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SERM ON XXXII.
HEBREWS ii. 10.
For it became him, for whom are all things, and by
whom are all things, in bringing many fons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
W HEN Christianity was first publish. ed to the world, the earliest objection that was raised against it, arose from the low and suffering state in which its Author appeared. It was a stumbling-block to the Jews, and seemed foolishness to the Greeks, that a prophet fent from heaven to enlighten and reform the world, should lead a life of indigence and obscurity, and make his exit with ignominy and with pain.
If we consider the character and prevailing opinions of the Jews and the Greeks at the time when our Saviour appeared, we shall see the reason of the unfavourable reception which they gave to his doctrines. The Jews had been the favourite people of God. By signs and miracles, and mighty works, he had delivered them from a state of slavery in Egypt, had conducted them through the wilderness, and at last given them a fettlement in the promised land. The arm of the Lord was made bare in their behalf, the sea was divided to make way for them, and the waters stood as a wall on their right hand and on their left. During their wanderings through the
wilderness, a pillar of fire conducted them by night, and a pillar of cloud by day. Manna descended to them from heaven, and water sprung from the flinty rock. Accustomed to these great and marvellous exertions of the Divine power, in the days of the Messiah they expected still greater and more marvellous. If a God was to descend, they looked for him in the whirlwind, they looked for him in the thunder, they looked for him in the earthquake, and when the still small voice came, it was neither heard nor regarded. Besides this, they had imbibed false notions concerning the Messiah, and the nature of his kingdom. They misinterpreted the ancient oracles, which foretold his coming ; they took the mag. nificent style of prophecy for literal description, and, in place of a spiritual Saviour, expected a temporal prince. Accordingly, at the time when our Saviour appeared, the whole nation was intoxicated with the idea of a triumphant conqueror, who was to deliver them from the Roman yoke, to erect an universal monarchy on earth, and to make Zion the seat of empire, and capital of the world. To persons under the influence of these prejudices, a suffering Messiah was a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence.
A different set of prejudices prevailed in Greece. The Greeks were an ingenious and an active people. Situated in a fortunate climate, and blessed with the highest degree of liberty which mankind can enjoy, they bent their genius to the cultivation of the arts. Smitten with the love of wisdom, they gave up their paternal estates to attend the school of philosophy. They journeyed from region toregion, and traversed the world, to bring home fresh accessions of knowl.
edge, and new improvements in the arts. Under these favourable circumstances, Greece arose to fame, and beheld an age of glory, which is unrivalled in the records of history. The ideas of virtue and of merit amongst any nation are founded upon the splendid examples with which their history abounds, and upon a perfection in those arts which they cultivate, and in which they excel. The Greeks exexcelled in the arts to which the imagination gives birth, as well as in the sciences, which reason brings to maturity, and their history abounded with the most splendid instances of public fpirit, of heroic friendship, and of intrepid valour. Dazzled with the lustre of these arts, and with the glory of these virtues, they fixed the standard of excellence by them, and had no admiration to bestow upon the humble Prophet of Nazareth, and the mortifying doctrines of the cross. As they had been a stumbling-block to the Jews, to the Greeks they seemed foolishness.
It is then a fubject worthy of our contemplation, to inquire into the reasons that might move Almighty God, thus, in direct opposition to the prejudices and expectations of both Jews and Greeks, to appoint the Captain of our salvation to be made perfect by a state of sufferings. It is hence proposed to show the expediency and propriety of appointing such a Captain of our salvation. This will appear, from considering our blessed Saviour in these four capital views of his character : as the founder of a new religion, as a pattern of all perfection, as a priest who was to make atonement, and a king who was to be crowned with glory.
In the first place, If we consider our Saviour as the author of a new religion, his appearance in a suf. fering state frees his religion from an objection which applies with full force to every other religion in the world.
Amongst all the nations whose history we have recorded, the laws gave birth to the religion. The public faith was modelled by the sovereign authority, and established by the sovereign power. The prince was also the prophet. The religion which he estab. lished, was fuch as suited the genius of the people, the nature of the climate, or the views of the sovereign; and, in short, was nothing more than a mere engine of civil government. When we take a view of Christianity, a different scene presents itself. Here we see a religion published by a perfon, obscure and unknown, amongst a nation hated and despised to a proverb, one day to become the religion of the world, and to be propagated by the efforts of a few illiterate fishermen, who had to combat against the prejudices of the Jews, the superstition of the Gentiles, the wisdom of the philosophers, the power of armies and of kings, the ancient systems of religion established over the whole world, and the combined wit and genius and malice of all mankind.
Had our Saviour appeared in the pomp of a temporal prince, as the Jews expected him; had he appeared in the character of a great philosopher, as the Greeks would have wished him, often had we heard of his power and of his policy, and been told, that our religion was more nearly allied to this world than to the other. But when we hear the Author of our faith declaring from the beginning, that he must suffer many things in his life, and be put to an igno.
minious and tormenting death; when we hear him forewarning his disciples, that they were to meet with the same fate, these suspicions must for ever vanish from our mind. Thus our religion stands clear of an objection, from which nothing, perhaps, could have purged it, but the blood of its divine Author.
In the second place, If we consider our Saviour as a pattern of virtue and all perfection, the expediency of his appearing in a suffering state will further be evident.
One great end of our Saviour's coming into the world was to set us an example, that we might follow his steps. But, unless his life had been diversifi. ed with sufferings, the utility of his example had been in a great measure defeated. What we generally call a perfect character, is a cold insipid object, that does not interest mankind. Were it possible for nature to realize the man of virtue, as drawn by those who misrepresent the Stoic philosophy; a man without the feelings of nature, and the weaknesses of humanity, proof against the influence of passion, and the attacks of pain; we would turn aside from such a caricatura of humanity, and exclude the faultless monfter from the number of our species. No example can make any impression upon the minds of men, but the example of men of like pafsions with themselves. Let us suppose, that the life of an angel were exhibited to the world, it might afford a pleasant subject of contemplation. But the question would naturally arise, What is this to me? This does not belong to my nature; I discover here no traces of my own character, no features of humanity. On the other