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phas, as he himself decisively informs us, by adding, in a following verse,. We trusted, that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel. At the same time, the text furnishes us with a summary account of the manner in which the Redeemer discharged his prophetical office, by declaring, that he 'was a prophet mighty in deed and word, before God and all the people.' To discuss this subject is the design of the following Discourse.
Prophecy may naturally be divided into two parts: The communication of the will of God to mankind, concerning their duty and salvation ; and the prediction of future events.
The power by which both these were done was no other than inspiration ; for man is as unable to divine the will of God, as to foresee future events. Both these parts of the prophetical character Christ sustained in the most perfect degree: but the revelation of the will of God to mankind, the original, and far the most important part of the business of a Prophet, and that which is alike pointed out in the text, and in the prediction of Moses, is the characteristic of the Redeemer especially intended to be, at this time, the subject of consideration.
In Newton's Dissertations on the Prophecies may be found an ample illustration of the nature and extent of Christ's
The prophetical instruction or preaching of Christ, is in the Scriptures distributed into that which he communicated in his own person, and that which he communicated by his apostles. The former of these shall be first considered.
In an examination of the personal preaching of Christ, the following things demand our attention.
I. The necessity of his executing the office of a preacher ;
I. I shall consider the necessity of Christ's assuming the office of a Preacher.
It is obvious to every man, that Christ might have appeared in the world in the humble character in wbich he actually appeared, have wrought the miracles recorded of him, suffered the death of the cross, and, generally, have done every thing recorded of him, either as an act, or a suffering, and then, instead of teaching mankind the way of life and salvation with his own mouth, might have taught it to his apostles by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and commissioned them to publish it to mankind.
This course, however, he did not pursue. On the contrary, he has chosen to teach it extensively in his own person. For this conduct of his there were, doubtless, very substantial reasons. Some of them were probably withholden from mankind. Others are discernible with sufficient clearness. Even these are not, indeed, very often called up to view, and by most men are probably unknown and unthought of. Yet, so far as they can be known, they are capable of being bigbly useful, and means of no small satisfaction to a serious mind. Among them the following may, I think, be mentioned, as possessing a real and sufficiently obvious importance.
1. Christ may be fairly believed to have assumed the office of a Preacher (or that branch of the prophetical office which I have specified as the subject of discourse,) that the Gospel might appear plainly and undeniably to be his.
Christ is, and from everlasting was designed to be, the great and visible agent in all things pertaining to the present world. In Col. i. 14, &c., we have the following account of his character : ‘In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins. Who is the image of the invisible God; the firstborn of every creature. For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers : all things were created by him, and for him. And he is before all things : and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church : who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father, that in him should all fulness dwell. In this passage Christ is declared to be the image,' or manifest representative, of the invisible God; and the firstborn,' or head, of the whole creation ; the Creator of all things, existing before all things; the Upholder of all things; and the firstborn from the dead ;' a character which he is said to hold, : that in all things he might have the pre-eminence ;' because, as the apos-,
tle adds, it was well-pleasing * to the Father, that in him all fulness should dwell. Now it is evident, that it was a necessary as well as proper part of this great design, not only that he should be the author of the Gospel, but that this fact should be completely proved, and perfectly known. The publication of the Gospel to mankind is evidently one of the chief dispensations of divine providence in the present world. As, therefore, it was the 'good pleasure of the Father, that in all things he should have the pre-eminence,' so it was peculiarly proper, that he should be pre-eminent in a thing so important and glorious as the publication of the Gospel.
St. James in the ivth chapter and 10th verse of his Epistle, informs us, that in the church of God there is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy,' that is, Christ. Christ then, being the only lawgiver in his church, it seems to be indispensable, that the Gospel, which contains his laws, should be seen to be his; that all who read it may know his pleasure with certainty, and never be left to doubt whether any given doctrine or precept was given by him, or was derived from the comments of others. The difference between these two cases cannot, I suppose, need any explanation.
