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we shall stand before thee in judgment, thou mayest ‘impute no iniquity to us, nor find in our spirits any guile? Grant this, we beseech thee, for the sake of Christ Jesus our Saviour; to whom, with God the Father, and God the Holy Ghost, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.
THE GOSPEL PROVED TO THE UNLEARNED.
St. MATT. XI. 5.
The poor have the gospel preached to them. When John the baptist, who was then in prison, had heard the works of Christ, be sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another ?' In answer to this, our Saviour does not bear witness of himself, but says, 'Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see : the blind receive their sight, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.' Here he appeals to the 'works which his Father had given him to finish,' to those very works, which the prophets had foretold he should do, and had by that means made them the sure marks and signs of his mission. And what could be so sure a sign and proof of its divinity, as miracles wrought to fulfil prophecies delivered many ages before ? Miracles alone had been a sufficient attestation to the rational and candid; but prophecies so old, promising miracles, which are the most unlikely events, nay, specifying the particular kind of miracles, and clearly fulfilled in the open actual performance of those very miracles, give a proof sufficient, one would think, to convince the most unbelieving minds. Concerning this work, in particular, of 'preaching the gospel to the poor,' Isaiah had prophesied in two places. In the sixty-first chapter he introduces Christ thus speaking, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath appointed me
to preach good tidings (or the gospel) to the meek. He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.' Again, in the ninth chapter, speaking of the wisdom Christ should bestow on the ignorant, he says, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.'
That we may perceive this to be a very distinguishing mark of our Saviour's mission, we must consider, that, at his coming, the rich, and the great ones of the world had engrossed to themselves almost all the philosophy and divinity then in vogue; that they were extremely vain of their learning, because it distinguished them from the vulgar; and that they generally made a secret of it, and kept it to themselves. The philosophers taught for hire the children of the wealthy. The priests of the heathen gods taught nothing ; and those of them that probably knew most of true religion, such as the Egyptian, the Samothracian, and the Athenian priests, made a profound mystery of what they knew, and would not discover their rites and principles, but upon the most dreadful oaths of secrecy.
Matters were not on a much better footing among the Jews. The schools of the rabbies were open only to such as could afford to give themselves somewhat of human learning before they entered, and were able afterward to reward them for their instructions; and, what was worse, both here and in the synagogues, where they read the Scriptures to the people, they thrust in between the light of God's word, and the understanding of their hearers, the dark cloud of their own fanciful and superstitious refinements, and made the commandments of God of none effect, by teaching for doctrines the traditions of men.'
When things were at this pass, our Saviour began to preach the gospel, that is, the saving knowledge of the true God, and the true religion, with such a simplicity and plainness, as made it intelligible, and with such power, in parables, and pithy sayings, as made it affecting to the minds of the most ignorant. That they understood with their minds the truth, and felt in their hearts the force of what he preached, is plain, from the greatness of his success, and
from the testimony they gave him, that ‘never man spake as he spake,' and that he had the words of eternal life.'
To all this it is objected by libertines, that persons so ignorant could not be proper judges of what he taught them, had not skill to weigh the force of his arguments, nor sense and taste to distinguish between what was excellent, or contemptible, in his discourses; and that, whatever the common people might have done in those days, they cannot in these have a rational conviction, that Christianity is a divine revelation, because they cannot learnedly trace its authorities, nor weigh the arguments for or against the purity of the Scriptures.
