wicked shall cease from troubling, and where the weary shall be at rest? If we consult our affections, we will be inclined to believe in a future state. Nature is loath to quit its hold. The heart still wishes to be kind to the friends whom once it loved* Imagination takes the hint, and indulges us with the pleasant hopes of one day meeting again the companions which we dropped in life. The perfections of the Deity also favour these wishes of nature. If God be infinitely wise and infinitely good, he would not have brought us into being only to see the light, and to depart for ever. Would a wise builder have erected such a noble structure, to last but for a moment? On the other hand; if we consult the analogy of nature, the horrors of annihilation surround us. The leaf that falls from the tree revives no more. The animal that mingles with the earth never rises to life again.
These doubts and horrors are now removed, and this darkness destroyed, by the Gospel of Christ. No sooner did the day-spring arise from on high, but it became a light to lighten the Gentiles, and extended its radiance over the region and shadow of death. The nature of man is now unfolded, the origin of evil accounted for, and life and immortality brought to light. Onr Saviour did not propose these doctrines as the controvertible opinions of a private man: He taught them with the authority of God. Of his pe
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