But if Christ, instead of preaching the Gospel in person, had left it to be published by the apostles only, the question, whether it was his Gospel, would have been instantly raised up against its acceptance by mankind. Infidels would have boldly denied it to be his; and Christians would have been perplexed, not only concerning their proper answer to this denial, but also concerning their own faith and duty. Even now, Unitarians, as well as Infidels, hold out a distinction between the Gospel; that is, as they intend, the personal instructions of Christ; and the Epistles, which they consider as the mere comments of Christ's followers. Thus Lord Bolingbroke declares the system of religion, both natural and revealed, to be excellent, and plainly taught, as it was taught by Christ and recorded by his evangelists : "a completo system to all the purposes of religion.”+ Nay, he speaks of it directly as revealed by God himself. I
“ Christianity, genuine Christianity," he says again, “ is contained in the Gospel : it is the word of God."| At the same time Lord
Eudoxnor, Leland, vol. ii, p. 163, 164. Page 169. || Ibid. VOL. 11.
Bolingbroke declares, that St. Paul has preached another Gospel; and that the New Testament contains two Gospels. In the same manner, Mr. Chubb declares, that St. Paul preached another Gospel, which was contradictory to that of Christ. Unitarians also are plainly unwilling to allow the same respect and confidence to be due to the apostolic writings, which they appear to consider as due to the words of Christ; and, like the infidels above mentioned, admit that the Gospels possess a higher character than the Epistles.
To what a length this scheme of thought would have been carried, had Christ never preached at all, and how far the character of the New Testament, as an undoubted revelation, would have been acknowledged, if the doctrines and precepts which it contains had been declared by the apostles only, it is difficult to divine. From the nature of the subject, the facts just recited, and others like them, it may be easily believed that the character of the New Testament, as inspired, would have been seriously affected; and with respect to multitudes, who now admit it unconditionally, overthrown; and that the haracter of Christ, as the lawgiver of the church, would have been obscured. In some instances it would have been doubted, and in others denied ; and his pre-eminence in this important particular would, to a great extent, have been unseen and unregarded.
2. It was necessary that Christ should preach the Gospel, that he might sanction its doctrines, precepts, and ordinances with his own authority.
The doctrines, precepts and ordinances of the Gospel are rules of the faith, practice, and worship of all to whom it is made known. Whenever a rule of this nature is published to any man, the great question naturally asked by him is always,
By what authority am I required to conform to this rule ?” In matters of conscience, even an ignorant man knows that no being except God has any right to prescribe to him rules of obedience. When God prescribes to him, the prescription is a law; when man prescribes to him, it is only advice: but between law and advice the difference, in this case, is infinite.
Christ, as has been remarked, is the only and the rightful lawgiver to his church. Had he not declared the Gospel in his own person, the question whether it was his Gospel, would have arisen, not only against its claims to be a revelation, but also against its authority, and consequent obligation. The authority of the apostles, as men, is certainly less than that of Christ, as a man; for he was a wiser and better man than they
According to every scheme.of Christianity, even according to that of the Socinians, the authority of the Gospel terminates in Christ, as the original publisher of it to mankind; and in this view is of more import, and higher obligation, than if it had terminated in the apostles. The apostles might, indeed, have been admitted as upright and unexceptionable witnesses of facts, and full credit might have been given to their testimony. But when they prescribed rules of faith and practice, their authority would easily have been questioned, for in this case they would have needed not only an unexceptionable character, but a divine commission. Had the apostles told us (as, if Christ had not personally preached the Gospel, they must have told us) only, that Christ was born, lived, and died at such a time, and in such a manner; it is not easy to conceive how they would have proved satisfactorily to mankind their reception of such a commission from him. The mind would instinctively, fondly, and anxiously have asked, “ whether this distinguished person did not, while in the world, teach those around him the superior wisdom, which he possessed? If he did not, why he did not? If he did, why were not his instructions recorded ?”
The absolute want of an answer to these questions would, I. think, have left this subject in a state of obscurity, not only distressing, but perplexing and dangerous.
Of this obscurity infidels would not have failed to avail themselves, as they now do of every seeming difficulty and disadvantage under which they suppose Christianity to labour. They would have asked triumphantly, “ How does it appear that these doctrines, precepts, or ordinances, are Christ's, and not merely the dictates of his followers? In many instances we acknowledge them to be true doctrines, sound aud useful precepts, and harmless ordinances, such as may be believed, and obeyed, reasonably enough; but where is the proof, that they were intended to be laws of faith and conduct, binding the consciences of men? If this had been their character, would not Christ, the source of this system, have declared it,