The first part of this objection is easily answered. The disciples of our Saviour, it is true, were, most of them, ignorant men; but they could see and hear, and had common sense, as well as other men. As they had the use of their eyes and ears, they could read or hear the prophecies concerning Christ, and could perceive his miracles; and, as they had common sense, they could be judges of the agreement, or disagreement, between such prophecies and miracles. Their common sense taught them also how to reason justly on his miracles, independently of their prophecies, and rightly to conclude, that he who did such things was from God. Could the best disputant at the bar, or elsewhere, reason better, than the poor man, who, having been born blind, was miraculously blessed by our Saviour with the perfect use of his eyes? The very learned Pharisees were stupid enough to blame our Saviour for working this gracious miracle on the sabbath day. And the Jews,'having found the man,' and, pretending to great piety, said, 'Give God the praise; we know, that this man is a sinner: We know that God spake unto Moses : As for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.' The man answered, 'Why, herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes. Now we know that God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doth his will, him he heareth. Since the world began it was not heard, that any man opened the eyes of the blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.' Thus reasoned all the disciples of our Saviour; and who could have reasoned better? It was a honour to rabbi Gamaliel,
that, of all the learned Jewish council, he alone was able to reason half as well. Their common sense also was sufficient to let them into the meaning of arguments so glaringly strong, and doctrines so clear and plain, as those with which their Master entertained them. Besides, howsoever ignorant they were, when they first gave ear to his instructions, it was far otherwise with them by the time he left them; for it was his custom to clear up all their mistakes, and fully to explain to them the darker parts of his discourses. As to their taste, it was not indeed fitted to the flowers of rhetoric, nor had they any occasion for such a taste; their Master neither deigning to deal in such tinsel, nor using art, like one who intends to impose on his hearers; but, as they were plain men, they had an excellent taste for plain sense and sound reason; nay, and even for that divine oratory which shone in the parables, and other parts of their Master's discourses, by which he proposed to strike their imaginations, and warm their hearts.
The latter part of this libertine objection strikes at the present times; and would persuade us, that the unlearned part of the world cannot, in these latter ages, rationally believe in Christ. This concerns us more than the former, and therefore I purpose to lay out the remaining part of this discourse in shewing, by a few arguments, out of many that might be employed to the same end, that the ignorant part of the world still have sufficient reasons for embracing the Christian religion, that is, that 'the poor still have the gospel preached to them' with arguments and motives strong enough for their conviction and reformation, if they will attend to them.
The most ignorant man, if he thinks at all on the subject, must be satisfied, that, without religion and the fear of God, no man can be brought to live a good life; and that, without living a good life, no man can be happy.
Upon reflection he will also perceive, that the laws of men are of no use nor force, if not backed by the laws of God; that magistrates will be unjust and oppressive, and subjects rebellious and ungovernable, if they are not religious; that no evidence can be had without oaths, nor oaths without religion; and consequently that society, out of which mankind cannot subsist, cannot itself subsist without religion.
Having proceeded so far, it is easy for him to see, that, necessary as religion is to every single mortal in particular, and to civil government in general, men cannot have the true religion, if they be notó taught of God.' This he must conclude, as soon as ever he considers the atheism into which many philosophers, the superstition into which all the rest, and the horribly wicked and diabolical principles of religion into which all the barbarous nations of the world have ran, and still do run, for want of Divine Revelation.
And farther, when he considers, that he and all other men have provoked the displeasure of God, by many and gross offences; that a bare repentance, which can only make a man obedient for the time to come, whereas God hath a right to the obedience of his whole life, cannot atone for his past sins; that the prayers of other men, who are unworthy to be heard for themselves, and the sacrifice of beasts, of his children, of all he hath, are still less capable of making such atonement, or appeasing the just anger of God at his sins; when, I say, he considers these things with due attention, he must be under very sensible, and very dreadful apprehensions about the safety of his soul, and therefore earnestly desirous to find out, whether God hath, in reality, provided any other more rational terms of forgiveness, or more efficacious sacrifices for sin, whereby he may be assured of pardon on repentance.
With such a foundation laid, common sense will put him on inquiring, whether God hath at any time given to mankind such a religion as answers his wants. And he will be the more apt to do this, when he reflects, that he was made by that infinitely beneficient Being, who cannot but will the virtue and happiness of his creature; and that in all nations some kind of atonement, or commutation for sin, hath been offered up, as that for which forgiveness was expected by the offender; which shews, that either the notion of an atonement is natural, or that it is derived from a revelation made to the common parent of mankind.
In order to satisfy this inquiry, he will be naturally led to look a little into the several kinds of religion, to which the various parts of the world may be addicted in his own timés. Now, if he does this with ever so little care and candour, it is an affront to common sense, to think him capable