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[For the First Sunday after Epiphany.]
ROMANS xii. 1.
I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
HE sum and substance of the christian religion is contained in the four gospels, and in the history which they give of the birth and life, the actions and discourses, the passion, death, and resurrection, of our blessed Saviour. The Acts of the Apostles relate the performance of JESUS CHRIST's promise of sending the Holy Ghost upon be lievers, the transactions of the early church, and of some of the apostles, particularly of St. Paul; and the Epistles were written to
different churches, and persons, to confirm them in the same rules of gospel faith and practice, which they had before been instructed in; to explain more fully certain points of doctrine, and to settle certain disputes, and correct some mistakes and false notions, which those bodies of christians had fallen into, to whom they are addressed. Hence it happens, that in almost all the epistles (particularly in St. Paul's) the beginning and far greater part of them contain answers to doubts which had been submitted to him; explanations of certain points, which had been debated in the different churches; and reasonings against particular errors into which they had fallen: While the conclusions of these epistles are filled with pious exhortations to the belief of all those evangelical doctrines, and the practice of all those christian duties, which believers of all ages, of every church, and of every degree, are bound to acknowledge and perform. Such, my friends, is the nature of the epistles; and it is in consequence of this circumstance not being understood, or not attended to, that so many disputes have arisen among christians, (and which actually distract the church of CHRIST at this day,) respecting faith and works; election and reprobation; justification, sanctification, and
such like; troubling the spirits of many good men, and occasioning our faith to be evil spoken of by wicked ones; disputes, which have almost all arisen from ignorant or illjudging men taking up certain passages and expressions in the epistles, which related only to the churches and religious disputes of the Apostles' days, and applying them to the christian faith at large, and to the church of CHRIST in all ages and all nations. You will see the truth of the above observations, if you read attentively St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, from which I have taken my text. In order to assist you in understanding it, I will give you a short account of the occasion on which it was written, and the particulars which it contains.
Before the coming of our LORD JESUS CHRIST, the Jews being the only people in covenant with GOD, and his peculiar church, they, instead of an humble thankfulness for such a privilege and favour, proudly looked upon themselves as having the only right and title to it for ever. All other nations of the world they despised, as utterly unworthy
of any divine privilege, favour, providence, or protection. Their Messiah they expected to be a glorious worldly prince, who would raise their church and nation to the highest pitch of power and glory; that he would
be the wonder and admiration, but not the Saviour, of the gentile world. These false notions were so deeply rooted in the Jews, before our Saviour's time, and when he was upon the earth, that the very Apostles themselves held them after his death; until St. Peter was convinced of their being entirely wrong, by the revelation which was made to him, as related in the 10th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. But, notwithstanding this, the Jews who embraced the gospel, through the preaching of the apostles, had still such a reverence for the ceremonial law, (or law of works,) that they would not endure to converse with a gentile christian, who was not circumcised. The apostles, however, all fully convinced of the error of their former opinion, by St. Peter's case with Cornelius, declared in full council, (as we find in the 15th chapter of the Acts,) "that God intended to receive the Gentiles "into the christian covenant, without their "observation of the Mosaical ceremonies."* One should think that this solemn determination would have satisfied the Jewish christ, ians; but such is the force of early prejudices, that it did not do so; and many of them still maintained their zeal for the works of the ceremonial law, and declared that they must be united with the gospel of CHRIST, in
order to procure salvation. It was chiefly to correct this grievous mistake, that St. Paul wrote the epistle before us; in which he proves, first, the great mystery (so contrary to the prejudices of the proud Jew) that the Gentiles were to be admitted into the church and kingdom of CHRIST; secondly, that they need not observe the ceremonial law under the christian covenant; and thirdly, that, notwithstanding the notions which the Jews held of their being the peculiar people of GOD, they might be cast off, and excluded from his church, by their obstinacy and wickedness. In explaining these important points, he shews, in the first chapter, that both Jew and Gentile were under the absolute necessity of relying wholly upon the gospel religion for pardon and salvation; and in the second, that the divine wrath must fall equally upon Jew and Gentile, if guilty of the same wickedness; that God's judgment will pass upon all men, in proportion to the light and advantage they have enjoyed; that sins against a revealed law made the Jews more guilty than the Heathens: and, consequently, that the Jews also, as well as the Gentiles, must rely solely on the merits of CHRIST the Redeemer. In the third chapter, the apostle proves, that Jews and Gentiles were entirely