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THE EARLY TRIUMPHS OF
Though Jesus, during his personal ministry, spake as never man spake, testifying what he had seen and heard of the Father, yet no man received his testimony. He came to his own and his own received him not. Though, in his own name, and by his own power, he did among
them such works as no other man did, yet he was despised and neglected of men. If the nation which eagerly looked for the coming of the Messiah, gave him such treatment, was it probable that Gentiles, strangers to the covenant of promise, and not prepared for his gracious message by any former dispensation, would receive it more favorably? Yet, in fact, it was thus. God had foretold, “to him, whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, kings shall see and arise; and princes also shall worship. He who had so little influence while he tabernacled on earth, now, when men see him no more, becomes the desire and the delight of all nations. In about thirty years after Christ's resurrection, Christianity gains ground in most of the provinces of the Roman empire, and penetrates to Parthia, India, and
other remote corners of the earth. Hundreds, nay, sometimes thousands, were converted by one sermon. The busy, the idle, the profligate, the civilized, the court, the camp, the schools of philosophy, all afforded trophies to the cross. Nor did Christianity thus gain ground in a dark, illiterate, superstitious age. Never was there a period when imposture bid fairer to be detected, and every cunningly devised fable, or specious argument, to be thoroughly sifted. The religion preached among the Gentiles, did not favor their prejudices, flatter their pride, or soothe their depraved appetites and passions. It called them to abhor what from their infancy they had been taught to venerate; to embrace opinions which the men of wisdom pronounced foolishness, to own one as their Saviour and Lord, who hung on a tree, and not to indulge in sins once dearer to them than a right hand or a right eye.
Great was the opposition the gospel had to encounter. The superstition of Heathens, the bigotry of Jews, the wisdom of philosophers, the eloquence of orators, the ridicule of men of wit, the authority of princes, the craft of priests, joined in alliance against the gospel, with every vicious inclination, every emotion of pride in the human heart. To oppose the efforts of this formidable confederacy, men are employed, of no rank and fortune, no power and influence, no policy or learning. The bold attempt provokes the vengeance of earth and hell on them and their followers. Yet fines, banishment, torture, death, inflicted with every circumstance of cruelty, could not deter multitudes, of the tenderest age and sex, from boldly and openly professing a religion, against which, a little before, they had been deeply prejudiced. Tent makers, publicans and fishermen, by preaching the plain truths of Christianity, without the ornaments of eloquence or enticing words of man's wisdom; by enforcing duties contrary to every corrupt affection, and by patiently suffering persecution for the word of their testimony, are honored, as the instruments of accomplishing a great and most improbable change in the sentiments, tempers, and manners of men. The more they are persecuted, the more they grow. They who led them captive, are themselves captivated by divine truth. Meanness proves an overmatch for greatness, foolishness for wisdom, weakness for strength. Philosophy is baffled and silenced by unpolished simplicity. The sheep overcome the wolves, the lambs the lions, the doves the birds of prey, and the gospel treasure is in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power might appear to be of God. The gracious influences, and miraculous gifts of the Spirit, were the only adequate causes of those triumphs of the gospel.
RULES FOR READING THE SCRIPTURES.
The first thing that I would recommend, is, that we come to the search with honest and unprejudiced minds. In order to the finding out truth in the great points that relate to moral practice, an acute understanding is not so necessary as a sincere, upright heart; and even the plainness of the rule itself does not contribute more towards it, than integrity and impartiality in those who are guided by it. Prejudice will pervert and darken the plainest rule. And therefore, if men apply to the study of the scriptures with minds prepossessed in favor of any particular scheme; if they take it for granted, before they have examined, that this is the religion of the bible ; all they have to do is, in the best manner they can, to accommodate scripture to it. By their being thus predetermined, all farther light is excluded ; passages of scripture are strained, and tortured, and darkened by unnatural comments; because men search the scripture, not to find out the sense of that, but to make it speak their own sense. But, on the contrary, if their minds are free and disengaged, and they have no concern but for truth, the rule of scripture is so plain in all essential points, that they can hardly, with any ordinary degree of judgment, mistake it.
2. In enterpreting scripture, always regard the general scope and design of it. Let those who have leisure, read whole books at once, or, at least, to the end of proper periods, that they may have an entire and connected view of the things contained in them. For it must give us but confused ideas to break off in the midst of a narration, or jumble together parts of different facts ; so likewise to read only select portions out of epistles, and those, perhaps, injudiciously chosen, when there is one design pursued in the whole, and a continued reference throughout. Be careful likewise to attend to the connexion of the writer, and the thread of his reasoning. For, in all writings, independent passages may be urged to serve all manner of purposes; by which means the gravest and most judicious authors may be forced to talk ludicrously, and inconsistently; and the best and most useful books, which are written with strict regard to virtue, be made to countenance vice and impiety.
To the directions above mentioned about observing the general design of scripture, and the connexion of particular passages, which is necessary in interpreting all writings whatever, let me add, that it is proper for us to make some allowances for the difference of languages, and the peculiar phrases and idiom used by the people for whom the scriptures were originally and more immedi